Merta, McKinney, Green, Spencer, Ogilvie for Alderman

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Endorsing candidates in Aldermanic races in the City of St. Louis is a bit silly. In any given year, just half of city residents are afforded the opportunity to vote for their ward representative. Voters have to remember that it’s effectively the Democratic primary vote (March 3) that determines the winner (though a second vote happens later – April 7). Each city voter gets to vote for 1/28 of all ward representatives. Turnout often fails to top 15 percent.

This all means that there is no real discussion of a vision for St. Louis, no slate of candidates pushing any particular issue to the fore, no energy behind a (even attempted) wholesale change. What we have is a system that is nearly immovable by design. In addition to being a governing quagmire, the fractured system means that elections are difficult to cover, even difficult to care about. For me there isn’t time to meet with every candidate, though this year I did manage to meet with every candidate who reached out and asked to meet.

The Board of Aldermen should be a legislative body. In reality, it’s not. Aldermanic courtesy often means each 1/28 of the Board gets what they want as long as they accede to the wants of the other 27/28. This means everything from closing a city street, to demolition of historic buildings for a gas station, never receive attention or review by anyone outside the 1/28 fiefdom. When city-wide issues come forward, it becomes a political power play, votes are bargained and bought. Not always, and not always explicitly, but this is what happens.

And the quaint governing-close-to-the-people argument doesn’t resonate. A tree fell on your street and you want to call the Alderman? You may have his or her cell number (especially if you contributed to the campaign) after all. What a way to run a city. Anyway, what’s a person with the opportunity to vote for 1/28 of the city’s ward representatives to do? Vote for the person most likely to challenge the status quo. Vote for the most inquisitive, questioning candidate. Vote for the person who owes political St. Louis the least.

Considering that framework, nextSTL is happy to endorse:
Ward 7: Chelsea Merta
Ward 8: Kevin McKinney
Ward 15: Megan Ellyia-Green
Ward 20: Cara Spencer
Ward 24: Scott Ogilvie

This group of candidates can make one optimistic. For the first time since I moved to St. Louis in 2004, one can see an evolving power center on the Board of Aldermen, a progressive caucus. More than a couple veteran Aldermen have good ideas and seem progressive as well. Here’s the rub, these ideas can sound good on paper, but we’ve seen too many Aldermen sound one way and then get bent another on important votes. More than anything, we need people who are who they say they are, aren’t beholden to the existing political structure, and will risk their own office to create a better city.

Progressive candidates vying for Board of Aldermen seats on the city’s near south side find themselves in tight races against candidates backed by four-term Mayor Francis Slay and the city’s political status quo. Slay has focused his political energies this election cycle on keeping new faces off of the Board in several wards and on moving out a seated progressive in another.

For downtown St. Louis, Soulard, and other nearby neighborhoods, a special election will decide who takes the seat of long time Alderwoman Phyllis Young, who announced her resignation December 5. Jack Coatar, an assistant prosecutor, announced his candidacy immediately, as in within minutes, went live with a campaign website and announced Young’s endorsement. Why the rush? A lack of confidence? Was the machine simply ready to roll? Doesn’t matter. It was gross. Of course simply being anti-establishment isn’t a winning attribute, but the showy force of uber-establishment credentials is enough to lose this endorsement. All three candidates are under age 30. This in itself may be a victory, but Chelsea Merta is the right person for the job. She’s rightfully moved past the utterly stupid accusations of opponents, will bring a bevy of well-developed ideas to the ward, is a committed public servant, and will take a larger view of what’s best for the city. Slay has endorsed Coatar.

On the north side of Tower Grove Park in the 8th Ward, Kevin McKinney has Alderman Conway’s feet to the pavement in a door-to-door race that pits new ideas and calls for inclusion against what Conway calls “Progress You Can See”. McKinney, a former Tennessee Mayor, developer and husband to the CEO of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis, would be the first ever African American elected in a solidly south side ward. He’s been critical of his opponent flip-flopping on the idea of establishing a Civilian Oversight Board. Conway supports the idea today, but voted in the minority against it back in 2006. Conway also has the endorsement of Mayor Slay.

Alderwoman Megan Ellyia-Green and the 15th Ward race is another example of the mayor missing an opportunity to back a progessive candidate. Four months ago Green, an energetic newcomer, ran as an Independent and defeated three other candidates, including Slay-backed Democratic Committeewoman Missy Pinkerton-McDaniel. That special election was needed to fill the Aldermanic seat long held by staunch Slay-ally Jennifer Florida. Despite Ms. Pinkerton-McDaniel using her proximity to the Democratic Committee to ensure she was the only Democrat listed on the ballot, she finished third. Green was sworn in as one of the youngest members of the Board last fall.

