When the decade began, Ballpark Village was a softball field and a parking lot, and the Gateway Arch renovation had just been approved. As the decade ends, the Arch grounds are renovated and Ballpark Village is adding apartment buildings. But far more has changed as well.
We take a look back at decade's top stories:
Smoking under attack:
Kirkwood, Clayton and Lake Saint Louis began banning smoking in indoor public places as city boards in Brentwood and Creve Coeur also approved bans to take effect in January 2011, the same time that the city and a countywide prohibition began.
ABB shooting leaves four dead:
It was a frigid morning with blowing snow when Timothy Hendron arrived at work at ABB Inc., at 4350 Semple Avenue in St. Louis, and opened fire with some of the four weapons he carried. His more than 100 shots killed three people — including Cory Wilson, his boss — and wounded five at the sprawling electrical transformer plant. Co-workers knew the 30-year ABB employee resented management, but Hendron, 51, of Webster Groves, killed himself without revealing exactly what made him snap.
Fidelis declares bankruptcy; owners are sued:
After halting sales of its controversial extended auto-service contracts in December 2009, Wentzville-based US Fidelis filed for bankruptcy on March 1. After creditors pored over the company's books and found little money, an independent management team sued the firm's owners — brothers Darain and Cory Atkinson — accusing them of pilfering more than $101 million. In September, the brothers agreed to a settlement requiring them to surrender virtually their entire fortunes. An investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing continues.
Everybody in the St. Louis region was looking for a missing girl after 4-year-old Alisa Maier disappeared July 5 from her front yard in Louisiana, Mo. But it was the discovery of what seemed to be a little boy 26 hours later in Fenton that got her back. The kidnapper had changed Alisa's appearance and freed her. Evidence led to convicted sex offender Paul S. Smith, who killed himself at home in Hawk Point as police closed in. Detectives also linked him to the murder of a businessman in Hawk Point during one of a series of burglaries.
ATM Solutions heist:
Four masked men overpowered two guards at ATM Solutions before dawn, hauling an estimated $9 million in cash from the office at 3721 Grandel Square in St. Louis' biggest cash holdup. The next day, police caught a man with $1.25 million in his car trunk, beginning a series of arrests of potential suspects who were held on other charges. One escaped from jail and was recaptured. Later, two teens said to be related to a robber were kidnapped for ransom and released unhurt. Three people have been charged with hiding ATM loot but no one has been charged with the heist itself.
Blagojevich convicted of lying to feds:
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who had been indicted in a corruption scandal that led to his impeachment, was convicted Aug. 17 in federal court in Chicago of one count of lying to investigators. A jury deadlocked on 23 other corruption allegations. Although a majority of jurors voted to convict Blagojevich on most of the counts, one juror refused to go along, saying that although Blagojevich seems "rambling" and "narcissistic," he didn't seem guilty to her. The government plans to retry him in early 2011.
Arch redesign gets a design:
Decades of yearning for a better link between downtown and the Gateway Arch inspired a design competition to create sweeping changes in the riverfront park. Boosters created CityArchRiver2015 to oversee the competition, with a goal of completing work by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of topping the Arch. On Sept. 22, the group announced that its judges had chosen MVVA, headed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, from 49 entries. MVVA is preparing a budget, due in January. Plans include a landscaped lid over Interstate 70, a widened cobblestone levee and trails through wetlands on the East St. Louis riverfront.
GOP wins Senate seats in Missouri, Illinois:
Republicans, taking advantage of voter unrest, took the top two prizes Nov. 2 in Missouri and Illinois, with Roy Blunt in Missouri and Mark Kirk in Illinois winning open U.S. Senate seats. (Kirk's win was for the seat formerly held by President Barack Obama.) Democrats took solace by keeping the governor's mansion in Illinois. Pat Quinn won a close contest that wasn't decided for three days. In Missouri, Republicans won a record 106 seats in the House.
