On April 4 the city of St. Louis will have its first mayoral election since the Ferguson protests in 2014. While the suburb of Ferguson has become synonymous across the nation with systemic municipal racism and corruption, St. Louis proper isn’t much better. Although the city has had “Democratic” mayors since the 1970s, city politics are more racial than partisan. White Democrats and the few Republicans in the city routinely work together to limit or suppress black political power, which is why a city that has been 49 percent African American for decades has only been able to elect two African-American mayors.
When it comes to the City Council, white political elites have sliced up voting districts so fine that Salt Bae with a master’s in public administration couldn’t do a better job of diluting black votes. The city’s hostility toward black political leadership reached a new high last week when Tishaura Jones, current city treasurer and candidate for mayor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (the city’s last remaining major paper) to take several seats. From the St. Louis American, an African-American newspaper serving St. Louis:
On Monday, February 6, Tishaura O. Jones declined an editorial board interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jones, of course, is a Democratic candidate for St. Louis mayor in the March 7 primary election and current city treasurer. She explained her reasons for not meeting with the Post editorial board in a letter to Tod Robberson, Editorial Page editor at the Post.
The best parts of the letter, published by the St. Louis American, are highlighted below. Passengers, take your seats; it’s going to be a bumpy ride:
Two weeks ago, you used some of your ink to outline what questions you would be asking of mayoral candidates. You complained that “decades of sustained, abject neglect by city leaders have allowed a bombed-out graffiti-covered, war-zone image to prevail.” You said you were afraid to walk your dog at night and you called for a plan to “address blight and abate the graffiti that’s killing our city.”
You just moved here. It isn’t your city, yet. And graffiti is not what’s killing it.
What is killing our city is poverty. Since you’re new and you live in a great neighborhood, you probably don’t know that the poverty rate doubled during Mayor Francis G. Slay’s 16-year tenure.
Credit is due to Jones for pointing out the pernicious relationship between gentrification, race and media bias.
What is killing our region is a systemic racism that pervades almost every public and private institution, including your newspaper, and makes it nearly impossible for either North St. Louis or the parts of South St. Louis where African Americans live to get better or safer or healthier or better-educated.
But she’s not done yet:
St. Louis needs to change. I am not afraid to say that. And I don’t mean the polite incremental kind that Alderwoman Lyda Krewson promises. I mean change.
I will look at every issue through a racial equity lens. I will ask if every decision we make helps those who have been disenfranchised, red-lined and flat-out ignored for way too long.
I will look through each and every program in city government and make the changes necessary to ensure that government is working for those people.
From participatory budgeting to the modernizing of services, I will take steps to make city government easier to navigate, easier to participate in and easier to understand. I’ll ask police officers and firefighters what would make their jobs easier. I’ll put social workers into the police department so that trained practitioners will be doing the jobs police officers aren’t trained to do.
We do not need to invent new programs for much of what I plan to change. There are programs all over the country we can learn from and that we can adopt. I know this because I’ve traveled to see them. I know that galls your writer who wrote that I am “high-flying” and should be grounded. I suspect she meant that I was “uppity” or had a “bad attitude,” but didn’t have the honesty (or courage) to be that overt.
I plan to work hard as your mayor, but I do not plan to waste time ignoring things that are working well elsewhere. We have too much at stake in this community to do any differently, and we have too much to do.
It’s the same way I have run the Treasurer’s Office. When I was elected, I found an office that did a lot of things inefficiently, and I looked for ideas for how to improve. Over the past four years, I modernized parking and launched a major effort to change lives practically with the Office of Financial Empowerment. You described that as “just doing my job” and wrote that the white guy you endorsed would have done the same thing. At least two of you have lived in Texas, so you will understand what I mean when I call that bullsh*t.
As mayor, I’ll take the same approach.
I think you were in Texas during Ferguson. If so, you may have missed what happened here: We woke up. Black people woke up. Allies stood up. Young people spoke up. Our best minds listened and produced a pair of remarkable documents, the Forward Through Ferguson report and the For the Sake of All report, that are blueprints for the next four years of a mayor.
I understand that the Post-Dispatch is hurting right now. I hear that soon you will have to lay off more employees. With readership down to below 100,000, it makes sense why you would resort to a more inflammatory news reporting style to boost readership.
I think this line alone cost the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few thousand more subscriptions:
There are some talented reporters at the Post who are very good at their jobs. I’ve had the privilege of talking with many of them. They have written about me fairly, objectively, and positively. I appreciate criticism when it’s due.
But what the editorial board and certain other reporters have done is nothing short of thinly veiled racism and preference for the status quo past. Something this city has had enough of.
I think there might be enough city voters who are with me and are ready to vote for that change in March and April. After we do that, you and your dog will be safer. And maybe you will consider hiring an African-American editorial writer.
Jones told The Root that she declined to seek the endorsements of the St. Louis Police Officers Association and the daily newspapers because of their systematic racism and bias in assessing black political leadership. Whether she wins the Democratic primary on March 7 or not, one thing is clear: The city of St. Louis, its local Democratic Party and press could use a wake-up call. Jones is the city treasurer, not some fringe “The Rent Is Too Damn High” candidate. If she feels strongly enough to put finger to keyboard and press “send” on this letter, there are likely thousands of voters in the city who feel the same way.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.