Updated at 12:45 p.m. Feb. 8th with audio — Voters in the 8th Ward, around Tower Grove Park, will go to the polls on Tuesday — Mardi Gras — to pick their new representative at City Hall.
The seat opened up in late November when Steve Conway, who had served as alderman for 27 years, resigned to become the city assessor. The winner will be the ninth new member of the Board of Aldermen elected since April.
Fehler is a data analyst who has worked with organizations like Forward Through Ferguson and the For the Sake of All report. But he’s probably best-known for producing the movie “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,” about the infamous north St. Louis housing project.
The people he met while making that movie inspired his entrance into politics, Fehler said.
“The movie was, at its root, a social justice documentary about a terrible situation that citizens of St. Louis were put in,” he said. “They were able to come up with remedies on their own, and most of those remedies were political remedies.”
Fehler said he did 200 or more question-and-answer sessions about the movie, and he said the relationships he formed while doing so make him the best choice to be alderman.
“I might not be the most well-versed in any individual neighborhood, but it is the case that I’ve learned that if you go there with good intentions, and you listen twice before you talk once, and listen to the wisdom that the people in any ward have, you’ll be well-received,” he said.
Fehler wants to focus on public safety, education and economic development at City Hall, including changing the way the city thinks about incentives like tax increment financing.
“A TIF should absolutely demonstrate community benefit, and it should do so to the satisfaction of the constituency. It should not do so to the satisfaction of a handful of people,” he said.
Rice is an immigration attorney at a small law firm that also does civil rights work. The Board of Aldermen, she said, needs more people who are versed in the law.
“As an attorney, I am incredibly comfortable in the law, in regulations, in writing in those areas, and making sure that the legislation we are passing actually does the thing that we want it to do,” she said. Those rules get really complicated, and to have another set of eyes that’s comfortable in that will be really helpful, and not just on the things that I’m passionate about.”
If elected, Rice would also focus her attention on crime reduction and economic development. The city, she said, needs to rethink its strategy around development.
“Are we just expecting this one special thing to solve all of our problems, or are we going to come at this in a concentrated and a focused way?” she said. “What is our long-term plan? How are we going to expand the things that are helping the central corridor to the north side, to the south side?”
Rice and Fehler were elected to the Democratic Central Committee in June 2016. But the city charter does not allow for party primaries in special aldermanic elections — the central committees pick the nominees for their parties.
Rice and Fehler both sought the party’s nod. Fehler earned it by a 32-22 vote, meaning he’ll have the D next to his name on the ballot. Rice decided to run as an independent, a move that angered some members of the central committee.
The race has overtones of the larger debate over the direction of the Democratic Party that began with the 2016 presidential primaries, but Fehler said any rifts will heal quickly.
“We, in our three neighborhoods of the 8th Ward, have known each other for a long time,” he said. I think the reconciliation will be a lot smoother than people might think.”
For her part, Rice said she is prepared to work with anyone she has to in order to advance the progressive ideals she shares with Fehler.
“We can’t afford to sit back and say, well, you supported someone else, so I can’t work with you,” she said. “There’s way too much to get done to do that.”
Regardless of who is elected, there will be a vacancy on the central committee. The city charter does not allow aldermen to serve on party central committees.
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