5 Election Takeaways — And What They Mean For The Future Of St. Louis Politics
St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed’s narrow victory on Tuesday required some unusual political coalitions and allies to come together.
Reed bested state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and Alderwoman Megan Green in easily the toughest re-election bid since he captured the presidency of the Board of Aldermen in 2007. It came after years of political toil for the Democratic official, featuring two unsuccessful bids for mayor and high-profile fights over some contentious issues.
Now, Reed will get a chance to make some big decisions for the city. As a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Reed could be the swing vote on whether to get a private operator to run St. Louis Lambert International Airport. His continued presence on the board could also be helpful if Major League Soccer awards St. Louis a team, especially since he’s been an enthusiastic supporter of that effort.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to work tomorrow in the city of St. Louis and tackling some of these big issues we have in front of us,” he said Tuesday night.
Here are some takeaways from Tuesday’s election results, which also included a slew of competitive contests for aldermanic seats.
Reed did just well enough in all parts of the city
Turnout in Tuesday’s elections, 17.83 percent, was low, which can be partly attributed to cold weather. And Board of Aldermen elections that don’t feature a mayor’s race tend to have lower turnout. Case in point: The 2007 race where Reed upended incumbent Board of Aldermen President Jim Shrewsbury actually had lower turnout of 13.7 percent.
Reed only ended up winning six wards last night. But at least four of them — the 10th, 12th, 16th and 23rd — had turnout that exceeded 20 percent.
He also came in second in the vast majority of wards he didn’t win in north St. Louis (where Nasheed won handily) and parts of south St. Louis and the central corridor (where Green won).
This is a highly unusual path to win an election. Back in 2017, for instance, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson won based off big margins in southwest St. Louis and the central corridor.
Listen: "St. Louis on the Air" host Don Marsh discusses the St. Louis primary election in which race for president of the Board of Aldermen is the most high profile.
Southwest side flexes its muscle once again
Tuesday’s election showed once again the importance of southwest St. Louis, which often has the highest turnout in citywide elections.
Reed ended up winning the 10th, 12th, 16th and 23rd Wards by a combined 1,361 votes — just a tad under the 1,404 margin over Nasheed. That’s notable for a couple reasons: For one thing, the largely-white southwest side often votes for white candidates in competitive multi-candidate races (like Mayor Francis Slay in 2013 or Krewson in 2017). So the fact that Reed, an African-American, was able to win so decisively over Green, who is white, showcases the area’s political evolution.
It certainly helped that Reed nabbed endorsements of key southwest St. Louis-based political organizations, such as the 16th Ward Democrats, and political figures like Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly. He also had the support of Krewson, who as mentioned earlier possesses strength in that part of town. If anything, Tuesday is further evidence that southwest St. Louis-based voters listen to its political leaders.
Money can only get a candidate so far
While the final tallies won’t be known right away, the Board of Aldermen president’s race was an expensive affair. The candidates for president and their supporters spent nearly $800,000 on the race, when money from outside groups is included.
Nasheed ended up spending the most — more than $400,000 — on mailers, television ads and radio commercials. But she ended up with basically the same vote total as Green, who spent around $100,000.
Some of that can be attributed to Green doing well in places that had higher turnouts than the citywide average, such as the 8th and 15th Wards. She also placed second in a number of southwest St. Louis-based wards.
Meanwhile, a PAC funded by unidentified donors to the politically active nonprofit Joseph Wingate Folk Society had mixed results. It backed winners like Reed, 14th Ward incumbent Carol Howard, 18th Ward contender Jesse Todd, 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and 24th Ward victor Bret Narayan. But 6th Ward candidate Debra Carnahan, 20th Ward contender Sunni Hutton and 26th Ward aspirant Jake Banton all lost.
Incumbency rules the day
Reed wasn’t the only incumbent to win on Tuesday. Every incumbent alderman who was challenged in a Democratic primary prevailed, often by wide margins.
That included Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, who squared off against the well-funded Debra Carnahan. She beat Carnahan by nearly 17 percentage points, as well as two other candidates by even wider margins.
Most other incumbents won their races by landslides, often nabbing more than 60 or 70 percent of the vote. The only close call was in the 14th Ward, where Alderwoman Carol Howard held off Tony Peckinovsky by 52 votes.
It’s been awhile since the city held an aldermanic election cycle without an incumbent losing. Two years ago, Dan Guenther unseated 9th Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann. And four years ago, Cara Spencer defeated 20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid.
Could Tuesday mark an end of an era?
For all the money and energy put into the Board of Aldermen president’s race, it may be a moot point if statewide voters get their way next year.
That’s because Better Together’s proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County eliminates the Board of Aldermen president — and, eventually, the Board of Aldermen. The new 33-person council will have a president that’s picked internally, as opposed to a citywide election.
Even if the city-county merger plan falters, the Board of Aldermen is in for a big change pretty soon. The Board is set to shrink to 14 members. And that means that candidates for those seats starting in 2023 will have to run over a larger area to represent more people — which will likely make those types of races more expensive.
If the Better Together plan doesn’t pass, Reed will play a major role in drawing the new aldermanic map — which could be much more contentious than the relatively tranquil 2011 redistricting process.
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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