ST. LOUIS • Lewis Reed, president of the city's Board of Aldermen, declared this morning that he will run this March against Mayor Francis Slay.
In front of a crowd of about 100 at Sqwires Restaurant in Lafayette Square, Reed termed Slay's 12 years in office "divisive" and said he would embark on a "mission of change."
Reed said his first priority would be public safety -- specifically mentioning decreasing crime rates and increasing after school programs for kids.
He and his supporters acknowledged an uphill battle against Slay's fundraising, but argued matching Slay dollar-for-dollar wasn't necessary to win.
"We win this race by people showing up and voting," Reed said.
Attendees largely agreed, faulting Slay's administration for inaccessibility and racial divisiveness, and praising Reed for his enthusiasm and energy.
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ST. LOUIS • Lewis Reed, president of the city's Board of Aldermen, has told City Hall colleagues that he will aim to unseat Mayor Francis Slay in March.
Reed, 49, called a news conference for this morning. Sources close to the campaign said he will announce a run for the mayor's office. Slay, 57, has already said he intends to run for an unprecedented fourth term in office.
Reed declined to discuss his plans with a reporter Tuesday.
His impending declaration primes the Democratic primary in March to be the most vigorous mayoral contest in years.
In 2001, Slay beat former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. by more than 10,000 votes, or 10 percentage points. In 2005 and 2009, Slay doubled the vote total of his closest rival, former alderman Irene Smith, and won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Reed and Slay have been rivals — sometimes bitter ones — since aldermen first began whispering about a possible Reed candidacy last year. After four years of public cooperation, Reed has worked for the last 18 months to distinguish himself from Slay, attacking the mayor's firefighter pension reform plans and criticizing the city's animal control, jail management and crime.
The resulting battles at times bogged down city government.
Slay's campaign has played down the potential of a Reed candidacy, saying the board president hasn't raised enough money, hasn't distinguished himself as an alderman and can't make the hard decisions.
Slay campaign manager Richard Callow remained skeptical even late Tuesday, despite hearing from aldermen about the planned announcement. "If, in fact, he announces for mayor, this has been the worst-kept secret in city politics," he said. "It will certainly draw some lines."
The mayor is ready, Callow said. Canvassers have been in the field for a month. His campaign office in the hip Grove neighborhood will open this weekend. And campaign staffers already are standing in line at the city election board, where filing opens next month, to make sure Slay's name is first on the ballot.
Morever, Slay had $1,412,000 on hand when the most recent campaign finance reports were filed at the end of June. Reed had $130,000 at that time.
Reed, however, has strengths that could give Slay a stout contest.
As an African-American and former member of the aldermanic black caucus, Reed likely will win a large part of the city's predominantly black North Side.
He also already has some support in the white and middle-class south St. Louis. For nearly eight years as an alderman, he represented the 6th Ward, which stretches from downtown lofts to Compton Heights mansions to the row houses of Lafayette Square — where Reed will hold his news conference this morning, at Sqwires Restaurant.
And Reed has worked to retain support from the city's firefighters, opposing Slay's efforts to reduce the cost of their pensions. The firefighter lobby gave Reed $10,000 this week.
Moreover, Reed's persona should appeal to some urban professionals in the city's central corridor. He often bikes to City Hall. He worked in computer technology. And his demeanor is warm, casual and, sometimes, even carefree — characteristics rarely used to describe Slay.
'THE RESOURCES I NEED'
Still, Reed faces an uphill battle. Slay is considered by many to be the single strongest campaigner in the region.
He's a powerhouse in the southwest, the city's traditional voting stronghold, with deep family roots. His father was a longtime committeeman and political power broker.
While south St. Louis has changed over the past decade, gaining minorities and becoming less predictable in elections, Slay has sought constituencies outside of his home wards. His recent support of successful primary candidates Jamilah Nasheed, for state Senate; Karla May, for state representative; and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay may turn some North Side votes his direction.
And he has wooed voters in the central corridor, too, pushing programs to build walkable streets, open bike-to-work lockers, save historic buildings and plan an environmentally friendly city.
Moreover, the Slay political machine is revered for its ability to raise money.
In the third quarter alone — April through June — Slay collected $406,000, the most so far in this election cycle, bringing his total to $2.3 million, about $600,000 ahead of his fundraising pace four years ago, Callow said.
Reed's report shows he mustered $62,000 that quarter; his total amount raised is $366,000.
Reed argued at the time that Slay had a head start: Slay had been campaigning since his 2009 re-election; Reed since his, in 2011.
Reed also noted that he hadn't been raising money for a mayoral campaign. "You'll know when I am going to run," he said in July. "That will be absolutely my focus."
"When I do," he continued, "I will have the resources I need."
IT'S NOT ALL DOLLARS
Many in City Hall initially doubted that Reed could mount the kind of campaign needed to best Slay. But the primary this August lent some support to Reed's case.
In the Democratic race for city treasurer, state Rep. Tishaura Jones beat her closest competitor, Alderman Fred Wessels, by 3,400 votes, or 33 percent, despite being outraised by $65,000.
Fired Sheriff's Deputy Vernon Betts spent just $6,700 by the end of July, in comparison to longtime incumbent Sheriff Jim Murphy's $69,000, yet Betts came within 5 percentage points of winning.
And in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 79th state representative district, Michael Butler raised $20,000 to Martin Casas' $78,000. Yet Butler took 62 percent of the vote.
"Money and incumbency aren't everything," Tom Shepard, Reed's chief of staff, said at the time. Reed won't need to match Slay dollar-for-dollar, he said.
Other Reed supporters, such as Alderman Antonio French, noted a second trend in the August primary that they figured would bode well for a potential Reed candidacy: Dozens of contested races drew an unusually high voter turnout in northern wards, which typically vote in lower percentages than southern wards.
Reed clearly hopes to latch on to that trend. He has been ramping up his public persona for months: arguing with Slay at meetings, lobbying the Missouri Legislature for a competing firefighter pension plan and, recently, openly attacking the mayor when possible.
One Saturday last month, Reed slipped into a community meeting at an old church in French's 21st Ward. Residents were angry that the newly constructed O'Fallon Park Recreation Center wasn't yet open.
French invited Reed up in front of the pulpit to speak. "This morning, I saw a tweet from the mayor of the city of St. Louis, blaming this man for the holdup," Reed said, pointing at French. "Well, let me tell you something, as president of the Board of Aldermen, as a taxpayer of this city, it needs to be held up!"
The crowd, nearly all African-Americans, leaned into his speech, nodded and murmured agreement.