St. Louis’ first-ever female mayor will be replaced by another woman, after city Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Spencer on Tuesday bested two men in a new primary election format to advance to next month’s general election.
Jones received 25,374 votes and Spencer was second with 20,649 votes, according to unofficial final results. Aldermanic President Lewis Reed was third, followed by businessman Andrew Jones. Incumbent Democrat Lyda Krewson chose not to seek a second four-year term.
Tishaura Jones said on Zoom that St. Louisans “should be able to succeed here regardless of your skin colour, who you love, how you worship, your ZIP code, or any identity you have.”
Spencer has been outspoken against special interests. She said on Facebook that her campaign “has changed the dialogue about how we serve St. Louis.”
The city’s new “approval voting” format makes municipal contests nonpartisan and has another unique feature: Voters can “approve” of as many candidates in the primary as they want. Each vote counts as one. The idea is to get the two candidates with the most support to the general election, which is April 6.
Four years ago, Tishaura Jones finished a close second to Krewson in the Democratic primary, and Reed was third. Krewson easily defeated Andrew Jones, a Republican, in the April 2017 general election to become the city’s first woman mayor. Tishaura Jones and Andrew Jones are not related.
Though this year’s general election also will be nonpartisan, both Jones and Spencer are Democrats.
The next mayor faces the daunting challenge of taming violent crime in a city that has been at or near the top of per capita homicide rankings for decades.
Jones and Spencer, in interviews with The Associated Press last week, both said reducing violence was the top priority. Both pledged to address the underlying issues that lead to crime such as drug and alcohol addiction, poverty and mental illness.
Jones, 48, is a former state representative who has been treasurer since 2013. She said the “arrest and incarcerate” model of criminal justice has been a failure. She would bring in more social workers, mental health counsellors and substance abuse counsellors, rather than adding more uniformed officers.
Spencer, 42, has been a member of the Board of Aldermen since 2015. She favours a “focused deterrence” model connecting those at risk of committing violence to self-help resources, but making it clear those who cross into crime will face the consequences.
Krewson, 67, had a personal connection to the violence — her husband was fatally shot in a 1995 carjacking. She ran on a pledge to battle crime, but the city saw a staggering increase in killings during the coronavirus pandemic.
Police said 262 people were killed in St. Louis last year — five less than the record of 267 set in 1993. But because the city’s population has declined since 1993, the homicide rate was much higher in 2020.
In announcing her retirement from politics in November, Krewson said elections “are about the future.” She said at the time that challenges posed by crime, COVID-19 and other issues were not factors in her decision.
In previous years, Democrats and Republicans squared off in separate primary elections in March. St. Louis is so heavily Democratic that the April general election was virtually irrelevant.
Voters in November adopted the new “approval voting” method. St. Louis is just the second city to try it. Fargo, North Dakota, used it for the first time last year.
Jim Salter, The Associated Press