Gateway International Raceway closes:
Gateway International, opened to great promise in 1997, faltered when Indycar owners removed the track in Madison from their schedule. It survived on stock car and drag races but never landed a top-tier NASCAR event. Parking was poor at the cramped site, along Interstate 55-70 at Route 203, and courts nixed a plan to condemn neighboring land to expand. With the recession gutting fans' wallets, owners locked the gates Nov. 3 and put the place up for sale.
Olin moves East Alton jobs:
The Olin Corp. promised seven years of job security to ammunition makers in East Alton if they would accept a pay freeze and reduced benefits two years into their three-year contract. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers members rejected it Nov. 2 in a 593-470 vote. The next day, the company announced it would move 1,000 jobs to its Oxford, Miss., plant, in a right-to-work state. The transition might take years, the company said. Olin was expected to keep its 800 chemical division workers in East Alton.
Progress made on Ballpark Village, Kiel:
One long-awaited downtown project gets a new promise, another finally gets started on a renovation. On Dec. 3, Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said the club had arranged financing for Ballpark Village, subject to tax subsidies. The development was promised 10 years ago in the pitch for the new Busch Stadium. No date had been set for construction. But work is under way in old Kiel Opera House, where curtains fell in 1991. On July 12, Blues owner Dave Checketts completed a $79 million deal to restore it. The deal includes money from Peabody Energy Corp., which bought renaming rights.
Last of the tow case sentencings:
Cop-gone-bad Kevin Shade was last of four men sentenced in the case of S&H Parking Systems, a company accused of cheating the city and owners and buyers of cars impounded for police, and bribing at least one officer. Prosecutors said the investigation collapsed when Shade stopped helping the FBI. He got 27 months in prison for fraud, tow company manager Gregory P. Shepard got 10 months for fraud and bribery, and company owners William and Kenneth Bialczak got a year each for tax evasion. Questions remained about whether other police officers took bribes or favors.
Gateway Arch plans take shape:
Promoters of reshaping the landscape of the Gateway Arch riverfront park took the stage at America's Center downtown and announced the grand plan would cost $578 million, or something close. Walter Metcalfe, leader of a foundation backing the effort, urged the 400 in attendance not to succumb to sticker shock.
"This is not wildly expensive for what we are going to go get," Metcalfe said.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of New York won the design competition the year before. On Dec. 21, the project received a $20 million grant toward building the long-discussed "lid" to get pedestrians over Interstate 70's depressed lanes. Officials warned that the overall project may be scaled down but still want to get most of it done by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of topping the Arch.
Stan at the White House:
"This is the greatest day I had in my life."
That's a tall statement from someone who hit 475 home runs, had a lifetime batting average of .331 and made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. But those were the words of the No. 1 Cardinal, Stanley Frank Musial, after President Barack Obama honored him with the Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the White House.
Musial, 90 that day, wore a Cardinals-red blazer and was accompanied by his wife, Lil, and their four children.
Ever the entertainer, he warmed up with White House staff with a worthy tune on his harmonica: "Take Me out to the Ball Game."
Death penalty abolished:
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn turned a moratorium into an abolition and then ordered a last commutation.
Quinn, a Democrat and former supporter of the death penalty, signed into law a prohibition of death sentences after July 1. The Illinois Legislature had done its part in January by narrow margins - the House passed it 60-54, the minimum "yes" vote necessary.
As weeks passed, handicapping Quinn's thoughts on whether he would sign or veto became regular fodder in Springfield.
"It is impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free of all mistakes." Quinn said in finally explaining his decision. He then reduced to life the sentences of 15 inmates facing execution.
In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions after 13 death sentences were overturned in court.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a former state auditor who had made taxpayer accountability her hallmark issue on Capitol Hill, acknowledges she failed to pay personal property taxes on her private plane parked in Chesterfield. McCaskill promptly paid the bill once she discovered her obligation to St. Louis County, which was nearly $320,000 with penalties and interest. But the political turbulence stemming from the incident would linger.
