Historic Election Will Choose Next Female Mayor

Just a few years after the election of the city’s first female mayor, both candidates in the upcoming election are women, one of whom, Tishaura Jones, would be the first Black woman to be elected as the city’s mayor. The race advanced early in March, with City Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer, both progressive members of the Democratic Party, winning the two top spots in the nonpartisan primary held on March 2. President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed, a Democrat, and entrepreneur Andrew Jones, the only Republican on the ballot, were disqualified and will not continue to the general election. Meanwhile, a tight race remains between Jones and Spencer on April 6; while both candidates have closely related ideologies, each is taking a different approach to some key issues.

For example, both Spencer and Jones say they remain dedicated to advancing racial justice and eliminating biases in the city government, but Jones wants to instate the position of Deputy Mayor for Racial Equity and “develop and use a Racial Equity Plan to support policy, process, and program development throughout City departments.” Meanwhile, Spencer aims to use movements like Forward Through Ferguson and reports done by the City of St. Louis and the Ferguson Commission to guide racially equitable decision-making, according to her campaign website.

The similarities between the two candidates are clear: both support the Close the Workhouse campaign, aiming at closing the city’s Medium Security Institution (“the Workhouse”), in opposition to mass incarceration and the conditions that Workhouse inmates have been living in during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, both “oppose a proposed aerial surveillance system aimed at fighting crime and were against leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport to private companies”, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Both candidates received notable endorsements; Jones was endorsed by US Representatives of Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a few Missouri congressional incumbents, the mayors of several cities across the country, including Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney, the St. Louis County Executive, and six members of the St. Louis City Board of Alderman. Spencer received fewer endorsements: one from Vincent Schoemehl, former Mayor of St. Louis, Planned Parenthood, which also endorsed Jones, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board. The Post-Dispatch released more than 30 editorials against Jones, who responded in an open letter to the Editorial Board. The letter was posted on her campaign’s Instagram account and subsequently published in The St. Louis American. In her letter, Jones alleged that “Racist and sexist attacks on every elected Black woman in Saint Louis City politics week after week for the past few years have made one thing clear: Treasurer Jones was never going to receive their endorsement and was never going to be judged through an unbiased lens.” Further, she claims that the Editorial Board has failed to recognize that Sam Page, who received the board’s endorsement in the St. Louis County Executive elections, endorsed Jones for mayor, along with the omission of several endorsements from notable politicians and organizations.

The April 2021 general election is the first of its kind in the city, in that it utilizes the city’s new approval voting system, which asks voters to vote for every candidate they approve of, with no minimum or maximum set on how many candidates each voter can select. The new electoral system, introduced by the city’s Proposition D, which was voted into law in the November 2020 election, also includes the creation of a nonpartisan primary, where every candidate runs in a primary election, regardless of party affiliation, so long as they can reach the threshold of 1,170 signatures to petition for a spot in the primary. The approval voting system, however, only operates in the primary; in the so-called “run-off,” where the two candidates with the most votes from the primary face off, voters can only choose one candidate to vote for.

According to the sample ballot, Cara Spencer’s Aldermanic ward is not up for election this year. Tishaura Jones was re-elected as City Treasurer in November. Regardless of who wins the Mayorship, both will likely remain prominent figures in St. Louis politics.