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Government, Politics & Issues

Consultant Linked to Airport Privatization Aims To Recall Alderwoman Cara Spencer From Office

St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, says a circulating petition to recall her from office is "intimidation" from airport privatization proponents.
Carolina Hidalgo
/
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, says a circulating petition to recall her from office is "intimidation" from airport privatization proponents.

There’s a petition circulating in St. Louis’ 20th Ward to remove Alderwoman Cara Spencer from office.

Spencer, a vocal opponent of leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport, spoke at a press conference Monday morning to condemn the petition. She said it’s an intimidation tactic for speaking out on the issue of airport privatization.

“It’s a clear message to not just me, but other elected officials that if you stand up to special interests, then special interests will pay to have you removed from office,” she said after the event.

Metropolitan Strategies and Solutions, which is spearheading the recall effort, has been involved with airport privatization efforts for more than a year.

The company helped gather signatures earlier this summer to get an airport privatization petition on the November ballot. The company also advised St. Louis officials last year as they considered leasing Lambert.

Owner LeJuan Strickland said he isn’t pursuing the campaign because of Spencer’s stance on airport privatization, but because she hasn’t proposed any better ideas to bring in the kind of revenue proposed in the ballot initiative. Among other things, it promises $1 billion of net proceeds from leasing Lambert would go toward improving distressed neighborhoods.

While doorknockers wrapped up their campaign Monday, he said their message for 20th Ward residents was straightforward.

“The message that they’re given is this ward is made up of majority minorities, and if you think that there should be representation that reflects that, sign our petition. If you think that your ward has been neglected at this point, sign our petition,” he said.

Strickland said he hopes the petition sparks a dialogue between Spencer and her constituents of color, who he says have been neglected since she launched her mayoral campaign.

Removing Spencer from office would take a couple of steps. Strickland needs signatures from 20% of registered voters in the 20th Ward as per the last mayoral election — or 1,139 people. If the Board of Elections verifies those signatures, Spencer would have 10 days to voluntarily resign.

If Spencer does not resign, it would trigger a special election between 30 and 90 days later. The alderwoman, who won her seat last year with 70% of the vote, has said she will not resign.

Strickland said he has so far gathered about 1,900 signatures. He hopes to get the issue on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election, when St. Louis voters will also decide whether to lease the airport.

Spencer and other activist groups, including STL Not For Sale, are hoping to persuade some residents who already signed the petition to rescind their signatures.

Josie Grillas, a volunteer with the anti-privatization organization that hosted the press event Monday, said the petition is “outrageous.”

“They are essentially perverting the mechanisms that exist for people to hold their government accountable,” she said. “Citizen recall efforts are extremely serious and should be initiated by residents of the ward when there are true problems. They should not be a mechanism that can be manipulated by special interests who don’t even live in the ward.”

St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green, another vocal opponent of airport privatization, criticized the petition in a statement.

“The people of the City of St. Louis deserve accountability and focus on real issues, not intimidation. This petition drive is an attack on our democracy, and it will not be tolerated. We must reject any and all attempts to threaten or harass elected officials who will stand up to special interests, period,” she said.

Strickland fired back at opponents Monday for linking his company with others backed by local billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who footed the bill for the city’s exploration of the issue through the organization Grow Missouri. Strickland said his company is the sole provider of the $10,000 earmarked for the recall campaign.

“I just truly believe in my heart that it’s worth every penny that I put into it myself,” he said. “So there’s no Rex Sinquefield funniness, there’s nobody. I’m just a man on an island right now on this issue.”

Sinquefield is a major backer of Travis Brown’s companies. One of those, First Rule, entered into a joint venture with Strickland’s company last year. Brown previously served as the lead consultant to the city’s privatization exploration. His company Pelopidas has also funneled nearly $715,000 into the November ballot initiative on privatization over the last few months.

Strickland said the purpose of the joint venture is to do film work.

“We formed a joint venture to go after government work. It’s apolitical. It’s really just to record things for folks to livestream or whatever,” he said.

Strickland added that he has not worked with Pelopidas or others behind the privatization ballot initiative since his company completed gathering signatures.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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