Craig Schmid is the Democratic candidate for Alderman of the 20th Ward. Here are his answers to our 20 Questions for Aldermanic Candidates in the City of St. Louis. Craig can be found online at craigschmid.org and at his official City of St. Louis webpage. The City of St. Louis general election is April 5. For more information, visit the St. Louis Board of Elections website. James McNeely-Green Party and David Gaither-Independent are also on the ballot in the 20th Ward.
1. What is the single most important issue in your ward?
Quality of Life.
2. What is the best thing to happen in your ward in the past five years?
Strong, active neighborhood leaders.
3. What is the worst thing to happen in your ward in the past five years?
Foreclosures and national economic collapse.
4. How does the continuing decline in population affect your ward?
Actually the foreclosures and lack of bank financing are largely fueling our population decline. And, I believe we have many residents who are not counted in the census. If we had more bank financing and investment, I believe you would see population growth.
5. What does the City of St. Louis do well?
Many things. We offer fantastic, architecturally significant, affordable housing, along with many big city amenities with a small town feel. I think this makes St. Louis one of the biggest small towns in America. We offer a comfortable way of life for families that is less expensive than one would find in many cities, including free and low cost. There are many well-established institutions, including great institutions of higher learning. For many years we were not attracting younger people, but apparently this recent census shows that we had one of the highest percentage increases in the country when it comes to an increase in the number of 24-35 year olds.
6. What must the City of St. Louis do better?
Many things. But, among them is looking forward with a positive attitude. Too often it seems to me that we have an inferiority complex, believing that our best days are behind us, rather than before us. I consider that to be the 1904 World's Fair syndrome. We are poised to be a potential biotechnology, communications, and world trade hub. Visitors to St. Louis often seem to appreciate what we have more than many native St. Louisans do. We must have more efficient delivery of governmental services. We need a greater commitment to making public education and St. Louis Public Schools the greatest schools in the country, rather than bickering and looking for ways to avoid them.
7. Do you support city-wide historic preservation review?
Yes, but individual communities must have a say in this. I sought to include my ward in preservation review and to obtain historic district designations.
8. Do you support Great Streets projects such as South Grand between Arsenal and Utah, an effort to make city streets more pedestrian friendly?
Yes. I attempted to get Great Streets for Cherokee Street. We were successful in obtaining a Federal Enhancement project that morphed into an American Recovery & Reinvestment (ARRA) Federal stimulus project, because it was shovel-ready.
9. Do you support the City of St. Louis re-entering St. Louis County as an independent municipality?
I believe there is much to be accomplished before considering this. We should be working together whenever possible to achieve common goals in a way that maximizes economies of scale to save taxpayers' money. This also brings people together across boundaries to work together and to develop cooperative working relationships. We have some examples of this with MSD, Junior College District, Metro (Bi-State Development Agency), Zoo Museum District, the police lab downtown, etc.
10. Whether or not the city re-enters the county, should "county" offices be appointed rather than elected?
Recently St. Louis County sought and obtained the right to vote for their county assessor. I think it is a good thing to offer voters the right to elect county office holders in order to create more accountability to the people.
11. Twenty-eight alderman once represented 856,000 city residents. Today, 28 aldermen represent 319,000 residents. How many Alderman do you believe are needed to represent the residents of the City of St. Louis?
I don't know that there is a magic number of aldermen. The population of the City went to somewhere around 800,000 in the 1950s, but I believe the wards were set before that level of population. I understand that many draw a connection between numbers of people and workload. I know there can be some connection. However, there is also a connection between loss of population, age of infrastructure, concentration of poverty, and issues that create economic and safety concerns that did not exist 60 years ago. The needs of our City have gone up in many respects as the population has gone down, because much of the infrastructure for more population is still here and is older, needing more maintenance with declining revenues.
I do not know that there is a magic number for the number of aldermen we ought to have as a City. I do know that I stay busy (about 60 hours per week). I also believe that the larger the district the more likely it is that money, rather than personal interaction, becomes the byword for campaigns. How much money is spent in state congressional campaigns and U.S. campaigns to get out their political message as opposed to the door-to-door effort of local aldermen? There are many surrounding municipalities and towns with more elected officials (fire districts, school boards, and council members) per person than the City of St. Louis. Rather than looking at what number of aldermen we should have in a vacuum, I believe we should start by asking what we want aldermen to do. If we just want legislators – and somehow we are going to improve service delivery in some other way – then, obviously you could probably have fewer aldermen. But, for the sake of neighborhoods and the people who live and work in them, I would want to see the service delivery improvement first.
