For the first time in 16 years, St. Louis City voters will not see Francis Slay’s name on the ballot for the mayoral election. Mayor Slay’s announcement in April 2016 that he would not seek reelection has opened the door for a hotly debated election process. In the wake of primary elections on March 7, the mayoral candidates now include Democrat Lyda Krewson, Republican Andrew Jones, Libertarian Robb Cunningham, Green Party nominee Johnathan McFarland, and Independent Larry Rice.
In preparation for the primary election and the upcoming general election on April 4, the Gephardt Institute partnered with the Brown School’s Clark-Fox Policy Institute and Tom Irwin, Executive Director of Civic Progress, bringing St. Louis civic leaders and citizens together to discuss challenges the new mayor will face. The panel, titled “What’s at Stake in the St. Louis City Election?,” took place February 24. Irwin moderated, and panelists included David Hardy, Deputy Superintendent of Academics at St. Louis Public Schools; Ginger Imster, former Executive Director of Arch Grants and current Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership; and Dave Leipholtz, Director of Community-Based Studies at Better Together STL. Gary Parker, Director of the Clark-Fox Policy Institute, provided opening remarks.
Although several forums held over the past few months have given candidates the opportunity to field questions and promote their platforms, the panel was unique in its emphasis on the issues themselves. “The three [speakers] that we had are actually dealing with these issues on a daily basis,” Irwin said. “Getting their perspectives on a mayor will allow people to cut through the dissonance and say, ‘This is what I’m looking for. Now, who matches up with what I’m looking for?”
Hardy acknowledged the difficulty of discerning between candidates’ platforms, especially when candidates are affiliated with the same political party. He offered this advice to voters still deciding who to support: consider the lens through which each candidate approaches hot-button issues such as crime, education, and public health – are they primarily interested in preventing these issues from taking root, or in responding to these issues as they occur?
Each panelist brought a distinct set of experiences and considerations to the table, but they all agreed that it will be critical for St. Louis City’s next mayor to promote cooperation between St. Louis’ many municipalities and surrounding counties.
“Our political leaders have to be embracing behavior that is regional,” Imster said. Irwin agreed that the new mayors’ cooperation with neighboring governments is vital, summing that “the last thing we want to do is be a single economic region.”
In their discussion of issues including public education, innovation, entrepreneurship, and regionalism, the panelists observed that while it is easy to point out the problems St. Louis faces, it can be difficult to mobilize limited resources to address these challenges. Imster noted that the relationship between public and private sectors will continue to grow as cities like St. Louis grapple with state cutbacks for a wide spectrum of programs.
“I also think that like most metro areas, we have dwindling resources,” Irwin said. “The new mayor is going to have to determine what exactly is our number one priority [and] what’s the level of budget empowerment we’re going to put behind that to make it happen.”
To watch the panel discussion, click here.
The general election for St. Louis City and County municipalities takes place on Tuesday, April 4. WashU encourages eligible students over the age of 18, faculty, staff, and alumni to participate in the democratic process by exercising the right to vote. Now is the time to make a plan and learn where your polling place is and what will be on the ballot.