Arguably, the biggest challenge for the four candidates in St. Louis’ 28th Ward special election isn’t fundraising or policy positions: It’s reminding people in the central corridor know to vote on July 11.
Democrat Heather Navarro, independents Celeste Vossmeyer and Steve Roberts Sr., and Green Party candidate Jerome Bauer are vying to serve the roughly two years remaining on Mayor Lyda Krewson’s term. The ward represents parts of six neighborhoods, including the Central West End and Skinker DeBaliviere.
The three better-known candidates, Navarro, Vossmeyer and Roberts, told St. Louis Public Radio they’re spending lots of time making sure voters are aware of the rare July election. They’re also alerting residents that it’s one of the first elections in Missouri to be affected by the new voter photo identification law.
For the most part, Navarro, Vossmeyer and Roberts have similar priorities: Revamping the city’s development incentives, improving public safety and forging better relationships between police and African-Americans. And they’ve all raised thousands of dollars for yard signs, mailings and volunteers throughout the district.
According to his Missouri Ethics Commission filings, Bauer has not raised any money for his aldermanic bid.
The winner of the election will have to run again for a full four-year term in 2019. Here are profiles of the three major candidates and what they plan to do if elected on Tuesday:
Navarro has served as executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment for the last four years.
She said that her environmental expertise would provide a unique perspective to the Board of Aldermen, adding she could help the board look at “how to grow and change as a city in light of the fact that temperatures are rising.”
“The other big question, as a city, that we’re looking at, is how we can apply a racial equity lens to … big decisions,” Navarro said. “I think this is a really great time to get involved in city government and really shape the trajectory of our city for the next 50 to 100 years.”
As she goes door-to-door, Navarro said there’s concern among 28th Ward residents how police deal with crime.
“I think especially right now there’s concern about gun crimes in the city,” Navarro said. “And I think looking at the big picture, we have to look at the underlying, root causes of crime. How are we as a city investing in education and economic opportunities? How are we supporting our police officers? How are we promoting community policing? Those are a lot of things that I hear.”
Navarro, who has Krewson's endorsement, said she wants to help drive the conservation about overhauling the city’s development incentives. “Right now is a really great time to look at how we incentivize development so it provides tangible benefits back to the community — and that it supersedes ward boundaries,” she said.
Vossmeyer is an attorney and previously was general counsel for the Bi-State Development Agency, which runs the city’s buses and train system. She said that experience will inform aldermen when they debate bills relating to public transportation.
“We have a large part of our community that’s dependent on mass transit,” Vossmeyer said. “And to understand the issues, the funding, how Bi-State works, and also having been involved in the MetroLink extension from Forest Park to Shrewsbury, I think all of those experiences will be extremely helpful in guiding the Board of Aldermen in how we inform transportation issues going forward.”
Vossmeyer said she wants to focus on improving trash service and making sure the city’s traffic systems work for residents. She also said she wants to be a part of “healing the divides” between white and black St. Louis residents.
“We know what the solutions are — we need to stop studying them and we need to move forward,” said Vossmeyer, who was endorsed by the St. Louis American newspaper. “There are a lot of people who are extremely concerned about the city’s lack of progress. Some of have even expressed concern that some of the problems we’re facing are just too complex.
“I really don’t think so. I’m really a pragmatist. I’ve spent 33 years finding solutions to different problems.”
Out of all the candidates, only Roberts has served on the Board of Aldermen. He represented a part of north St. Louis from 1979 to 1993 before unsuccessfully running for mayor.
An attorney, Roberts has spent several decades as a real estate developer and was chief of staff for St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts. His son, Steve Roberts Jr., serves in the Missouri House as a Democrat from St. Louis.
The elder Roberts said he decided to run because “the image of our city is suffering significantly by what seems to be a dysfunctional government.” He said he wants to overhaul the city’s development incentives, which he said drain the city of money.
“My biggest concern is when you just give out tax incentives to developers without really challenging them, the children of our community are the ones that suffer the most,” Roberts said. “Because what happens when you keep giving away our future tax revenues, it not only affects our schools and our education system, but it also affects our ability to raise funds for our taxpayers’ public services.”
Roberts also said his prior aldermanic experience will help him build coalitions to solve complex problems, like fighting crime.
“I hear every month the statistics of crime and the impact it has upon our citizens, as well as the family members of those first responders,” Roberts said. “ We tend to say ‘oh, we need to hire more officers,’ which I think we do. But if you don’t give them the training, if you don’t give them technology and the equipment to do a better and more effective job, then we’re fooling ourselves.”
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