Tuesday’s primary election isn’t just the first step in choosing a new mayor for St. Louis, but also portends the beginning of significant turnover at the Board of Aldermen. In addition to five open seats, incumbents could be upset in a number of wards — including aldermen who have not faced serious opposition in more than 10 years.
Here’s a guide to the contested wards, the candidates and what they’re promising. Candidates are listed in the order they will appear on the ballot:
Incumbent Alderman Tammika Hubbard, whose family has been under fire – and in court — over absentee-ballot controversies, is facing five primary opponents.
Hubbard did not respond to requests for an interview. Her parents, former ward committeeman Rodney Hubbard Sr. and former state Rep. Penny Hubbard, lost their contests in summer 2016 when a judge ordered new elections because of questions about the validity of absentee ballots.
Her Democratic rivals are:
Ray runs a grocery store and coffee shop, is active in the ward and is focusing on ways to attract more businesses.
Robert E. Green
He is a retired IBM employee who wants to encourage more development without using tax incentives and is concerned about crime.
The laundromat operator’s top issues are crime and development. He says he was involved in the anti-Hubbard protests last summer.
A supervisor of a cleaning company, Harris contends that the Hubbard family have failed to represent the ward. “This ward has too many derelict homes and the drug activity is unreal,’’ she said.
The student unsuccessfully ran for ward committeewoman against Penny Hubbard – the current alderman’s mother. She has endorsements from several groups, including Mobilize Missouri, and the support of state Rep. Bruce Franks, who ousted Penny Hubbard.
Longtime Alderman Ken Ortmann is facing a fierce challenge for re-election for the seat he’s held since 1999.
Ortmann, whose wife and daughter own the Cat’s Meow’s bar, prides himself on being accessible to constituents – and for spurring development.
“I kind of get disappointed when I see somebody else’s sign in a yard that I’ve really helped,” Ortmann said. “I am easy to work with. About every business in the 9th Ward that’s needed help, I’ve helped them. And some … might be in another ward, and they’re just asking for directions: ‘What do I need to do? Who do I need to talk to?’ I’ve never turned anyone down, as far as for information – even if they live in the county.”
Ortmann has the backing of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the St. Louis Police Officers Association.
Guenther, who lives in Benton Park, has worked on sustainability issues for the city – including a neighborhood beautification effort known as Brightside St. Louis.
“There’s been a number of years where I’ve been trying to get involved in local politics,” Guenther said. “And my views and the views of a lot of the younger people that are moving in seem to be drastically different from the way our current alderman is voting. His voting record has kind of shown there’s some issues that he doesn’t really see the ones of the people.”
One big area of disagreement between the men is publicly funding stadiums. Ortmann voted for financing plan for the now-scuttled NFL stadium, as well as a multimillion-dollar upgrade for Scottrade Center. He also supported putting two measures on the ballot that could fund a Major League Soccer stadium.
“I’m not at all crazy about stadium funding,” Guenther said. “Every time I ask people what their issues are, it’s school. It’s crime. It’s restrictions on small business. Not one time has a person said that they’re moving because of not having a soccer team.”
Ortmann said the NFL stadium package was a good faith effort in making sure St. Louis wanted to keep the league in the city. He also emphasized that voters will have the final say: “Everyone gets a vote on this.”
Alderman Cara Spencer, state Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, the city firefighters union and Mobilize Missouri are backing Guenther’s campaign.
What’s old is new again in the 15th Ward, where Jennifer Florida, who served it from 2001 to 2014, is running to retake the seat from the woman who succeeded her.
In summer 2014, then-Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter resigned after admitting she had committed nepotism. Florida was appointed as her replacement.
Less than three months later, Carpenter ran for her old office, handily defeating Florida.
Florida said she never wanted to leave her 15th Ward seat.
“This is my passion, rebuilding neighborhoods,” she said. “I came from the faith-based organizing, grassroots organizing, and I felt like that style and approach of leadership is very effective in the neighborhood and at the Board of Aldermen.”
Florida pledged to focus on neighborhood safety, something she said the incumbent, Megan Green, has neglected.
“There’s no momentum on safety,” Florida said. “I would say that the relationship between the community and police needs to be fortified. They need to feel supported, and understand that we work with them on safety in the neighborhood.”