Today Alderwoman Green, a life-long Democrat, who has been commended for helping to perfect, negotiate and ensure passage of the contentious Citizen Oversight Bill in committee, faces former Realtor Beth Braznell, who enjoys the backing and financial support of the Association of Realtors, the St. Louis Police Officers Association and the defeated former Committeewoman. Despite (selective) claims of always backing the incumbent, of supporting civilian oversight of the police and of embracing a more progressives agenda for City Hall, Slay has joined several status quo special interest groups in lending a helping hand against Green and her grassroots campaign. Ms. Braznell’s camp has gone negative in a most recent mailer, criticizing Green for pursing her PhD while in elected office and for welcoming “outside agitators” into the ward following the grand jury decision’s not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

In the 20th Ward, Cara Spencer is calling for reforming the city’s Land Reutilization Authority (the city’s vacant land landlord), streamlining review processes for new businesses and expanding MetroLink light rail to serve neighborhoods in north and south St. Louis — an unfulfilled promise made by regional officials when the first east-west line was built in 1993. For some reason, Mayor Slay has has failed to come out strongly in support of this project that is crucial to the city’s future. Spencer credits incumbent Craig Schmid, first elected in 1992, for his dedication in keeping the Ward afloat, but has publicly stated that City leaders should be more forward-looking and should do more than merely plug the holes of the dam as they spring a leak. Slay supports Schmid.

In the 24th Ward race, Alderman Scott Ogilvie has received the backing of Mayor Slay. Why? Who knows. The best guess is that either the mayor is betting on Scott winning and would rather be able to recall his endorsement when convenient, or perhaps former Alderman Tom Bauer is just that bad to work with. Ogilvie, by all accounts, is a responsive and productive alderman for his ward, but at least equally important he speaks out on city-wide policy more than anyone else. He’s also an independent thinker who can’t be bent on crucial votes. Whether it’s a north-south MetroLink expansion, city-wide bicycle policy, or more seemingly mundane fiscal matter, he has the necessary bigger vision. Oh yeah, he is actually a legislator as well, that is, he actually crafts policy.

The mayor isn’t up for election this year, but many progressives were disappointed in Slay’s support of the regressive sales tax known as Amendment 7, championed by rural legislators for (by and large) out-state highway projects. The unpopular measure was defeated statewide, including by 80% of City of St. Louis voters. Still more progressives felt betrayed when their Mayor offered his full-throated endorsement (via robocall) of a “Right to Farm” amendment. Right to Farm passed narrowly in the state of Missouri, but failed big in the City of St. Louis. By presumably lessening the margin of defeat in the city, Slay may have been key to its passage. There are reasons to be disappointed with local policy as well: a lack of vision on transportation policy, historic preservation, city bond issues, payroll tax, and more.

Slay himself is St. Louis’s longest serving Mayor, now in his fourth four-year term and reportedly considering a fifth. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that Slay isn’t looking to invigorate the city’s legislative body. Progressive voters would be wise to be wary of the mayors chosen candidates. Of course there’s nothing particularly nefarious happening here. It’s simply easiest to govern with people who fall in line, or can be ignored. This must change in St. Louis. Your vote shouldn’t be against the Mayor or any of the candidates standing for election – they should all be applauded for taking the plunge and seeking public office. Your vote should be for a different St. Louis. Does the status quo, and the candidates endorsed by the mayor offer a safer, more economically vibrant city with fewer social divisions? You can and should be the judge of that.

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  • Matt

    It’s sad really that these sorts of elections don’t get more coverage. I live in the ward Beth Braznell is running in and the only reason I know that is because I came home from work one day and my neighbors had her campaign signs in their yards. I would love to hear more about her and other candidates but I probably won’t. I like the idea of progressives taking the reigns in some of these areas but many of these wards are very different and different areas need different types of leaders. I’m really disappointed with how it seems that Slay has taken a more nonchalant tone with things and it seems to be slowing things down around the city. WE NEED FIERCE LEADERSHIP!

    • Kevin

      If you become engaged by voting in special elections for alderman, you’ll definitely get to know more. Lists of who voted in special elections are available to the campaigns, and we’ve been visited multiple times by both candidates and their supporters and advocates. Also both have websites with biographical info and some description of the issues involved. Overall I’ve been impressed with the candidate quality and the competitiveness of recent races.

