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Effort underway to return partisan elections in St. Louis

Voting stations at Central Baptist Church in St. Louis on March 10, 2020.
Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
A proposal from St. Louis 1st Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus would restore partisan voting in city primary elections.

A St. Louis alderwoman wants to return the city to partisan elections for all local offices.

Legislation introduced Friday by Alderwoman Sharon Tyus of the 1st Ward would repeal an initiative approved by voters in November 2020 known as Proposition D. It made the offices of mayor, comptroller, board president and aldermen nonpartisan and allowed people to vote for as many candidates as they wanted in the March primary, a process known as approval voting. The top two candidates advanced to a runoff in April.

The measure did not include a provision that allowed a candidate who got 50% of the vote in the March election to be declared the winner. That meant it was possible for a candidate to win in March but lose in April, an outcome the legislation called “unfair, non-democratic outcomes.”

Election results show that in two of the first 16 aldermanic races to be held under the new rules in 2021, two candidates who got more than 50% of the vote in the March primary lost in the April runoff — Tammika Hubbard in the 5th Ward and Michelle Sherod in the 17th. Vicky Grass also received the most votes in the March primary and lost the April runoff in the 12th Ward, but she did not receive more than 50% of the March vote.

Tyus wants to replace nonpartisan approval voting with a hybrid system of partisan primaries in February and nonpartisan runoffs in March. That would shift the filing window for local elections to December.

Changing the timing of the local elections could require the city, in odd years, to hold three elections in three months.

Board honors firefighter killed by roof collapse

The board on Friday honored firefighter Benjamin Polson, who was killed Thursday when the roof of a burning vacant building in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood collapsed.

Aldermen also called it proof the city needs to take several public safety issues more seriously.

St. Louis firefighters kneel near a vacant building in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood on Thursday, January 13, 2022. Firefighter Benjamin Polson was killed and two others injured when the roof on the building collapsed. City records show it had been vacant since at least 2004.
Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis firefighters gather after getting the news that one of their own was killed and another injured while fighting a fire in a vacant building in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood on Thursday.

“A building that doesn’t have gas, and doesn’t have electric and sets itself on fire, tells me that homeless people” were in there,” said 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro. “These buildings are being used nightly as shelters. If we don’t address the homeless problem, buildings will continue to burn where they’re most vacant, which happens to be mostly north, and firefighters will continue to be put at risk.”

The single-family home at 5971 Cote Brilliante has been vacant since at least 2004. It was condemned for occupancy in 2007, a status that was later lifted. The city on Thursday issued an emergency condemnation order.

The city’s building division is more than capable of tracking vacant buildings that need to be boarded up or demolished, said Alderwoman Marlene Davis of the 19th Ward. The aldermen, she said, need to stay out of the process.

“We have to get out of the way and get this work done, and most definitely appropriate more money,” she said. “It’s not just the fire, it’s everything else, all the crime that comes with that.”

Two other firefighters who were injured in the collapse were treated at the hospital and released.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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