There will be a primary on March 2nd. With the passage of Prop D in November the elections will be different. The primary is no longer races within political parties. You can vote for any candidate. Not just one of them, you can vote for more than one or all. The thing is if you vote for all of them you’ll render your vote inconsequential! The two candidates who receive the most votes will face off in a runoff on April 6th.
Following are questions for the mayoral candidates. The responses are presented in the order received and are much appreciated. Answers from the other two mayoral candidates would be most welcome. If you are an aldermanic candidate and would like to answer please email me, and I will add them to the post
How will you improve access and attainment of central corridor jobs by north and southside residents?
Alderwoman Cara Spencer – I have long championed investing in building a more robust public transit system. I am a founding member of “Friends of the North South Metrolink” and have used my position on the BOA to support the economic development sales tax to expand transit. The city has collected over $40M for transit expansion since that time. If elected Mayor, I will prioritize putting those funds to work right away by looking at economical and nimble transit models such as bus rapid transit.
Treasurer Tishaura Jones – One of the biggest obstacles to accessing good paying jobs is quality public transportation. As Mayor, I will work to ensure that we return many of our closed bus stops and promote the expansion of either a North-South Metrolink expansion or a bus rapid transit system so that St. Louisans can access good jobs from wherever they live. I also believe that too many new developments in the Central Corridor have gone without Community Benefits Agreements which specifically require developers to hire within the city. If elected, publicly subsidized projects will be held to a stricter standard to ensure City residents are given ample opportunity. This includes making space for the St. Louis Agency of Training and Employment (SLATE) at job sites so anybody looking for work can find it easily, as well as upholding labor peace agreements and exceeding the City’s standards involving women and minority owned contractors.
How will you put more jobs, shops, services, amenities, etc closer to more people?
T. Jones – I believe in intentional development, which means we have to understand that development should be happening with communities and not to communities. My development plans include directing funding priority toward Community Development Agencies who know what their communities need the most, whether it’s healthy food options, banking, health services, parks and recreation, and much more. Over the last two decades, more than half of the city’s tax incentives have been concentrated in four central corridor wards, but I believe by spreading out development to areas that need it most, we will start to see improved health outcomes, a reduction in poverty, and a new influx of population growth because these amenities are accessible within any community.
C. Spencer – Through re-envisioning the tax incentive process from reactive to proactive, we can focus development where we need it most – where the most people are. St. Louis Development Corporation has been developer led for some time, re orienting the relationship to be citizen led is not only good for our communities, its good for the investors. No one wants to invest in a city that offers incentives without a plan.
How will you reform development tax incentives?
C. Spencer – St. Louis Development Corporation, SLDC, currently is funded through grants and developer fees. It has autonomy in its funding structure and its governance structure, being directed by its board of directors rather than by the mayor. We should look at having a relationship with the general fund, to ensure that those incentives are aligned. We rely on SLDC to vet these projects, and they come back and tell they city that they’re worth doing, but they get funded through the fees associated with these projects. That is not a question you answer quickly, nor is it a question you answer without a very thoughtful approach. Our developer community needs a city that is smart about its incentive packages, so that they can be successful in investing here. Nobody wants to invest in a city that is willy-nilly with its tax incentives.
T. Jones – The process for awarding tax incentives is arbitrary, subjective and reactive. My goal is to make tax incentive awards more objective, equitable, and effective. This will require the city to create a city-wide plan for use of tax incentives and focus incentive use around this plan. My administration would establish a formal framework for reporting and analyzing the incentives data based on national models. We need to be focused on increasing transparency and community understanding around the measures that are used to evaluate applications for public incentives. The city should require additional reporting from incentive recipients and develop a formal tax incentive related to creating high skills, high wage and benefits jobs.
How will you support the St. Louis Public Schools?
C. Spencer – We must make educating all children a priority and must stand with our educational institutions to meet the needs of each child in the city. In order to have the best schools, St. Louis needs a simpler, more connected system of excellent schools. Children are the future of our city. I will work to fulfill their fundamental right to an excellent education.
When SLPS proposed closing 11 schools, I was the only mayoral candidate to sit down with Dr. Adams and the elected school board. I listened and support their calls to action which include a moratorium on new school openings until a citywide plan is completed, the prioritization of repurposing vacant school buildings, and giving our educator stakeholders a bigger seat at the tax incentive table.
T. Jones – We need a Mayor who is an active partner with our school district, even if she doesn’t have any direct control over their operations. This starts with holding regular meetings with school board members and administration to stay on top of the issues affecting our children. As Mayor, I will also advocate for a moratorium on all new schools in the city, as well as promote the closure of low performing charter schools. In the long term, I plan to ensure our schools receive adequate funding by reforming tax incentives to shield the
public school portion of taxes from massive reductions, and place public school representatives on development boards to ensure their needs and concerns are represented.
I also will promote the expansion of Pre-K options and expand St. Louis County’s Special School District into our public schools. I will work to help our students by partnering with local companies, nonprofits, and city departments to remove barriers to education, just as I have done as Treasurer through the Office of Financial
Empowerment and the College Kids Children’s Savings Program. To ensure our students succeed beyond high school, I am determined to work towards providing two years of free or reduced tuition community college to every student who maintains a C average or above during their junior and senior years.
What will you do about neighborhoods becoming less racially and socioeconomically diverse?
T. Jones – As Treasurer, I am also responsible for the city’s banking and investment decisions. I have met personally with each of our bank and credit union partners to hold them accountable for practices that perpetuate segregation, such as redlining, and to encourage them to expand their portfolio to include loan services that are accessible to lower income city residents and communities of color that historically have not had access to banking options.
