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Government, Politics & Issues

Mayoral Debate Contentious In Downtown Forum

Chris McDaniel, St. Louis Public Radio

At a mayoral debate showcasing the three Democrats vying for the position in the March 5 primary, challenger and Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed wasted no time before going after his opponent.

Crime was by far the most contentious issue in the forum that filled two overflow rooms and was standing room only. Several times at the debate, Reed interrupted incumbent Mayor Francis Slay when he was talking about the city's lowering crime rate.

"I don't know about any of you, but I don't feel safe in the city of St. Louis." Reed said. "You can play with the numbers any way you want to."

Slay rebutted that the crime rate is on steadily on the decline.

"The police department's budget has gone up by $53 million since I've been in office,” Slay said. “That's a huge amount. Unfortunately the pension costs have taken a lot of that money so we have fewer officers. But we're working smarter."

Reed’s interruptions earned him applause from the crowd, but admonishment from the moderator and the third Democratic candidate, former Alderman Jimmie Matthews.

"These guys are arguing. We need to keep this civil," Matthews said. "I can see why we aren't getting much done in City Hall."

Although crime was the most heated, it wasn’t the only issue debated.  Matthews criticized the movement to merge the city and county, saying it would create an unwieldy and large government.

Reed questioned the county’s interest and said it “can’t be our saving grace.”

Slay said he’s been working with St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and hopes to have something in the very near future.

On redeveloping the North Side, Slay said he supports Paul McKee’s redevelopment plan. Reed said he’s concerned McKee would lose interest and leave the city in debt.

The moderator’s final question was how to “heal the city’s racial divide.” The candidates had only two minutes to respond.

Reed referenced the BBC’s “Delmar Divide,” a documentary that details the city’s racial makeup.

“The only reason it continues to stand is because of flawed policies. We must flat out admit it that we have a problem,” Reed said.

He also added, “My wife is white, I’m African American, in case you didn’t notice.”

“I have a very diverse group in my cabinet," Slay said. “The Delmar Divide is real. It’s real in terms of economic and health disparities. It’s not something easy to deal with. This has not been unrecognized by my administration.”

After the debate, Slay said he wasn’t surprised or upset that Reed interrupted him.

“We stated the facts. I can sit here and say there’s too much crime -- and there is. That’s easy to do,” Slay said, adding that the city has been working with the University of Missouri-St. Louis on where to best deploy officers.

After everyone left, Slay tweeted out that the debate was “more heat than light.”

Reed told reporters after the debate that crime is an issue that he's passionate about. He has a campaign ad in which he discusses his brother's death.

"Until we begin to admit that we have a problem, we're not going to see any change," Reed said. "Until you go through what I've gone through, that number may just be a number on a piece of paper. But it's not just a number to me."

The forum was put on by the League of Women Voters and the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis. It was held at the newly renovated St. Louis Public Library downtown.

You can see previous reporting on Reed and Slay's finances here.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel

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