St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed was expecting a competitive 2015 re-election bid – at least that’s what he thought at the end of 2013.
Reed had lost just lost decisively to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay in a hard-fought Democratic primary for mayor. Running against an incumbent chief executive isn’t the greatest way to make friends, and Reed himself expected that his bid for a third term wouldn’t be that easy.
“I would think that Francis Slay would put somebody up,” said Reed during a 2013 edition of the Politically Speaking podcast. “These things are like a boxing match. You’re in the ring. You swing. You expect to get the hit back.”
To put it mildly, Reed’s prediction was way off.
Despite rumblings that he would face a challenge from a colleague on the Board of Aldermen, Reed is getting something close to a free ride to re-election. He’s heavily favored to win the March 3 Democratic primary over Jimmie Matthews, a perennial candidate and one-time alderman. Barring a titanic shift in the heavily Democratic city, he’ll almost certainly win the April 7 general election over Republican Erik Shelquist and Green Party nominee Jeffrey Schaefer.
In his next term, Reed says he’s focused on instituting a civilian review board for the St. Louis Police Department and getting a bonding package before the voters.
“Things have changed across the last couple of years,” said Reed during a wide-ranging interview on Monday. “I think that we have a good team at the Board of Aldermen. We have a nice coalition of aldermen that we’re working with to try and get things done for the people of the city of St. Louis.”
Down, but not out
A native of Joliet, Ill., Reed burst on the St. Louis political scene in the late 1990s when he was elected 6th Ward’s alderman. He pulled off an upset of sorts in 2007 when he defeated then-Board of Aldermen President Jim Shrewsbury – and in the process became the first African American to hold that position.
After cruising to re-election in 2011, Reed challenged Slay in the 2013 mayoral primary. While the race wasn’t as nasty as, say, the Democratic primary for St. Louis County executive, losing an election was not an experience that Reed particularly enjoyed.
Slay "had the resources he needed to win that race,” said Reed, adding that he was significantly outspent during that campaign. “You have to give it to them, they ran a good campaign. I mean, a really good, solid campaign. And they didn’t miss any beat on that campaign.”
Reed had a much more politically fruitful 2014.
Some of his endorsed candidates – including Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward; License Collector Mavis Thompson; and Recorder of Deeds Sharon Q. Carpenter – won contested races. And while Slay publicly backed a transportation sales tax increase, Reed opposed the losing proposal.
Reed appeared to be on a collision course with Alderwoman Jennifer Florida, a 15th Ward Democrat who had announced a bid for his job. But Florida was appointed recorder of deeds, lost her bid for a full term and didn’t file against Reed. Another possible contender – Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward – also didn’t file against Reed.
That caught Reed a bit off guard.
“The mayor had every right to back a candidate. And myself or anybody really shouldn’t begrudge him for that,” Reed said. “It’s good that now we can really focus on some of these major issues ahead of us as a city. It’s important that we all work together because it’s going to take everybody with their shoulder to the wheel to try to get these things done.”
When asked in January to react to Reed’s likely re-election, Slay replied: “Nothing’s changed.”
“It’s the same as what we’ve been working on now for the last six years,” Slay said. “He’s been president of the Board of Aldermen. I’ve been the mayor of the city of St. Louis. I’m going to continue to work on behalf of the people of St. Louis and do everything I can to work with the Board of Aldermen, including him, to move this city forward.”
Slay also said he was “not involved in putting a candidate in against him.”
“I mean, if somebody ran for office that I thought would be a good leader for St. Louis, I certainly would have been at the table in working to try and help support that person,” Slay said. “That did not materialize. And that’s up to somebody else to decide whether they want to run for president of the Board of Aldermen. It’s a big job. And it’s one that didn’t draw any other candidates.”
When asked if he would pursue a re-match with Slay in 2017, Reed laughed and said: "It's important for me to get through this campaign."
"We have a lot of work to do in these next couple of years in working with residents all across the city," Reed said.
Unlike, say, Missouri’s speaker of the House, Reed doesn’t necessarily have a lot of power to pass everything he wants. That’s because some aldermen are more aligned with Slay – although those factions can shift depending on the issue.
The top item on Reed's agenda may be a civilian review board for the St. Louis Police Department, an effort that’s been in the works for years.
The proposal moving through the board has critics who say subpoena power is needed to make the review board work effectively. (Slay’s office says that either state law or the city’s charter would have to change for the board to have subpoena power.)
“The bill that will come out of the Board of Aldermen in all likelihood will not have subpoena power in it,” Reed said. “That being said, with the Public Safety Committee having the ability to use subpoena power, I think there needs to be a stronger partnership there.”
He also wants to help bridge divisions between police and residents, an especially pressing issue in the wake of police shootings throughout the region. To do that, he says there needs to be “lines of communication” between competing groups and “equity and fairness” in the allocation of resources.
“The division that exists within St. Louis is something that we now have an opportunity to address – and I’m talking about the racial division within our city,” Reed said. “Because now we are forced into a position where we have to have those difficult discussions. And before, those discussions just weren’t happening.”
Reed also wants to help facilitate a new MetroLink line to run north and south. That type of project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and require coordination with St. Louis County and the federal government.
“Just the amount of additional revenue that the city would see from the businesses and all the increased economic activity that would happen along that route if indeed it was built out would be significant,” Reed said. “Also the impact on the lives of people through those corridors would be significant.”
When asked if city residents would vote to extend bonds for a riverfront football stadium, Reed said: “At the end of the day there would have to be something (to) go out to the voters to approve some additional bonding initiative.”
“To build it and spend money on it, it cannot just be for the Rams,” Reed said. “The size of the investment would almost dictate that we would need to have a stadium that we can use for multiple things and keep it active. And [doing it] in a way that would not take some of the stadiums and some of the venues that we currently have active in the city.”
“We would have to have a study and see how all of that would fare out,” he added.
Later this week, Reed’s interview will be included in a special edition of the Politically Speaking podcast looking at the city’s municipal elections.