  • Christopher Newbold

    Any reason you chose Merta over Cummings for 7th ward?

    • Ashley

      I would choose Merta over Cummings because she is a candidate who will be willing to work with other aldermen to get important objectives accomplished but will not succumb to petty politics and political favors to get things done. Cummings is extremely combative, if you just glance at his twitter feed that is abundantly obvious. I believe he will be difficult to work with for the other aldermen and since our fine city is so small with a lot of chiefs, we need cooperation among the leaders. Additionally, Merta has a lot of civic experience already, is a trained lawyer (ergo, she can see issues from all angles), and is a level-headed realist. She is not financially tied to any questionable donors. Merta is the right person for this position and will undoubtedly be the greatest leader for the 7th.

      • Alex Ihnen

        More or less, this. I believe that Merta very much understands the responsibility and opportunity of a public service position. Her personality, inquisitiveness and intellect will be a great addition to the BoA. Any endorsement isn’t meant to be against any other candidate, but a statement who I believe would be serve their constituents.

  • Alex Ihnen

    Anyway, this post is about the primary election tomorrow. Anyone want to weigh in on the issue that at least a little important?

  • dick

    Move to the City and you could actually participate instead of telling us what to do from the suburbs.

    • Chaifetz10

      I don’t see Alex telling anyone who to vote for. He is endorsing those who he would like to see win. You’ve been around this site long enough to understand what it is about, and you seem to enjoy trolling in the comment sections too. If you really disagree with anything that’s written, why not explain your reasoning why? Or better yet why not create your own site?

      If you have so many issues with NextSTL, why do you continue to come back and comment?

      • dick

        I love next stl. I love alex. I hate that he lives in the County. I’ll be voting for Cara because I actually live in the part of st louis you county folks love to dabate about. Put your money where your mouth is. I’m not really sure what you mean by trolling. Just because you disagree with what I say doesn’t make me a troll.

        Don’t yoy see the irony of the biggest urban booster in the metro area living in the County? Its pathetic really.

        • Alex Ihnen

          Gotcha. I too think it’s pathetic, in a way. The last time my family moved we wanted four bedrooms 1/4mi from a MetroLink station for less than $350K. It’s pathetic we couldn’t find something that fit in the City. My neighborhood was built out by 1929, but isn’t part of the City – that’s also pathetic. What isn’t pathetic is that an urban booster lives in a very urban, 85-year-old inner ring suburb. In virtually any other city, this would be part of the central city. I’ve owned two houses, lived in two municipalities, and two different wards in my 11 years in St. Louis. Not once have I moved to reside in a particular political jurisdiction. I have moved to be in a great urban neighborhood, however.

          • dick

            preach bruh. I’m surprised you couldn’t find that in skinker debaliver or FPSE.

          • Yojimbo

            He could’ve.

            The issues preventing that choice were the ones he doesn’t mention — the ones county progressives rarely own.

            The central irony dick points out still stands.

          • dick

            And what are those? Not schools, your options are actually better in the City. Crime? Pretty similar. The mere presence of blacks? Just as many in Ucity. Close to midcounty shopping?

          • Alex Ihnen

            This isn’t really the place for this – this post is about tomorrow’s primary election – but happy to fill in some details for you. We couldn’t get our first child off the waitlist at the city school of our choosing. When we moved to U-City, we were four blocks from our daughter’s preschool. I was able to walk her there everyday. I was also just three blocks from my office at the time. My wife took MetroLink everyday. We sold a car and lived with one for a couple years. It’s a great urban environment. No other place could have matched the convenience. Anything else you’re curious about? By the way, I thought us Hoosiers stuck together? 🙂

          • jhoff1257

            Alex,

            I just wanted to say thanks for all you do and for maintaining this wonderful resource for us. Unfortunately I can no longer be a reader or commenter here.

            You see, I was born in the County and currently live in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Yojimbo and “dick” people like me and yourself cannot have opinions about the City or it’s direction because we don’t live there. Never mind that you actually work within the city limits. Never mind that you’ve lived in the City before. As for me, I will continue to spend all of my time in the City when I come back for visits as it’s truly the best place in Metro St. Louis, even in Missouri. The architecture, the history, the built environment, the parks and attractions, it’s just so amazing.

