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Most St. Louis aldermen on Tuesday's ballot face opposition

Seventeen out of the Board of Aldermen's 28 seats are up for election on Tuesday.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Seventeen out of the Board of Aldermen's 28 seats are up for election on Tuesday.

Being an incumbent St. Louis alderman is no longer a safe bet.

For various reasons, 17 of the city’s 28 members of the Board of Aldermen – all Democrats – will be on the ballot next Tuesday in the city’s March 3 primaries.

And all but a couple of the incumbents have opposition from fellow Democrats.

Since most Democrats face no opposition from Republicans or independents, most of next Tuesday’s winners will be guaranteed victory in the city’s April 7 general election.

Arguably the highest-profile Democratic primary contest is a special one, held in the city’s 7th Ward, which takes in much of downtown, plus the prominent near-south neighborhoods of Soulard and Lafayette Square.

A three-way battle has emerged to succeed veteran 7th Ward Alderwoman Phyllis Young, who resigned unexpectedly in December after holding the post almost 30 years.

Young has endorsed lawyer Jack Coatar, who is competing against lawyer Chelsea Merta and Samuel Cummings III, a software developer and entrepreneur.

Several other wards also are seeing spirited primary contests, including the 2nd Ward, where incumbent Dionne Flowers faces three rivals; the 20th Ward; and the 22nd Ward.

In south St. Louis, the 24th Ward is seeing a replay of longstanding rivalries, as incumbent Scott Ogilvie faces former Alderman Tom Bauer.

(If you're a city resident and unsure which ward you live in, here's how you can find out.)

Here’s a closer look at several of the more competitive ward contests:

2nd Ward: Focus on services and streets

Flowers, 45, has been the alderman for almost 16 years for the ward, which generally takes in much of the city’s northern riverfront and nearby neighborhoods. 

Credit Brent Jones, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis' 2nd Ward

She still works in her father’s barbershop.

Flowers says she has been paying attention primarily to the need for demolition of vacant buildings, regulating the numerous salvage yards and auto-repair operations, encouraging economic development, while discouraging crime.

An animal lover, she has also been heavily involved in the City Hall battle over how to deal with abandoned pets and stray animals. She opposed shutting down the city’s dog pound and has sought instead to improve the animals’ treatment.

But her three rivals in the primary say that Flowers has ignored part of the ward.

Winfield Scott, 53, is a retired city firefighter. He lives in a neighborhood east of Halls Ferry Road. Scott says most of the ward services are concentrated west of Halls Ferry.

“We’re talking street repairs…sidewalks, the tearing down of abandoned buildings,’’ he said. “I have two abandoned buildings on my block, and I’ve been looking at them for 10 years.”

The other Democratic candidates are Jasmine Turnage and Joyce Hall, both of whom could not be reached or declined to return phone calls.

Scott says that all three of Flowers’ opponents “are saying pretty much the same thing” in their complaints about how she has represented the ward.

Flowers says that her opponents – especially Turnage and Hall – aren’t aware of everything that goes on in the ward, or what she has done.

7th Ward: Chasing Young's legacy

7th ward democratic aldermanic candidates 2015, coatar, mertha, cummings
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
7th ward democratic aldermanic candidates, Jack Coatar, Chelsea Merta and Samuel Cummings III

  Young resigned in December to ensure that the special election to fill her seat could be held in March, although with other scheduled primaries. 

Since then, the three-way contest has focused on who’s the best person to fill her shoes – and the needs of the ward. All three of the Democratic contenders, by the way, are under 30.

Coatar, 29, stepped down from his job as a prosecutor in Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office to run for the post. Coatar has a hefty political resume, working on campaigns for President Barack Obama, Mayor Francis Slay and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

His key issue is public safety. Several high-profile crimes in the ward, especially downtown, “have a lot of people spooked,’’ he said.

Coatar points to a drop in activity along the Washington Avenue entertainment district as evidence that businesses, downtown residential growth and tourism are threatened unless crime is curbed. Among other things, he’s calling for more police walking the streets.

Merta, 27, is a civil rights attorney and social-justice activist. Her father is a police officer. “My top priority is providing services,’’ she said. “There’s a better way to provide those services and to make our government a bit more transparent so folks can see what’s going on.”

