Another glass ceiling in the St. Louis mayor’s office has been shattered.
St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones beat Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, on Tuesday to become the city’s first Black woman mayor. The final unofficial tally was 52% to 48%. Voter turnout was 29%, on par with previous general municipal elections but lower than expected given that a change in the primary voting process meant the general election was decisive for the first time in decades.
“As a city, we’ve been surviving,” Jones told an elated crowd gathered at the Omega Center on the city’s northwest side. “It’s time for St. Louis to thrive. It’s time to bring a breath of fresh air to our neighborhoods.”
2021 marked Jones’ second run for mayor — she lost a 2017 Democratic primary to Lyda Krewson, by 888 votes. Krewson then was elected the city's first female mayor.
"That loss was something that happened in my life to prepare me for this moment,” Jones said. “This feels amazing. I’m ready to get to work and usher in St. Louis’ new era.”
Both women had touted their advancement to the general election as a signal that the city was ready for a new direction. Over the last weeks of the campaign, Spencer had tried to tie Jones to the past, calling her a “career politician” who has spent most of the past decade in elected office. Jones was able to turn that narrative, saying frequently that her time in the state legislature, as treasurer and in the private sector meant she had the experience to be an effective mayor.
And though she did not mention her by name, Jones had some sharp words for her opponent.
“Some will chalk the negativity that’s been spewed over the past few weeks to just politics, and it should be my responsibility to just ignore it and move on,” she said. “My professional motto has always been, ‘I don’t have to like you to work with you.’ But I will not stay silent about the need to eradicate dog-whistle racism and the underlying bigotry from the discourse of our politics.”
Messages of support to Jones started pouring in moments after her win became apparent.
"It's a new day in St. Louis, and Black women are leading the way," said U.S. Rep. Cori Bush in a tweet.
St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green tweeted: "Congratulations to our next mayor, Tishaura Jones @tishaura. Throughout her career, Tishaura has been a strong leader with a deep personal commitment to the people of St. Louis."
Jones now joins Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed on the city's powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment. For the first time, the three-seat board will be comprised entirely of Black elected leaders.
Jones will be sworn in April 20, though the pageantry of inauguration will likely be muted by ongoing coronavirus restrictions. She is promising to close the north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse in her first 100 days as well as address ongoing problems at the downtown jail. She will also have to work with the aldermen and the city’s budget office to spend nearly $500 million in federal coronavirus relief.
Spencer told supporters who gathered at the Mahler Ballroom in the Central West End that Jones had broken several glass ceilings on Tuesday. Not only is Jones the first Black woman to ever become mayor, but Spencer noted that she’s also the first single mom to take the post.
“Certainly this isn’t the result that we wanted,” Spencer told the crowd. “But nonetheless, this is an exciting night for our city. A historic one. Our city elected for the first time in our history an African American woman to lead our city — and that is something we should all celebrate.”
In a quirk of state law, Jones will appoint her own successor as treasurer. That person will serve the remainder of her term, which ends in 2024. Jones said Tuesday night she planned to make an announcement about her successor soon.
By a wide margin, voters re-approved the 1% earnings tax paid by those who live or work in the city. The every-five-years authorization is required by state law. Collector of Revenue Gregory F. X. Daly, outgoing Mayor Lyda Krewson and a local business group chipped in thousands of dollars for a campaign to support a yes vote for the tax, which provides more than a third of the city’s revenue.
And the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District got permission to sell $500 million in bonds to improve its wastewater service. The decision will keep rates lower in the short term. Voters also authorized several changes to the utility’s charter.
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