Alvin Parks, Jr. joined “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh to discuss his two terms as mayor of East St. Louis and his plans for the future.
Councilwoman Emeka Jackson-Hicks unseated Parks in the April 7 election. After a court order removed his name from the ballot, Parks was forced to wage a write-in campaign. Jackson-Hicks is the daughter of Democratic state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson. She was sworn into office on Monday.
In a good-bye letter to his constituents, Parks expressed gratitude and included a recap of his accomplishments during his term. Some of the accomplishments Parks mentioned were new streets and sidewalks, demolition of dilapidated buildings, new residential developments, and new opportunities for the youth.
“I wanted to remind them of what we had done together,” Parks said. “If you forget what you’ve done, you just might go backwards.”
On the contrary, Parks did not accomplish everything he planned to do while in office. One particular improvement plan that went undeveloped was revitalizing the city’s downtown district. Parks attributed part of that failure to the 2008 recession that lasted until 2012.
Parks also regrets the closure of Kenneth Hall Regional Hospital in 2011, which was the only emergency room hospital in East St. Louis. Along with the closure of the hospital, the Schnucks grocery market located at 2600 State Street closed on May 2.
Much of East St. Louis’ struggle is with its image. After the East St. Louis race riots in 1917, the city’s economic and residential base suffered substantially. Along with the race riots, the city has been cited for a history of corrupt government affairs. Parks said that because of these occurrences, turning around the state of the city has been a tough task.
“One of the things we have to be realistic about is that East St. Louis has had a perception image issue for over 100 years,” Parks said. “It’s always been known as a tough town that has slithers of corruption that have permeated the community for a long time. Getting past that corruption and that tough image has been a very big challenge.”
To counter the negative stigma, Parks mentioned that officials have considered changing the name of the city. However, with the rich history of the city, changing the name would alter the history of what made East St. Louis what it is today, he explained.
As for his future, Parks said he will miss his days of being mayor. The biggest challenge facing his successor, he said, is the task of continuing to bring positive economic development to the city. Parks wants to help accomplish that and plans to remain in public service through connecting with business organizations to bring economic services to East St. Louis.
“Leadership is not about position and title, it’s about action,” he said, “and one of the things that I will always be is a person who’s about the action. Whether it’s the action of business and economic development or public service, it’s going to be about the action, not the title.”
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.