French takes plunge into race for St. Louis mayor
The race to be the next St. Louis mayor is getting more crowded.
A day after St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson jumped in the contest and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones announced that she had filed paperwork to race money for a mayoral bid, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French revealed he too would seek to succeed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
The 21st Ward Democrat was first elected to the Board of Aldermen in 2009. By running for mayor, he is giving up a chance to run for a third term as alderman.
“It has been very difficult to get the kind of transformative change that we want to see in these communities without a partner in the mayor’s office,” French said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “That office is critical to the city of St. Louis and also critical to the lives of individual citizens and neighborhoods.”
Before winning election to the Board of Aldermen, French gained notoriety for PubDef.net – one of the first websites to use video to deliver news about Missouri politics. He also worked on campaigns of St. Louis political figures and served as a committeeman in the north St. Louis-based 21st Ward.
French also emerged as a prominent voice in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death. As he used his phone to document protests over Brown’s death, he gained tens of thousands of followers on social media services like Twitter and was interviewed by numerous national media outlets.
If he were to win election to the mayor’s office next year, French would want to focus on reducing crime and stemming a population decline that’s hurt the economic fortunes of the city.
“Our biggest problem in St. Louis right now is for far too many people living in too many neighborhoods in our city, the quality of life is so poor that they are leaving in droves,” French said. “We are not able to keep the folks that we have, let alone attract new people.”
And unlike Slay, French said he’s skeptical of any bid to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County in some form or fashion. Slay said in his most recent inauguration speech that he was confident that he was confident St. Louis would re-enter St. Louis County "in the decade."
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity and room for cooperation between St. Louis City and St. Louis County,” French said. “I think the relationship right now between the county executive and the mayor is not the best. I’ll be happy to work with the county executive on things we can work on. There are a lot of things we can work on. But do I think the real need right now is for St. Louis City to get our house in order and for St. Louis County to get its house in order – and then for us to move forward after that.
“But both sides have a lot of work to do,” he added.
French joins Dotson, St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Alderman Lyda Krewson in the race to succeed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Jones and St. Louis Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly are raising money for potential runs.
One of the reasons French’s entry into the race may be surprising is because he’s been a close political and legislative ally of Reed’s for many years. While emphasizing that he’s on good terms with Reed, French said it would be good for the city if the pair worked together as members of the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment. That E&A board is made up of the mayor, comptroller and president of the board of aldermen.
“Sometimes we have different approaches to things,” French said. “I think one of the things that we will see in this race is not the need for personal attacks and not the need for nasty politics. Because there’s a mutual respect among many of the people running, and we’re just going to put our best position out there and let the voters decide.”
It’s possible that some of French’s votes on the Board of Aldermen could come into sharper focus. For instance, he’s been a longstanding critic of Paul McKee’s NorthSide Regeneration project. He voted against legislation that would raise St. Louis’ minimum wage, citing how St. Louis County decided against following the city’s lead on the issue.
He also ended up voting for a financial plan to fund a now-scuttled football stadium, a decision that drew the ire of some progressive-minded activists. But French emphasized that his "yes" vote came after extracting concessions out of stadium supporters, including making sure there was a robust minority participation plan for the project.
“I respectfully disagree with some of my so-called progressive friends sometimes,” French said. “We’re about moving the agenda and making sure that we are getting things done. Anybody who decided just to throw up their hands and say ‘no, no, no’ needs to understand two things: One, it was going to pass. The votes were clearly there to pass it. And number two, if the city and state did not act, [Stan Kroenke] would still have done what he did anyway. The only difference is that everybody would be blaming us.”
French faces another obstacle in standing out in the crowded field: All of the announced or soon-to-be announced candidates have raised substantially more money than he. His most recent filing with the Missouri Ethics Commission shows him with about $3,300 of cash on hand. By comparison, Daly, Reed, Krewson and Jones have much more robust campaign war chests.
He attributes his low campaign bank account to focusing his time raising money for North Campus, which is aimed at providing educational opportunities for children in north St. Louis.
“I’m going to have to fire up the machines,” French said. “Now in many ways, I think I have an advantage over some. Because I have a national reputation. I have a large social media following. So now we’re going to be working the next few months to translate that into dollars. But no one should underestimate my ability to raise money. We’ve raised a lot of money in the name of kids and making sure that these programs stay active.”