            You would think, after seeing hundreds of thousands flee for the County for nearly 60 years, that City residents would be happy to see County people showing some love for the City finally. And as someone who lived in West County, arguably the most judgmental and closed minded part of the County, I have been very surprised to see residents from even that neck of the woods starting show some love. I’ve always thought the problem with St. Louis was County residents shunning people that didn’t live where they chose to. Now I see that same asinine line of thought has worked it’s way into the minds of, hopefully a few, City residents. St. Louis as a whole will go no where while closed minded fools from both sides of Skinker Boulevard constantly throw stones at one another.

            So there you have it Yojimbo and “dick.” Since I don’t live in the City I guess I’ll just revert back to telling people to stay the hell away from it. Should I tell everyone that lives in Kansas City that has traveled to St. Louis and loved it to do the same?

            Of course, if you haven’t noticed by now, this was all sarcasm. I will continue to read nextSTL as it’s a far greater news source for all things STL then even the Post-Dispatch (not to mention nextSTL usually gets it right). I will also continue to visit, defend, photograph, and most of all, love the City of St. Louis. And if City residents don’t like my love for their city, then they can kiss my ass.

          • moorlander

            I live in Clayton. Can I read NextStL or do I have to leave too?

          • dick

            Clayton is one of the most popular topics on this blog (unfortunately)

          • Alex Ihnen

            Clearly if you cared, you would start nextCLAYTON. I’ll happily give you the blog template. 🙂

          • dick

            what the fuck are you babbling about. This blog covers st louis county all the time. This blog considers clayton part of “urban st louis” (what a joke). This blog covers the garbage west co office parks that are always being thrown up. This post is about voting in the city, something people who dont live there can’t do, including alex. Maybe his reccomendations would be taken more seriously if he could actually participate in the election, thats all.

          • jhoff1257

            I never said this blog didn’t cover St. Louis County. These are just observations I’m making based on your comments here and on other posts.

            “Don’t you* see the irony of the biggest urban booster in the metro area living in the County? Its pathetic really.”

            “I love nextSTL*. I love Alex*. I hate that he lives in the County.”

            “I actually live in the part of St. Louis* you county folks love to debate* about.”

            “Put your money where your mouth is.”

            All those quotes came from just one of your comments. That doesn’t account for all of your other incessant anti-County rants on other posts, or even this one. By the way, the asterisks represent the spelling and grammar errors I corrected for you.

            You’re right about one thing, this post is about voting in a City election, which is why I won’t be saying anything else because at this point I’m only feeding the fire. A simple glance at your other comments reaffirms the point I was making in my, admittedly, long winded post.

            Also, thanks for not calling me “bruh.”

          • John R

            As a city resident, I just don’t see the issue. The understanding of the candidates and issues should be where the seriousness of the recommendations rise and fall. If Alex lived in say the West End and after taking a thoughtful look endorsed candidates for County Executive and Council based on their strength on issues like North/South Metrolink, land use planning and govt. consolidation and city re-entry I’d see that as a good thing if I were a county resident.

            I expect an urbanist blog to endorse candidates/issues in the region that have relevance to urbanism regardless of where the author lives.

          • Adam

            There isn’t an issue. dick just feels like arguing.

          • Alex Ihnen

            Nice work. It’s especially interesting when people who don’t live in St. Louis City tell other people who don’t live in St. Louis City to shut up about St. Louis City. It is what it is.

          • matimal

            We should stop thinking of neighborhoods as “built out.” Nothing is every ‘finished.’ Improvement, whether densification, beautification, or simple reorganization, is always possible. Nothing is ever “built out.’

  • guest

    Cara Spencer says one of her priorities is to “reform the LRA”. How?

    • rgbose

      Not sure, maybe make them more open to selling. Here’s her number. Call her and ask 314-884-0461

      • Kevin

        Agreed about being open to selling.
        For example, when you search the LRA website most LRA properties are not even listed as available. However they’re still easy to identify… just pick the worst looking properties on the block and then confirm that they’re LRA properties on the Geo St. Louis website. Any level of marketing would be an improvement. Better would be to put together some images and prelim inspection of selected building and approach developers who have produced decent quality work to try to interest them in it.

        • rgbose

          Perhaps just like the parents who made the St. Louis Schools website, citizens may have to start marketing properties for the LRA.

  • NedFlandersDeionSanders

    Ah yes, 50+ years of failed democratic policies in St. Louis. We need more democrats! They’ve done one helluva job so far!

    • Adam

      so run as a republican or an independent.

    • jhoff1257

      I work exclusively in the State of Kansas. Come over here and see what only 4 years of one Republican governor has done for us! Starting the next fiscal year off with a $600 million hole in the budget. Just cut another $48 million from education, already taken over $500 million from the highway department over the last several years. 3rd worst state in the nation for job growth and not one revenue or jobs projection has been correct since these tax cuts went into effect. Now he wants to raise sales, liquor, and cigarette taxes to attempt to fill the hole.

