When Mayor Francis Slay appointed his longtime political ally, Alderwoman Jennifer Florida, D-15th Ward, to take over from Sharon Carpenter as recorder of deeds in July, Florida stepped down from the aldermanic seat she’d long held. That triggered the special election to replace Florida scheduled for Tues., Oct. 7.
The opening had led to a crowded field of candidates.
Missy Pinkerton-McDaniel is the Democratic candidate, chosen by the St. Louis Democratic Central Committee. Although Pinkerton-McDaniel has an obvious advantage as the Democratic nominee, anything can happen in low-turnout special elections -- which is exactly what her opponents are hoping for.
Joining her on the ballot is Republican Josh Simpson and two independents: Megan Green and Rhonda Smythe.
Pinkerton-McDaniel is a member of the St. Louis Democratic Central Committee. She has lived in St. Louis for nearly five years and says her first priority as an alderwoman would be crime.
“My first priority is making sure this neighborhood is safe,” Pinkerton-McDaniel said at a packed forum held by the League of Women Voters earlier this week. “It’s a hard thing when our neighbors can’t walk down the street or sit on their front porches without fear of being robbed or being assaulted.”
Green said she moved into the 15th Ward 10 years ago as part of a Coro fellowship, a training and leadership program. Among other things since, she has taught in St. Louis Public Schools.
“Over these 10 years, I’ve seen tremendous revitalization in our neighborhoods,” Green said. “But we still have high crime levels, we still have schools that – rightly or wrongly – families feel like they can’t send their kids to.”
Crime and law enforcement were recurring topics throughout the forum. Last year’s crime statistics recorded more than 1,000 instances of crime in Tower Grove South – more than half for larceny. That metric puts the neighborhood in the top five neighborhoods for total crime. But when considering total population, Tower Grove South is actually in the middle of the pack for crime compared to other St. Louis neighborhoods.
Smythe, the policy and advocacy manager for Trailnet, a cycling and pedestrian advocacy group, was also appointed to the mayor’s Vanguard Cabinet on the Health, Environment and Recreation Committee, focusing on recycling, biking and local food and farming. She says that experience should set her apart in the race.
“I already have a lot of experience in City Hall, so I won’t have that time trying to understand the legislative process or the budget process, because I’ve already been going to those meetings for several years,” Smythe said.
But the Republican candidate, Simpson, touted his lack of connections at City Hall. He says he wants to be a counterbalance to the Democratic Board of Aldermen.
“I would be that check and balance, to be that person that comes up with new ideas, to redefine the way we go about doing things on the floor of City Hall,” Simpson said.
Roughly a week before the election, the Democratic nominee had actually disclosed spending the least of all the candidates. Pinkerton-McDaniel had spent $263, compared to Green’s $3,983. Smythe and Simpson have spent $1,224 and $842 by that same time, respectively.
On the Issues
During the forum, the candidates were given the opportunity to present their views on a variety of issues affecting the city and their ward. Here is a a condensed version of their comments. Another forum is scheduled for 9 p.m. tonight
A Civilian Review Board: Should it have subpoena power?
Green: Supports a review board, but says the structure should come from input from the community instead of police. It should also have subpoena power.
Smythe: Thinks the current proposal is good to “build back some of the trust in this community. The board bill as proposed, would have investigative power through subpoenas and monitoring power. And they’d be able to make recommendations to the chief, but it’s still up to him what those disciplinary actions are.”
Pinkerton-McDaniel: “It’s my understanding that now that we have local control that police are civil service employees, and there is a civil service review board. I support the work that they do.”
Simpson: “A civilian review board would not work. An independent review board with” officers and citizens would work better, he said. He worries that officers would “feel victimized by this if no one from their own background was there to explain a situation.”
Should there be a real-time intelligence center for law enforcement?
Pinkerton-McDaniel: “Let’s mount these cameras up, let’s put ‘em in our bedrooms,” she said, laughing. “Where do we stop with this? And who’s monitoring this? We get all this money and all this stuff, but who is monitoring this?”
Simpson: “A more sustained police presence” would be a better alternative to the real-time intelligence center.
Green: The first step, said Green, should be "conversations of what would happen at that center and how that footage would be monitored. To me, we’re putting the cart before the horse.”
Smythe: “There hasn’t been enough of a conversation in the community before the center was proposed in the bond bill,” she said. “I have to tell you, I was against this before I started talking to aldermen and they told me about crimes that were happening in their neighborhood, and told me that they were actually advocating for this. So I think there’s two sides to every story, but I agree that there needs to be more discussion before we vote on it.”
What committees would you like to be on?
Smythe: “Public health -- it’s my background and my strength. Streets, traffic and refuse because I already do so much work with the streets department to make streets more walkable and bikable.”
Pinkerton-McDaniel: “Public safety is one of them. It’s so important for this city and for this region. HUDZ (Housing, Urban Development and Zoning) is another committee that Jennifer [Florida] was on that is very good for our region that determines money for our wards.”
Simpson: Echoed Pinkerton-McDaniel’s selections, saying public safety is his No. 1 concern. “Convention and tourism. Whenever my friends come to visit, I show them all around the city. I show them how far Wash Avenue and the Grove have come.”
Green: “The three I would be most interested in would be legislative, housing and urban planning, public safety. Legislative gets to work with the court system, and that’s another interest of mine – mandating drug treatment as part of any sentence for someone convicted of a crime that involves drugs,” for example.
Pinkerton-McDaniel, Green and Smythe are in favor of a practice called participatory budgeting. It’s a process that allows ward residents to vote on how money is spent from the ward budget.
Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter: @csmcdaniel