St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed has had numerous challenges in his quest to upset Mayor Francis Slay in the Democratic Primary: a fundraising mismatch, switching campaign managers in the middle of the race, and a third candidate that has tried to steal his thunder, to name a few.
But in spite of this, many believe Reed is Slay’s most formidable challenger in years.
A few days away from the mayoral primary, at a forum at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, Lewis Reed is visibly frustrated. In order for him to upset Slay, he has to have a clear shot at the mayor. And it’s hard for him to have a clear shot at the mayor when there’s a third candidate in the mix.
And it’s also hard for him to have a clear shot at Slay when the mayor isn’t at the same forum.
“I’m going to do a little Clint Eastwood thing," Sylvestor Brown, the moderator said. He takes a plastic blue chair and puts it on stage. "It's so good to have you here Mayor Slay," Brown told the chair. He then posed a question to the chair, and when the chair declined to respond, Brown turned it over to the other candidates. It's also worth pointing out that Brown has endorsed Reed in the race.
Reed tried to make the case that Slay has let the city down. And why the crowd of mostly African Americans should vote for him.
“We’re going to have to use the same tools to revitalize North St. Louis as we did for south St. Louis,” he told the crowd.
But Jimmie Matthews, the third candidate in the race, made it difficult for Reed to make his case, saying Reed and Slay are one and the same.
“I can see you had 12 years with the mayor and now you’re going through a divorce, you’re trying to make the case that you’re the best man for north St. Louis, living in south St. Louis.”
And that’s when Reed brought up something that’s been bubbling below the surface throughout this race.
“Stalking horses come in a lot of different shapes and colors,” Reed snapped. The crowd applauded.
Reed called Matthews a stalking horse, meaning he’s only in the race to increase the incumbent’s chances of winning. It’s something that’s been hinted at throughout the race, but the forum was when Reed came out and explicitly said it. Both Slay and Matthews call the claim ridiculous.
At the forum, Reed largely used talking points he’s had throughout the campaign. And many of them were similar to what he said to me during an interview earlier in the day.
“The central issue in this is race is crime, but most of the issues in this are tethered," Reed said. "When you look at the issue of crime, it’s hard to not talk about the lack of jobs. When you look at the issue of crime, it’s hard to not address our education system in our city.”
Reed has brought up data a fair amount throughout the race. While he was in college at SIUE, he was the head of the Math and Computer Science tutoring lab. He later started an IT Company and says he still reads IT books for fun.
“You have to put a plan in and it has to be measurable and you have to go in and measure re-check and check your progress,” Reed said.
He says his background in data would make him better at divvying up police resources. But he's also had to use this experience to compensate for lopsided funding.
“As a mathematician, I look at the numbers and I spend a significant time looking at the numbers," Reed said. "And creating computer based models to understand this is the electorate, how do we inspire them to get out to vote and to ultimately get out to vote in our favor.
Reed has tried to hammer the mayor on the city’s crime rate. Last year, St. Louis had 113 homicides. But in order for Reed to get his message out, he needs money. Slay has raised over $3.5 million. Reed, on the other hand, raised a little over $600,000.
“It’s outrageous when you look at the cost per vote," Reed said. "I’m thinking he’s only received a little over 19,000 total votes and he spent nearly $3 million. You can do things a lot more efficiently to get to 19,000 votes if that’s what you need to do to win.”
Forums like the one from earlier have been important to Reed. From all of his fundraising, he only has $5,000 worth of TV ads to show for it. In order for him to win, he would have to have a very successful ground game.
But in a mayoral primary election, turnout is generally low. So Reed says he can do it with the amount of money he has.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel