In the rotunda of the courthouse where Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom, the first African-American circuit attorney for the city of St. Louis took the oath of office Friday night.
"I'm humbled and honored that you have entrusted me with this responsibility of this very essential office," Kim Gardner told the crowd of more than a hundred at the Old Courthouse in downtown Friday night. "As a community we have a lot of challenges and opportunities to address the criminal justice system. The team at the circuit attorney’s office and I are ready and eager to take on this work for the community."
Gardner promised that under her tenure, the office would remain "steadfast" in its mission to hold people accountable for violating the law. But she also promised to "expand the traditional role of the prosecutor," and to turn to all of her partners in law enforcement, the judicial branch and social services to fight the rising gun violence in St. Louis.
Before taking office as circuit attorney, Gardner was working as a funeral director at her family's funeral home in north St. Louis. She has also served as a state Representative and has a nursing license.
Here are some of the messages of support she received from area leaders:
"Tonight, another wall of exclusion, one that has stood for far too long, has come tumbling down. And I say it's about time. Circuit Attorney Gardner, I want you to know that it was my great honor to support you." — U.S. Rep Lacy Clay, D-University City.
"This is a job that's not for the faint of heart. It's a hard job. It needs someone who is well-qualified, who is well educated, who is well-suited for the position. And we have that person in Kim Gardner. She is uniquely situated for that position. As a nurse, she's a caregiver. But then, on the other side, she has to issue tough love." — St. Louis license collector Mavis Thompson
"Certainly, we know that there are wounds in our country, in our city and in our community that we have to heal, and I can't think of a better partner to work on doing those than Kim. As I get to know Kim more and more, it becomes very evident to me that from the very bottom of her heart, she's got a life that's dedicated to service; a life that's dedicated to helping our community grow; to making our city as strong as possible. And we are going to do this together." — St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson
"On behalf of the Missouri state chapter of the NAACP, I have to tell you that it is with great pride that we watch what was a leader from your community take the most important leadership role that you can have in your city." — Missouri NAACP president Nimrod Chapel
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann