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Tishaura Jones Wants to Change St. Louis

Jones says her experience transforming the treasurer’s office will make her an effective mayor. Voters will let candidates know what they think next week.

(Photo via Tishaura Jones’s campaign)

Tishaura Jones is running for St. Louis mayor at a time when she sees the city at a crossroads. “Our city is constantly shrinking in population, and the biggest thing at stake is our growth,” she said. 

If St. Louis doesn’t elect a mayor who is dedicated to “changing the reputation of our city and bringing everybody to the table to do it,” she said, it will only continue to decline.

To make the city more liveable for everyone, Jones says she would take steps to prevent evictions, boost funding for homeless services, and invest in public safety beyond increasing the police budget.

“We have constantly increased our police budget over the last several decades and crime keeps getting worse,” Jones told The Appeal. “We cannot keep throwing money at the same thing and expect different results. How do we look at other cities who have been where we are and adapt some of those things and tweak them for our city?”

Jones got into politics in 2002, when she was appointed as Democratic Committeeperson of the Eighth Ward in St. Louis. She went on to serve two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives. In 2012, she ran for city treasurer and won, becoming the first Black woman to serve as treasurer. 

Jones says moving away from strategies that aren’t working and embracing new solutions is something she’s well-poised to do: After becoming city treasurer in 2013, she reviewed the office’s operations, fired one employee who was accused of not doing his job, and transformed the office into a seat of advocacy and power in the city.

Jones looked to other cities to see what was working there and brought it to St. Louis. The treasurer’s office is the chief custodian of all city funds, and in St. Louis, it also controls the parking division. During her tenure as treasurer, Jones launched an Office of Financial Empowerment to help St. Louisans make better financial decisions, which provides free financial education and credit counseling to residents. 

She also started a program that provides all kindergarten students in St. Louis’s public and charter schools with a college savings account. The program starts the accounts off with a $50 deposit, then provides incentives like matched savings and attendance bonuses to encourage families to save more. Revenue generated from the parking department helps fund the savings accounts.

“The first time I ran [for treasurer], it was an open seat and I believed St. Louis needed a change,” said Jones. “Not just incremental. We’ve been making incremental changes. I want to do some really transformational changes. and that’s evidenced by the way I transformed the treasurer’s office.”

Now Jones will face three other candidates in Tuesday’s mayoral primary: Board of Alders president Lewis Reed, Alderperson Cara Spencer, and utility executive Andrew Jones (no relation to the treasurer). St. Louis’s current mayor, Lyda Krewson, isn’t seeking a second term. Tishaura Jones previously ran for mayor in 2017, when she came within 879 votes of Krewson.

The upcoming primary marks the first time an approval voting system will be used in the city’s history. Under a proposition passed last year, the mayoral election is now nonpartisan, and voters can approve as many candidates as they like. The two candidates with the most votes will go on to a runoff to decide the next mayor on April 6. Recent polling shows Jones and Reed leading over Spencer and Andrew Jones.

Some local organizers and community groups who spoke with The Appeal say they are hoping St. Louis’s next mayor will be willing to try something different when it comes to solving the problems that have plagued the city for decades. 

“My concern is, too many people have walked over us, missed us, don’t hear us, and I want to scream, shout, and holler, ‘We want change!’” said Amanda Davis, an organizer with WEPOWER. 

WEPOWER is one of 38 grassroots organizations that signed on to a comprehensive policy agenda, The People’s Plan, which puts forth a framework for how the city can move away from public policies that have contributed to racial and socioeconomic inequity and endorses policies that could help lift more people out of poverty, end over-policing and mass incarceration, and keep people in their homes. The plan asks candidates to prioritize universal housing, ensure taxes are levied equitably, invest in education and youth programs, and re-envision public safety as something that involves more than just police.

In an interview with The Appeal, Jones said she supports providing rent relief and mortgage relief to St. Louisans and would work with the courts to extend the local eviction moratorium in order to keep people in their homes. If she were elected, Jones said, she would prioritize increasing funding for the city’s affordable housing trust fund, give more support to the city’s homeless service providers, and make sure that more low-barrier housing options are available for people experiencing homelessness. On her campaign website, Jones said she would work with the Board of Alders to help pass a strong Tenant Bill of Rights. Her stances on all of these issues are in line with what activists have called for in The People’s Plan.

A few of her proposals on policing and public safety also align with the demands of local organizers. 

To Jones, the current system of policing is ineffective and fails to address the root causes of violence. She told The Appeal she would review the police department’s functions, look at what other cities are doing, and see where she might be able to transform some of the police department’s current operations into functions carried out by civilians. She also endorsed changing the city’s 911 system so that dispatchers send the appropriate professional to respond to the call, since, she said, people who call 911 do not always require a uniformed officer. And Jones has long supported closing the Workhouse, the city’s notorious jail, and using money saved from the closing to fund public programs, like those that help people struggling with substance use.

“The experience I had in the treasurer’s office is really doing a top to bottom review and setting the reset button,” Jones said. “We’re stuck in this horrible cycle where we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve always done it this way,’ and we don’t challenge why. I want to push back and challenge some of the assumptions on why we’re doing this the same way.”