So, I don't know if there are too many wards or not. I do know that eliminating the entire board of aldermen would not pull us out of our fiscal challenges.
12. How can you/the city support small business development and expansion?
Be there to act as a liaison to bureaucracies and advocate for the businesses, as well as to explain, and cut through, red tape. We need to support efforts to improve the education of our workforce; assure a level playing field for all regardless of race, religion, etc., so that there is a chance to become an entrepreneur; improve infrastructure and safety; and work to enhance the market and customer base through better housing. We can also seek more opportunities for funding start up businesses.
13. What role do large employers play in our city?
Some of the larger employers have been stable contributors to the St. Louis economy and provide some of the higher paying jobs.
14. What should St. Louis do to retain large employers and encourage others to relocate here?
See the answer to #12. We need to continue seeking ways to retain our best and brightest and avoid what has been a "brain drain". I believe that employers first and foremost look for a skilled workforce. They look for a place where they can operate and obtain healthy profit. They look for a place where their management will be able to live well. The best companies also look for a place where their workforce will be happy. We need to continue to concentrate on offering those amenities that will improve the quality of life for the employers and employees.
15. What is the proper use of tax increment financing (TIF)? Is there a proper use?
I have no TIFs in Ward 20. However, TIFs are designed to be used in urban cores that have suffered economic hardships as a result of urban sprawl. They are best used where there will be economic activity taxes that can be directed to support the project.
16. Is eminent domain ever warranted?
I have never used eminent domain in Ward 20. Eminent domain does not mean that the government can take someone's property. It means that a person must allow the government to buy the property at a fair price. It should obviously be used sparingly, only for projects that are in the public interest to address blight when the government and private parties cannot come to agreement on price without independent commissioners setting that price, sometimes with the assistance of the courts and juries. Eminent domain may be warranted where the seller is being excessively unreasonable, thereby holding the developer of a project hostage to paying an exorbitant amount to buy the property. Without the possibility of eminent domain in those limited circumstances blighted locations would languish, essentially stealing value from other property in the community, and economic development would not occur.
17. Do you support local control of the city police department?
Yes, so long as we address the legitimate concerns of police officers, such as assuring them that their pension is protected, so that when they retire they get what has been promised, and what should be guaranteed by State & Federal law. City voters have overwhelmingly indicated that they want their police as close to them as possible, including their governance. Every police department in the country, other than Kansas City and St. Louis, are locally governed. The emergency circumstances of the Civil War that resulted in the State temporarily seizing control under what amounted to martial law are over. Decisions in general are best made as close to the people they affect as possible. The police protect and serve St. Louisans, so St. Louisans should govern and support their police department, not just fund it. They should also govern and support their public school system.
18. Do you support Prop E and the continuation of the 1% city earnings tax?
Yes. It is in part a matter of social justice, as pointed out by a letter from Archbishop Carlson. Again, it relates to an eroding tax base as a result of urban sprawl and subsidization of that urban sprawl. If Proposition E does not pass we will not be able to share the costs of service that everyone who comes to the City enjoys with all who come here to work. Instead, only residents will bear all of the costs. So the pool of payers will shrink. And more of the tax burden will be borne by those least able to pay it. City residents will pay more or receive less service. I see no reasonable way that we can make up $140 million dollars without massive cuts and/or huge tax increases, particularly because we are in very economically challenging times when we find it difficult already to balance the budget. The tax, unlike sales taxes on food, is progressive, because those most able to pay it pay more than those who earn less, and it is limited to 1% of earnings in the City.
19. Does the earnings tax provide a substantial disincentive for businesses and individuals to locate in the city?
No one likes taxes. And, in today's environment there are anti-tax arguments that forget about the people and community needs that taxes help to support. Logically, the earnings tax does not provide a substantial disincentive for businesses and individuals to locate in the city. However, highly paid people sometimes decide that 1% of their higher earnings is a lot of money, and they do choose not to support the community.
20. Should the city eventually abolish the earnings tax?
Sure, but only if the City can find an equally fair and progressive substitute that maintains a diverse income base to support necessary services
* 20 Questions for Aldermanic Candidates in the City of St. Louis was posted Monday, March 28. From that article: "This is a public call for candidates in contested races in the upcoming April 5, 2011 general election to answer questions important to residents of the City of St. Louis and nextSTL.com readers. The 20 questions above were posted Monday, March 28. Responses by aldermanic candidates will be posted on nextSTL.com prior to Tuesday, April 5. Responses will be received until Sunday, April 3. Responses that omit any questions will not be posted. All responses should be sent to [email protected]"