As Mayor, I hope to work with our new Treasurer to continue holding our banking partners accountable. I will also promote development within neighborhoods that includes a mix of affordable and market rate developments to promote socioeconomic diversity within neighborhoods.
C. Spencer – Our racially and socioeconomically diverse city needs neighborhoods that have housing options at all price points. In the 20th ward, which includes some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, I have worked to encourage both market rate and affordable housing developments, often on the same block. When I first took office one of the most common complaints I received was crumbling vacant buildings. In my first term building permits increased 1,200% – led by rent-capped affordable housing development. Over 40% of city-owned vacant buildings were transferred to private ownership with 70% of those going to individuals instead of development companies. In 2019 Forbes Magazine listed Gravois Park as one of their “Six Hot Housing Markets In Midwestern Cities”. The 20th ward is on a positive trajectory after decades of disinvestment and the same can be done with the city of St. Louis. But only if we develop equitably with our most vulnerable populations in mind.
What will you do about the stagnation of Paul McKee’s Northside Regeneration?
C. Spencer – I have held Paul McKee accountable from day one and will build off this approach if elected mayor. In 2017, When I learned that he was exempt, I passed an ordinance holding Paul McKee accountable for building code violations. This is unacceptable. If elected mayor I will come down hard on absentee property owners who park financial assets in the City of St. Louis and let our neighborhoods crumble.
T. Jones – Paul McKee has been given far too many second chances, and as a result, we have lost a lot of beautiful historic landmarks, most notably the Clemens Mansion, and witnessed the desolation of the areas in North City where he has development rights. We cannot continue to harm ourselves by believing another inevitable broken promise.
Would you spend political capital to protect a walkable, human-scaled building from being demolished for parking? Do you support preservation review city-wide?
C. Spencer – Yes. I will prioritize rehab over demolition. In 2018 I reallocated demo funds in my ward to stabilize a home and now that home is being rehabbed. It’s important that we keep in tact our communities and that includes protecting and improving our built environment.
T. Jones – I would. In St. Louis, our architecture is an incredibly valuable asset and must be protected from demolition to promote more parking. I believe we can make a concerted effort to rebuild our population without the removal of these buildings. We need a more comprehensive and citywide strategy for protecting our historic buildings and structures
Of the several ways cars are having a detrimental effect on the city, which are a priority for you, and what will you do about them?
T. Jones – There is no doubt that St. Louis is a car-oriented city, which has proven to be dangerous
for those who travel without cars. It is my plan as Mayor to establish a citywide effort to provide consistent traffic safety measures to protect pedestrians and cyclists, and take the burden of these efforts off of ward capital fund allocations.
I believe we also need to evaluate our antiquated zoning laws, and eliminate parking minimums in areas where cars aren’t needed.
C. Spencer – Expanding transit needs to be a priority of the next administration. The voters overwhelmingly passed an economic sales tax to expand transit and if I’m elected mayor I will put it to good use. I’ll focus on an alternative – bus rapid transit which is not only more economically feasible alternative to light rail – but also nimble. Driverless cars and other innovations are changing transit as we know it and flexibility is key to capitalizing on changing dynamics
How will you support transit? What should be done with the $40M accrued thus far from the sales tax passed in 2016?
C. Spencer – We need to put it to use right away. I’m committed to working with St. Louis county who has accumulated even more funds, having passed Prop A in 2010, to expand public transit in our region. Rather than focusing exclusively on light rail, I’m committed to exploring bus rapid transit, a more nimble alternative that can be put to work right away.
T. Jones – Expanding public transit would dramatically improve the quality of life for many St. Louisans and connect people to jobs. We must incentivize development near current and future transit routes. As mayor, I will work to plan and build a North/South Metrolink Line, utilize Transit Oriented Development (TOD) planning and implementation, and work to expand our bus routes.
Wherever you live in our city, you should be able to travel to and from work, access our world class amenities, and go to the grocery store. We need to build a public transit system that Saint Louisans deserve. Once we do, our population will grow, new development will come, and all neighborhoods will be able to share in our city’s success.
With the $40m we have already accrued, I believe we should start in improving the amenities we already have. This includes making sure our bus stops are clean, well-maintained, and provide adequate shelter during bad weather; and that our trains and buses are also kept at a standard that transit riders deserve. We can immediately begin expanding our bus routes, while lobbying our state and federal partners for more funding to eventually fully fund the expansion of the North-South Metrolink line.
How do you view the city’s relationship with the region? What reforms encompassing areas beyond the city limits do you support? How will you approach your seat on the executive board of East-West Gateway?
C. Spencer – We need a much more collaborative relationship with the region. When I was elected to the Board of Aldermen, I sought a seat at the table of the St. Louis Municipal League and I am on the board of directors, the first board member representing the city in 100 years. I believe in regionalism and recognize that a united vision is necessary if we are ever going to be positioned for growth.
T. Jones – The Greater St. Louis region is deeply fragmented, and the city has the opportunity to lead a more concerted effort to build relationships with our regional counterparts. This is especially important around regional responses to COVID-19, violent crime, poverty, and homelessness, which do not stop at Skinker Boulevard or the Mississippi River. I plan to restart the Board of Freeholders process and use it as much as feasible to tackle regional issues.
St. Louis is the geographic center among the other regions on the East-West Gateway council, and the Mayor’s role on that council should be to represent the best interests of the people who live here. That’s what I plan to do. EWG has supported and funded a myriad of studies, but as Mayor I plan to promote funding the enactment of those plans so that St. Louisans actually begin to see real, meaningful change.