Municipal candidates, school issues dominate Tuesday's election
On Tuesday, voters across the region go to the polls for municipal elections. Overall, this spring, more than 900 candidates are running for local offices, including mayors and members of city councils and school boards. Voters will also decide on dozens of ballot proposals, including some to raise taxes.
For complete information about ballots and polling places, contact the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners or the St. Charles County Election Authority. The League of Women Voters also has a voters guide on its website.
The league is optimistic that the turnout for these elections will be higher than the customary 15 percent or lower. Pat Jones, the league’s forum coordinator, told political reporter Jo Mannies that “we have had great crowds at all of our forums.’’
In a region where contests for local offices receive little more than a fleeting mention beyond a town’s borders, the races for three open seats on the Ferguson City Council are getting unprecedented coverage. The three incumbents in the three council seats up for election are not running for election -- but eight candidates have filed for these part-time positions with limited power and authority.
Of the eight candidates, four are African Americans. Ferguson is roughly two-thirds black; only one of the six current council members is black. Here is how the contest stacks up:
- First Ward: Four candidates — Ella Jones, Doyle McClellan, Adrienne Hawkins and Mike McGrath — are running for the 1st Ward seat. McClellan is a professor at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Ill., and has lived in Ferguson about two years. McGrath runs his own high-tech business, is active in a number of civic groups and just finished eight years on the city’s planning commission. Adrienne Hawkins is a federal employee and a longtime Ferguson resident. Jones is a member of the city’s Human Rights Commission, and just left a longtime job as sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics. Jones also heads the Ferguson Township Open Democratic Club.
- Second Ward: Brian Fletcher is taking on Bob Hudgins, a former broadcaster at KWMU and a fixture in the protest movement since Brown’s death. Fletcher served as Ferguson’s mayor for two terms and was the creator of the I Love Ferguson business booster group. Both are white.
- Third Ward: The 3rd Ward race features attorney and criminology professor Wesley Bell taking on Smith, a retired factory worker. The ward includes the Canfield Green apartment complex, which was near where Brown was killed. Both candidates are African American.
In the Ferguson-Florissant school district, where more than three-quarters of the students are black, controversies with racial overtones have involved the superintendent’s position and how board members are elected. A popular black superintendent, Art McCoy, wound up departing after the board voted to put him on leave. None of the board members who voted to remove him was black, and no reason was ever given for the board's dissatisfaction. A new superintendent, also African American, starts this summer.
In December, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a voting rights suit alleging that because Ferguson-Florissant elects school board members at large, rather than from districts, black residents do not get a proper say in how the district is run. The district says it has not violated voting rights law.
Against that backdrop, two seats on the school board are up for election in April. One incumbent, Brian Ebert, is seeking re-election; another is not. Ebert is white, as is one of the other candidates on the ballot, Donna Dameron. Three other candidates – Roger Hines, Michael Person and Courtney Graves – are black.
Ferguson-Florissant is also asking voters to approve a $31 million bond issue, Proposition I, which would pay for $16 million in safety, security and technology improvements and a second $15 million phase to help convert one of the district’s facilities into a STEAM center to teach science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Residents in 15 county municipalities will resolve competitive mayoral contests, including a five-way battle in Jennings. Nearby Black Jack has four contenders, and the mid-county community of Brentwood has three candidates for the city’s top jobs.
St. Louis County's largest city, Florissant, also has a spirited contest for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Tom Schneider is facing off against Mark Behlmann. Schneider won the office four years ago after serving 32 years on the city council. Behlmann is a former developer who served 18 years on the Hazelwood School Board.
Even so, most of the candidates for local offices in St. Louis County – from mayor to council member – face no opposition.
In St. Louis, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, most aldermanic races were resolved in the March primary. On Tuesday, Republican candidates are competing in only five of the 17 wards. That’s fewer than the seven Green Party candidates. The only citywide contest is for president of the board of aldermen and incumbent Lewis Reed is expected to coast to an easy victory over Republican Erik Shelquist and Green Party candidate Jeffrey Schaefer.
In St. Charles, Mayor Sally Faith, a former Republican legislator, is running for re-election. Four years she ousted the incumbent and now she is facing a former member of the city council, Mike Klinghammer, a fellow Republican. Faith is running on her record of new businesses, her regular newsletters to residents and her cost-cutting efforts – such as early-retirement incentives – to address the city’s declining revenue. For his part, Klinghammer is stressing his his work to improve the city’s roads and infrastructure, including the construction of a new fire station.
St. Louis County Council
St. Louis County’s potentially most influential contest is the 6th District in south county. There voters will select a new county council member to replace Democrat Steve Stenger, who was elected county executive. Politically, the 6th District is considered swing territory. Stenger’s predecessor, for example, was a Republican who, in turn, had ousted a Democrat. As a result, the county GOP sees the 6th District special election as an opportunity to pick up a seat – which would give Republicans three seats on the seven-member council.
The Republican candidate is Tony Pousosa, a Green Park alderman who unsuccessfully ran against Stenger in 2012. Pousosa lost a bid for county executive last summer when he was defeated in the Republican primary by Rick Stream. His major concern is stopping any potential merger or consolidation of St. Louis County with St. Louis.
The Democratic candidate is Kevin O’Leary of Oakville, a relative newcomer to local politics. For years, he owned a bar called O’Leary’s with actor John Goodman, a south county native. He says his priority is streamlining business development and communicating more with voters.
Other districts, besides Ferguson-Florissant, have bond issues on the ballot. In Rockwood, where two bond issues have failed in recent years, Proposition 4, a $68.95 million bond issue, would pay for projects in four areas:
- Updated technology and renovated high school science labs
- Increased safety and security
- Preventive maintenance at all schools
- Synthetic fields and replacement tracks at all high schools.
In Webster Groves, Proposition S would increase the district's operating ley by 65 cents, and Proposition W, a $28 million bond issue, would increase the district’s tax rate to retire bonds by 28 cents. If both proposals pass, the school district would have the highest combined tax rate in St. Louis County.
The tax increase would improve technology, provide all-day kindergarten and increase pre-school scholarships for needy families. District officials say if the tax increase fails, Webster Groves would have to cut staff and programs in the coming school year and would not be able to ease overcrowding.
And in Maplewood-Richmond Heights, voters will decide the fate of a $6.1 million bond issue, Proposition K, to pay for more space in the district's popular pre-school and early childhood programs. If the bonds win approval, the district's tax rate would increase by an estimated 15 cents.
Many districts also have school board races on the ballot, including two slots in the city of St. Louis where the elected school board has no power and authority and the district is run by a Special Administrative Board.
Jo Mannies, Jason Rosenbaum and Dale Singer contributed to this story.