      And to top it off he’s rolling back discrimination laws that protected LGBT state workers from harassment on the job.

      What took 50+ years in St. Louis, will take no more then 10 in Kansas.

      Take your Republican policies and shove ’em where the sun doesn’t shine.

  • Urban Target

    Funny–Alex tells us who to vote for from his home in Ucity.

    • Adam

      No, it’s not funny or even ironic. And nowhere does Alex “tell us who to vote for”—he tells us who he endorses. Obviously, one doesn’t have to live in the city to have an informed opinion about the candidates. I’m fairly certain that Alex knows more about city politics than most city residents. Apparently you disagree with one or more of his endorsements.

      • Alex Ihnen

        It’s sheer craziness! Someone who works in the city and spends most of his time there has an opinion! And then Mayor Slay endorsed candidates that aren’t even running in his ward! The gall! Next thing you know, men and women not even living in the city will be entrusted to enforce the city’s laws. People from west of Skinker will teach the city’s children, and guys living in St. Albans will be so presumptive as to represent the city’s namesake Major League Baseball team! AHHHHHHHH!!!!

        • matimal

          Alex, sometimes biting sarcasm IS the best way to make your point. Tiptoeing around some points just doesn’t reach people in the same way. It shows the depth of your sentiments and gets people’s attention, even if they reject your ideas, in ways other approaches just don’t. Good to see.

          • Yojimbo

            But sarcasm never masks specious logic or self-deception.

          • matimal

            You’re wrong. Sarcasm is a form of expression. It has no inherent intellectual or moral nature. There is nothing inherently contradictory between sarcasm and intellectual and moral integrity.

        • Mike F

          Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

          *Urban Target…oh, how droll.*

        • dick

          Well, you cant vote in st louis, so at least there is thst

  • Eddie Roth

    Of course, all we have to go on with Steve Conway is his record over the past 24 years and the amazing progress — yes, progress you can see — in the neighborhoods that he has represented. Plus, he’s also the husband of a very nice and capable wife!

    I’m not sure I know what “new” ideas are referred to in this endorsement. But I like Steve’s old ideas, such as being effective and accountable and resourceful and inclusive, and just plain working hard and imaginatively and decisively to forge the kind realistic consensus that has brought huge improvements to the neighborhoods in Ward 8, and people from all walks of life, and made good things happen in this city.

    Maybe that’s why the Riverfront Times named Steve Conway the Best Local Politician in St. Louis. http://www.riverfronttimes.com/bestof/2011/award/best-local-politician-1463368/

    • Adam

      I’m not necessarily disputing your assessment of Conway, but the RFT? Please.

    • jhoff1257

      Just keep pushing that status quo…

      • Eddie Roth

        You are mistaken. Steve Conway is among this city’s the most effective and strategic challengers of the status quo. Has there been a greater act of defiance of the St. Louis political status quo in recent years than going against IAFF Local 73 on pension reform? Reflexively rejecting the “status quo” is as shallow as reflexively supporting the status quo. To be progressive is to be fair. To be effective is to be discerning, and to make judgements based on facts.

      • Yojimbo

        Whatever. That’s Eddie schooling Alex. From inside the city.

    • SikofFalln

      Steve Conway will have my vote. My wife and I are coming up on our 2 year anniversary since purchasing a home in the 8th ward, and there is definitely “progress you can see” even in the short time we have been here. I do think Kevin McKinney has some good ideas, but Steve Conway has more than ideas; he has a solid track record of progress that you can see just about everywhere you look in the 8th ward.

  • tbatts666

    I am curious. How did you decide to endorse Chelsea Merta over Samuel Cummings in the 7th Ward? I already absentee voted, but was really on the fence between the two.

  • Db

    Bit of a conflict of interest with the 24th ward pick, considering that Scott is an active contributor to the website. I mean if Bauer has ideas what gave you wet dreams you will would have gone with Scott

    • Nathan Bookhout

      I don’t see the conflict of interest. Alderman Ogilvie shares the same vision as many of the nextstl readership. It just so happens he also uses the site to share that vision. I would think the endorsement would be his regardless of his writing.

  • Catherine

    FYI, McKinney is running on the north side of TGP. Article says south.

    • Catherine

      In fact, it’s north + east side of the park.

      • Alex Ihnen

        True. Thanks.