She’d like to improve the aldermanic website so it provides more details of committee meetings and other activities important to the public.

Cummings, 27, says his focus is economic.  Creating more jobs, he said, is the best way of “attacking the root causes of racial inequality and lack of minority engagement.”

Cummings is promoting more urban farming, advocates more clean energy and decries what he sees as “institutional racism.”

At the same time, Cummings – who is African-American – says things won’t change unless more minority residents get involved. He points to the lack of minorities at most of the forums and meetings that he has attended.

At a forum Tuesday conducted by the League of Women Voters, all three candidates reaffirmed their support for expanding Metrolink. All three also said that a public vote should be held before any extension of city, county, or state bond payments is approved to help pay for a new downtown sports stadium.

8th Ward: Battle over leadership

The 8th Ward takes in Tower Grove East,  Shaw and Southwest Garden neighborhoods. 

St. Louis' 8th Ward
Credit Brent Jones, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis' 8th Ward

Steve Conway, 58, has been the alderman for 24 years. He’s an accountant, lawyer and son of former Mayor James Conway.

Conway says his message is his “proven leadership’’ and his focus on public and safety and neighborhood improvements. While crime has been a problem elsewhere in the city, Conway says it’s down 25 percent in the 8th Ward.

He also points to a dramatic decline in “nuisance properties,’’ primarily residences where police are called because of illegal drug activity, loud partying and shootings. In the last five years, such properties have declined to eight, from 88, Conway said.

His primary opponent, Kevin McKinney, says his message is that it’s time for a change.

Kevin McKinney, left, and Stephen Conway
Credit Provided
Kevin McKinney, left, and Stephen Conway

  McKinney, 58, runs a housing consulting business. He advocates getting more residents involved by promoting “participatory budgeting,’’ in which ward residents have more of a say in how city money is spent in the ward.

McKinney cites the controversy over a new football stadium and the likely departure of the Rams professional football team, as evidence that city officials in general have failed to “get out in front of these things ... solving problems before they become problems.”

15th Ward: Green and Braznell duke it out

One of the more unusual contests is shaping up in the 15th Ward, which encompasses portions of Tower Grove South, Tower Grove East, Gravois Park, Dutchtown and Benton Park West. 

Megan Green recently won election to a Board of Aldermen seat as an independent. It may have showcased that voters in her ward were less interested in party identification and more concerned about individual candidates.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward

Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, won the seat last fall as an independent after Jennifer Florida resigned to become recorder of deeds. But because of the way the city’s charter operates, she has to run again to fill out the rest of Florida’s term.

“The key is just connecting with residents and being able to balance the need for dealing with ward-level issues with city-level policy,” Green said. “The Board of Aldermen is going to be cut in half after the next census. And so we need somebody who can position us within the 15th Ward to be a key player in those conversations."

Green said she’s been working closely with Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, to put the finishing touches on a civilian review board of the St. Louis Police Department.

“We have a very progressive ward,” Green said. “They want to see a civilian oversight board for the most part. They want to see something that allows more transparency and accountability not just for our police department but for government in general. And so I think my message resonates more in that capacity.”

Braznell is the immediate past president of the St. Louis Association of Realtors, a politically influential organization. She said it would be beneficial for the Board of Aldermen to have a Realtor within its ranks: “I think that my background and my understanding of economic development and the role that real estate” plays would be valuable, Braznell said. 

Beth Braznell
Credit Courtesy of Beth Braznell

Braznell received the endorsement of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association – which has expressed plenty of misgivings about a civilian review board. She said she supports the idea of a review board but wants to “make sure that is implemented and implemented well." 

The race has taken a somewhat testy turn in recent days. Braznell – who’s raised tens of thousands of dollars for the contest and received a donation from  Slay – sent out a mailer criticizing Green for Tweets she made during protests over policing shootings around the St. Louis area.

She’s also criticized Green, who is working toward a doctorate in education leadership and public policy from St. Louis University, for not being a “full-time” alderman. 

But Green – who’s backed by St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and a host of labor unions – said residents are happy with the way she’s started off her public service career.

20th Ward: Three-way battle focuses on business

In southeast St. Louis, Alderman Craig Schmid, D-20th Ward, is facing a vigorous challenge from fellow Democrats Cara Spencer and David Gaither. 