Just a few weeks later, the Post-Dispatch disclosed that Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder charged the state for hundreds of nights in St. Louis area hotels while he attended various events. Kinder later reimbursed the state about $54,000. But just a few months later, a picture of him with an ex-stripper in a local bar would surface, and Kinder would eventually admit that he had visited strip clubs as a younger man. The political fallout would prompt to drop out of the race for governor and focus instead on retaining his job as the state's No. 2.
Tornadoes leave path of destruction:
It felt like a replay from three months earlier. The warnings on TV screens pulsed in red. People scrambled for basements or what cover they could manage. Somehow, they all made it.
Tornadoes blew across the northern part of the metro area on the evening of Good Friday. One blasted a 21-mile path from Maryland Heights to Granite City. That tornado, the wildest, struck about 8 p.m. with winds of 170 mph, exploding houses, shattering windows at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and ripping roofs, trees and power lines.
In St. Louis County, 2,811 homes were damaged, including 263 later condemned by inspectors.
Three months earlier, on New Year's Day, the region had awoken to learn the full scope of storms that had swept through the area the night before and had similarly damaged hundreds of homes and buildings in Sunset Hills and other communities.
Coleman found guilty:
The crowd outside the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo grew larger as the deliberations inside entered a 15th hour. The spectators were quiet but perplexed, and getting uneasy.
At stake was the guilt of Christopher Coleman, 34, accused of murdering his wife, Sheri, and their two young sons, Garett and Gavin, on May 5, 2009, in their home in Columbia, Ill. The motive was as lurid as the crimes ghastly - that he wanted a new life with his mistress and still keep his $100,000 salary as a bodyguard for televangelist Joyce Meyer of Fenton.
Coleman didn't testify. The jury found him guilty on the second anniversary of the murders. As deputies drove him away during a light rain, the crowd outside cheered. He is serving life without parole.
US Fidelis brothers indicted:
Once they owned such things as a $27 million mansion, a 50-foot yacht, a $144,000 Bentley and a fleet of custom go-karts. Inside the St. Charles County Courthouse, they wore shackles before making bonds of $250,000 each.
A grand jury had indicted brothers Darain and Cory Atkinson on charges of consumer fraud, stealing and selling insurance without a license. They had become rich through their telemarketing company, US Fidelis in Wentzville, which hustled auto-service contracts until everything fell apart in 2009.
The grand jury alleged the company lied during sales pitches, charged unauthorized fees, kept refunds and other offenses. Because both have felony records, Darain Atkinson faces life, and his brother 15 years, if they are convicted.
Jury leaves Blagojevich 'stunned':
Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of so many words, could manage only a few this time.
"I, frankly, am stunned," he told reporters after a federal jury in Chicago found him guilty of 17 acts of wire fraud, attempted extortion and other offenses.
Jurors had deliberated for 10 days. Blagojevich, always buoyant and gabby, had reason for optimism before the verdict. A previous jury had deadlocked on all but one count. He had hoped to overturn that setback with an acquittal the second time around.
Blagojevich, elected governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, was ousted by the Legislature in 2009 after having been accused of trying to sell an appointment to fill President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
Sentenced later to 14 years, Blagojevich became the fourth former Illinois governor sent to prison.
The temperature reached 97 degrees. That evening, Mitsunari Uechi, 51, collapsed and died in his sweltering mobile home in Granite City. He had been trying to arrange repairs for a broken air conditioner.
The high reached 100 the next day and equaled or exceeded that mark on 14 more days through early September. Eighteen more area residents died of heat-related illnesses. The hottest day was Sept. 1, when the high reached 104.
The National Weather Service, which calls the months of June, July and August the summer "season" for its historical files, declared it the fourth warmest on record, primarily because overnight lows were warmer than several blistering summers that had killed more people.
Federal courthouse floods:
In a $200 million courthouse that was barely a decade old, a fitting on a toilet pipe came loose. More than 8,000 gallons of water cascaded down 17 floors and into the basement of the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse, 111 South 10th Street. A worker discovered the mess about 5:15 a.m.