In May 2016, Florida was accused of assaulting a man who is dating the mother of her grandson, but is not the child’s father. The misdemeanor assault charge in Creve Coeur is still pending; Florida calls the situation “very complicated.”
Green is getting used to this running-for-office thing: 2017 marks her third election in two and a half years.
“Under my leadership, we’ve really increased citizen engagement and citizen participation,” she said. “To a certain extent, I’ve also elevated and expanded what it means to be an alderman. We’re not just in charge of our ward, we have to have a citywide focus, and see ourselves as public policy makers.”
Since joining the Board of Aldermen in October 2014, Green has become one of the leading progressive voices at City Hall.
“I think we’re in a very exciting time for St. Louis,” she said. “And I think that there’s a lot of really progressive vision and energy. We can only benefit as a city by having more people aware of what is going on at City Hall and actively getting engaged in their city government.”
For the first time since 2005, Alderman Joe Roddy, the most senior member of the Board of Aldermen, is facing a challenger.
Roddy’s running for an eighth full term because, as he puts it, “Some of the most important things I’ve done as alderman have taken years to implement.
“It’s been really been fun the last couple of years seeing some of the things I started on many years ago come to fruition,” he said.
As chair of the city’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee, Roddy essentially sets the development policy at the Board of Aldermen. The extensive use of tax breaks and incentives, especially in central corridor wards like his own, recently has come under fire. But he isn’t deterred.
“We’ve been working on incentive and TIF reform for the last year or two, and I think we’ve made some really great strides in that,” Roddy said. “And as we better understand that, I think we can apply some of the principles we learned from that to some of the neighborhoods on the periphery of the 17th Ward.”
Diekemper, a nurse at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, said the results of the 2016 presidential and state elections pushed him to political involvement.
“I was initially shocked, I was saddened and I was angry,” he said. “The anger, though was aimed at myself, because I realized I hadn’t done anything to stay involved and be involved and push the direction I thought we needed to see this city, this state and this country going.”
Diekemper takes a different approach to development than his opponent, saying incentives benefit the wealthy.
“If we look at it through the lens that we’ve all sort of gained from what happened in Ferguson,” he said, “we see that we need to ask explicit questions when we’re using tax incentives and other government programs, and the question is, who’s going to benefit?”
Alderman Marlene Davis is facing her first challenge in a Democratic primary since 2009 against Lindsay Pattan.
Before Davis was elected to the Board of Aldermen, she served on the St. Louis Public School Board. She said that she’s been an “alderperson that’s been extremely available, accessible and understanding the basic needs of our community.”
"I try to analyze as much as I can. And I want to be fair,” Davis said. “You can’t have a city that’s torn apart – and it’s always bickering. We have too many things we need to accomplish. And so I’m always looking for the balance: The balance where we can still move forward and still accomplish good things for our citizens.”
Davis says business development is a priority for her, though she knows not everyone on the Board is comfortable with issuing tax incentives.
“Some of my small businesses have definitely taken advantage of tax abatement where it was possible,” Davis said. “I haven’t given out a lot lately, because we’re a marketable community now. And we don’t have to anymore. There was a time because it was so desolate. It was a time when we only had one restaurant on Grand. Now look at us!”
Pattan, a marketing and business strategist/consultant, has been active in local and national campaigns for a number of years. She said her penchant for activism began at age 12, when she started writing letters for Amnesty International.
“I have a unique background because I’ve been on the peripheral of local politics for a long time and I’m not coming in with all of the answers,” Pattan said. “Rather, I’m coming in with a new approach and process to decision-making: Always applying the racial equity lens. Always leaning on the established incumbents who have been there to understand the inner-workings of the city.”
She said she’ll also focus on business, but wants to balance support for big-ticket development projects with cultivating small business growth – especially in places like the JeffVanderLou neighborhood.
“I care a lot about ensuring that we’re using incentives … properly and responsibly,” Pattan said. “We can cause a bigger rift between the city and county when we are only talking about the misuse of public subsidies in the city – and not talking about the cornfields being blighted or the subsidies that are being given away in the county that shouldn’t be.”
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