Tishaura Jones Wins St. Louis Mayoral Race
Jones’s election is the latest in a string of progressive victories in the region.
Tishaura Jones won the race for St. Louis mayor tonight with 51.68 percent of the vote.
It was a close race between city treasurer Jones and her opponent, Alderperson Cara Spencer, who took 47.77 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns. Both candidates had cast themselves as progressives and campaigned on promises to lead St. Louis in a new direction. The general election was unusually competitive this year thanks to the city’s new nonpartisan approval voting system, where voters can approve of as many candidates as they like in the primary election.
The stakes for the race were especially high, given the half a billion in federal aid St. Louis is set to receive in the coming months. Jones says the city is now at a crossroads.
“Our city is constantly shrinking in population, and the biggest thing at stake is our growth,” she previously told The Appeal. 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 said. “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?”
St. Louis’s current mayor, Lyda Krewson, chose not to seek a second term. She’s leaving some controversy in her wake after repeatedly dismantling homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic and doxing police reform protesters on Facebook Live, which led to calls for her resignation. Before the primary, polling had cast Jones and Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Alders, as the likely victors. But in the end, Reed, a more moderate Democrat who backed tax incentives for developers and supported privatizing the city’s airport, didn’t win a single one of the city’s 28 wards—not even his own.
“Over the past five years or so we’ve seen a shift in St. Louis politics, away from the old guards like Lyda Krewson and Lewis Reed,” Anita Manion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, previously told The Appeal. “They come from decades of Democratic politics in St. Louis that have been very business-friendly, sort of pro-police, and some of the attitudes that, I think, doesn’t resonate with progressive voters or younger voters anymore. This is a changing of the guard that we’re seeing.”
About six-and-a-half years ago in St. Louis County, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. Brown’s death, and the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Trayvon Martin in Florida, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since then, former public defender and Ferguson City Council member Wesley Bell has ousted the longtime St. Louis County prosecutor who failed to charge Brown’s killer. Former Missouri state representative Kim Gardner also won her 2016 bid for St. Louis circuit attorney by pledging to move away from the office’s punitive practices and hold police officers accountable for use of force. And Cori Bush, a pastor, nurse, and activist who marched in the streets of Ferguson following Brown’s death, has toppled a decades-long political dynasty and become the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
Jones’s victory is the latest progressive win in the region, though local activists will be keeping a close eye on how Jones’s policies get implemented. She campaigned on promises to reimagine public safety and reign in policing, though she also supports bringing a focused deterrence strategy to St. Louis to drive down violent crime. The strategy identifies people who police suspect are likely to commit violent crime and offers them social services couched in the threat of harsh prosecution if they break the law. Some local organizers who spoke with The Appeal expressed concern that the approach could lead to more over-policing, while national criminal justice reform advocates familiar with focused deterrence stressed that the program must involve members of the community and offer robust social services in order to be effective.
Local organizers and community groups who spoke with The Appeal hope 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. A coalition of 38 grassroots organizations signed on to a comprehensive policy agenda, The People’s Plan. It puts forth a framework for how the city can move away from 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.
Jones has said 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 pledged to close the Workhouse, the city’s notorious jail, within 100 days of taking office and use money saved from the closing to fund public programs, like those that help people struggling with substance use.
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. She plans to increase funding for the city’s affordable housing trust fund, expand support to the city’s homeless service providers, and ensure 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.
“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.”