Alderman Craig Schmid, D-20th Ward, left, is facing a stiff challenge for re-election.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Alderman Craig Schmid, D-20th Ward, left, is facing a stiff challenge for re-election.

Schmid, an attorney, has served on the Board of Aldermen since 1995. He’s touted opening up schools and redeveloping historic properties in the ward that includes Marine Villa, Dutchtown, Gravois Park and Mount Pleasant.

“I’ve always been somebody who takes the courageous stands on a lot of things – like local control of the police department, local control of the fire pension plan,” Schmid said. “I try to listen to all the voices – whether they are the loudest ones or not -- so we take into account all opinions and try to come up with the best solution to some of our challenges.”

Gaither is a social worker who ran unsuccessfully as an independent against Schmid in 2011. Spencer, the director of business development for Nebula Coworking and South Side Spaces, was active in the campaign to defeat a statewide transportation sales tax increase.

Spencer said she’s concerned that the ward is regressing economically. 

Cara Spencer
Credit Courtesy of Cara Spencer
Cara Spencer

“The 20th Ward is surrounded by signs of success, but the ward itself is languishing far behind neighboring wards and the rest of the region in almost every measurable way,” Spencer said in a statement.

“We have a city-wide reputation for being unfriendly to small business. Our crime is increasing while crime in the rest of the city is decreasing. People are leaving our ward 28 percent faster than the rest of the city. We have more vacant city-owned properties than any other ward on the south side and our voter turnout is the lowest in the city.”

The 20th Ward includes areas of the Cherokee Street business district. Some prominent business owners – like STLStyle’s Jeff and Randy Vines and developer Jason Deem – are backing Spencer. Schmid has often come into conflict with the business community on Cherokee Street, including  allowing some establishments to sell alcohol.

“We are being held back by outdated ideas and an old-fashioned way of doing things,” Spencer said. “When things were at their worst, Alderman Schmid’s restrictive policies kept the ward from hitting rock bottom. I’m grateful for his decades of hard work and commitment to the community, but the policies that kept us from hitting rock bottom are not the same policies that will help us to achieve our greatest potential.”

Schmid, however, sees things differently. Since many 20th Ward residents live so close to the business district, he said the area needs standards against things like excessive noise, litter or public urination.

“If somebody wants to do something – let’s say it’s a business – we want to be supportive of that,” Schmid said. “Obviously we’re supportive of  businesses. But in a very diverse community, you have to have some guidelines and standards to protect the interests of everybody else."

Spencer and Schmid have both fairly active on the fundraising front, while Gaither’s coffers have generally been filled with his own money. Schmid has received donations from Slay and the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association. And besides some Cherokee Street business owners and other individual donors, Spencer -- who has raised the most money in the contest -- took donations from former state Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, and state Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette.

22nd Ward: Boyd seeks to bounce back

After he fell short in his bids for city treasurer and license collector, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, is running for another term against Democrats Angela Newsom and Deceal Burgess. 

St. Louis' 22nd Ward
Credit Brent Jones, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis' 22nd Ward

Before he was elected, Boyd was a master sergeant in the U.S. Army. He also worked in the economic development sphere for both nonprofits and local governments. He was the sponsor of a successful charter amendment to give veteran-owned businesses a leg up in getting city contracts.

If he’s re-elected, his priority is redeveloping Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. He added that he wants to build it up to where it can compete with the Delmar Loop.

He also said he wants to develop some of the ward’s vacant lots and derelict buildings.

“Our ward is challenged with a lot of vacant buildings and vacant lots. And we need to just work together to try to make sure we do what we can to push the city to create more demolition funds and tear down the dangerous buildings,” Boyd said.

Newsom is a lifelong resident of the West End neighborhood. When her home was redistricted out of the 22nd Ward and into the 26th Ward, she was elected as a committeewoman. After the 2010 census, her house was back in the 22nd ward.

Newsom said she decided to run against Boyd because she was dismayed about the increasing crime in her neighborhood. She also said she decided to run because she’s tired of “watching my neighborhood disappear before my eyes.”

“I’m a fighter,” Newsom said. “And I’ve fought for the quality of life in this community for more than 30 years. Any time I’ve shut down a problem property, got rid of a vacant building or got rid of drug dealers, it’s because I fought for it. Nothing comes easy.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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