The water flooded nearby hallways and offices, then found its way through walls to the lower floors. It ruined carpets and custom millwork, felled high ceiling panels and ruined wiring and electronics. Kathy Schroeder, assistant to U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry Edelman, said, "It looked like it was raining in there."
Repairs estimated at $10 million are still under way, and six courtrooms remain out of service in the 29-story courthouse. Among planned improvements is a new system to detect and stop any internal flooding in the future.
Honoring the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:
In Brentwood, volunteers gathered to clean up a park. In O'Fallon, Mo., residents turned out to pack donated item to send to troops overseas. In Bethalto, they waved to floats at a parade.
The 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks spurred a series of ceremonies and events across the region.
In Forest Park, fluttering American flags filled Art Hill, one for each of the Americans who had been murdered one decade before. Rick and Susie Randall of Kirkwood had come up with the idea after reading about a similar display in California.
Companies here, including Pace Properties, where Rick Randall works, donated money and materials for the nearly 3,000 flags, each on a pole 10 feet high. Sale of the flags raised $100,000 for the Missouri Friends of Injured Marines.
Battling plans to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome:
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which manages the Edward Jones Dome, outlined a $124 million spiffing-up intended to keep the Rams in St. Louis. The Rams responded in May with a considerably pricier plan for the Dome, the team's home turf since 1995. The team lease, running through 2025, lets the Rams leave early if the Dome isn't in the "first tier" of National Football League stadiums by March 2015. The issue now heads to arbitration. There's been nothing definitive from Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who isn't known for many words.
Express Scripts buys rival Medco:
Express Scripts, handler of mail-order prescriptions and other large-scale pharmacy services, won government anti-trust approval to buy its larger rival, Medco Health Solutions of New Jersey, for $29.1 billion. The deal made Express Scripts one of the nation's biggest corporations, with 33,000 employees and revenue of $116 billion. It also was an antidote for St. Louis' dwindling status as home to Fortune 500 companies.
Street-corner pharmacies and supermarkets tried to block the deal, but a judge in Pittsburgh tossed their lawsuit. Wall Street approved as the new company reported savings in operating costs. Express Scripts, founded in 1986, has about 5,000 employees in the St. Louis area.
Chinese lantern show dazzles the Missouri Botanical Garden:
The garden opened its 12-week celebration of Chinese culture with an array of enormous glowing dragons, sailboats, flowers and other symbols of traditional China. Forty Chinese artisans set up workshops and built the 26 large-scale sculptures from silks, steel rods, porcelain plates. The works, with many individually glowing parts, depicted events and stories from China's long history. Fascinating enough as art in the daytime, the show was dazzling after the sun went down. Despite summer heat, 358,199 people passed through the gates to see the show, which ran through Aug. 19.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Ballwin boy in the red hat, returned to St. Louis to celebrate Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica for 1,200 hometown fans. Dolan, 62, grew up in Holy Infant Parish and and was ordained here in 1976. Made archbishop of Milwaukee in 2002, he was assigned the head of the church in New York seven years later. Last January, Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal — thus, the red hat. "If I could, I'd put this red hat on top of the Arch here, or on top of the Kenrick Seminary and other shrines sacred to me — like Ted Drewes Frozen Custard," he said during his homily.
The new Sea Lion Sound habitat and exhibit opened in the center of the St. Louis Zoo, where the old sea lion swimming tank had been. Watching them splash and perform for fish has always been a crowd favorite, and the new habitat gave visitors better views of the graceful swimmers — especially from the clear plastic tunnel that runs beneath the new 190,000-gallon saltwater pool. The $18 million feature includes a new 800-seat Sea Lion Theater.
St. Louis withers under triple-digit heat and drought:
On July 7, the 10th straight day of temperatures of at least 100 degrees, the high was 107. The next day was 98, an improvement of sorts. The heat wave boiled up on June 28, when the high jumped to 108 – the hottest day here in 58 years. Metro-area health officials blamed the heat for 12 deaths. Before the worst of the heat wave finally broke in early August, there would be 14 more deaths, another day at 108 and a total of 21 days of triple-digit temperatures.
