Tuesday's Board of Aldermen elections contained several surprises and notable takeaways.
One of the things it didn't have? Particularly impressive voter turnout. According to the St. Louis Board of Elections, only 9.5 percent of city voters cast their ballots in the aldermanic primary elections. That's way down from 2013, when a competitive mayoral election was at the top of the ticket.
This year, the marquee contest for the Board of Aldermen president was a tranquil affair. Incumbent President Lewis Reed blew out perennial candidate Jimmie Matthews by roughly 83-17. Lana Stein, a professor emerita of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and avid watcher of St. Louis politics, said that might have affected the turnout.
“There were no real citywide contests,” she said, noting that Reed had only token opposition. “So there wasn’t like a galvanizing contest to bring people out at all. There were no television commercials, radio spots, things like that.”
So here are some answers to the five questions posed earlier this week:
Will any incumbents lose re-election?
In what may have been the biggest upset of the night, Cara Spencer upended Alderman Craig Schmid in the 20th Ward, which takes in portions of Gravois Park, Marine Villa, Dutchtown and Mount Pleasant.
It’s a huge victory for the Cherokee Street business community, which has been at odds with Schmid for years. Some members of the eclectic business district have bristled at Schmid’s hands-on approach, especially when it comes to approving establishments that serve alcohol.
While Spencer was the only person who beat out an incumbent, other aldermen had some close calls. Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, D-2nd Ward, won by only five votes over Jasmine Turnage. And Aldermen Steve Conway, D-8th Ward, and Frank Williamson, D-26th Ward, narrowly won over their challengers.
Every other incumbent up for re-election won fairly decisively. But Stein said the result might be a wake-up call to some complacent aldermen.
“When I initially saw the list of candidates, I was surprised at how many incumbents were being challenged,” Stein said. “And some of them, like Frank Williamson or Steve Conway, did not win by a huge majority. Incumbents are going to have to be more aware of what they’re doing.”
What role will the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association play?
It depends which candidate you ask.
For the most part, the police officers’ association backed winning candidates – including 7th Ward contender Jack Coatar, Conway and Williamson. But the group also supported some people who lost decisively, including Schmid, 15th Ward contender Beth Braznell and 24th Ward candidate Tom Bauer.
Bauer and Braznell either raised or loaned themselves significant amounts of money but still lost badly to Aldermen Scott Ogilvie, D-24th Ward, and Megan Green, D-15th Ward, respectively. Green in particular was attacked for her association with the protest movement that sprung up after Michael Brown’s death.
The fact Green won with more than 70 percent of the vote potentially shows the police officers' backing can be something of a hazard. Then again, it probably would be a plus in wards with large populations of police officers – such as the 12th or 16th Ward.
Does money matter?
Again, it depends on whom you ask.
Since aldermanic contests are usually fought on the stoops instead of the airwaves, campaigning doesn't cost as much money as a state legislative or congressional race. But that didn’t stop some contenders from raking in lots of money over the last few months.
For instance, Coatar raised nearly $80,000 for his aldermanic bid -- a huge sum for such a contest. And even though she was a challenger, Spencer managed to out-hustle Schmid in the fundraising department as well.
But extra cash didn’t help Braznell that much. Despite spending nearly three times as much as Green, she received less than 29 percent of the vote in a two-way race.
How influential are St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s endorsements?
Most of Slay’s chosen candidates – including Coatar, Williamson, Ogilvie and Flowers – won. Schmid and Braznell lost.
Those two losses probably weren’t particularly gratifying for Slay, but they weren't that devastating either. The mayor will almost certainly have enough allies on the Board of Aldermen to pass some of his agenda into law, though it may be slightly tighter than after the 2013 elections.
And while Reed supported Coatar and Ogilvie, he strongly backed Green’s re-election bid. That may improve the aldermanic president’s political fortunes since he lost to Slay in the 2013 mayoral race.
Are aldermanic races about issues or personalities?
Well, OK, there’s not quantifiable way to answer this question. But it may not be an “either/or” question.
For instance: Spencer’s win in the 20th Ward may not have been an indictment of Schmid’s personality or temperament, but rather how he dealt with the Cherokee Street business community. And how the St. Louis Police Department operates may have affected how people voted in several competitive wards.
But Stein cited another factor that might determine voting behavior especially in the 15th and 20th wards: youth.
“Both Cara Spencer and Megan Green – they are both younger candidates who would appeal to the younger populace in those wards. There are changing demographics [there] all the time,” Stein said. “In the 20th Ward, at least in the Dutchtown area, they're organizing. They’ve been getting a newspaper together. There’s a lot of new energy.”
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.