Of longer-range concern was the drought. After an unusually wet April, the skies over the Midwest dried up. St. Louis recorded only 4.4 inches of rain from May through July, almost 9 inches below normal for that period. In all, 2012 was the warmest year on average in St. Louis since record keeping began in 1874.
Akin's comment turns Senate race upside down:
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Wildwood, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, sat down with Charles Jaco of KTVI (Channel 2) to discuss his campaign to topple U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in the November general election. Many polls had Akin in the lead. His party had a shot at retaking the Senate.
Jaco asked Akin about his opposition to abortion even in instances of rape. Akin answered that pregnancies caused by rape were rare, adding, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." McCaskill and the Democrats pounced. Akin apologized, but even Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, joined a growing call for Akin to step aside. Akin forged on, but his campaign never recovered, and McCaskill won by almost 428,000 votes in a state that strongly preferred Romney over President Barack Obama.
The final fall for Fidelis:
Darain Atkinson, formerly the high-flying president of an auto-warranty business known as US Fidelis, went to the St. Charles County Courthouse and drew an eight-year sentence in state prison for defrauding customers. He said afterward that he took responsibility. "Talent will get you to the top, but character will keep you there," said Atkinson, 42. One week before, he had been hit with a separate eight-year sentence in federal court in downtown St. Louis, where he also was ordered to pay $4.5 million in back taxes. His brother and co-founder, Cory Atkinson, received shorter sentences for similar offenses only weeks before. Once they owned mansions, boats and luxury cars from the profits off the high-pressure sales of warranties. In July, a federal bankruptcy judge approved a deal that split $26.5 million among the company's customers and creditors.
Low, low river:
Contractors made preparations near Thebes, Ill., to remove shallow rock formations in the Mississippi River that were threatening the bottoms of barges and towboats. The drought had kept the river low through the summer, but the annual wintertime reduction of water from the upper Missouri River dams imperiled Midwestern river commerce. Barge interests clamored for help, so the Army Corps of Engineers, which had been running dredges since July, went after the river-bottom rocks in December. The river has been running 10 to 15 feet below normal for the past few months.
Troubles at the History Museum:
Robert Archibald, president of the Missouri History Museum for 24 years, was busy with big plans. Then came an audit critical of a land deal he engineered six years ago, involving a site owned by former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., followed by more stinging criticism of his compensation. The museum Board of Trustees strongly defended him, but the Board of Aldermen planned investigative hearings and donations to the museum dropped. Then, Archibald suddenly resigned, with the consolation of a $270,000 consulting contract.
The Man, not the affection, passes away:
Stanley Frank Musial, the beloved slugger, harmonica player and First Citizen of St. Louis, died peacefully at home with his family on Jan. 19 at age 92. Grateful fans, many too young to have seen him swing a bat, placed flowers at the statue outside Busch Stadium or stood in line to view his casket at the Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End. Attendance at the funeral on Jan. 27 was a who’s-who of St. Louis. Many fans gathered outside the Cathedral on a cold day or lined the streets near the ballpark for the procession’s last pass. Said mourner Lisa Phillipson of Maryville, “Thank you for sharing your dad with us.” Responded a family member, “Thank you for loving him.” Musial’s wife of 72 years, Lillian, had died the previous May.
Historic St. Louis election:
Francis Slay, only the second St. Louis mayor to seek a consecutive four-year term, was the first to succeed, with a victory over Aldermanic President Lewis Reed in the Democratic primary March 5. Reed argued that the city “was stifled by ineffective leadership.” Slay said he had revitalized the city with “more fun” — food trucks, places for dogs and dog lovers, smoke-free restaurants and Citygarden downtown. Slay turned back Reed with 54 percent of the vote, a 4,472-vote advantage among 44,040 cast in the Democratic primary. Slay, 58, breezed past a Green Party candidate in April to make his record official.
Political convulsions in suburban Ellisville:
It started with a Walmart. The Ellisville City Council, seeking revenue, supported giving tax breaks for a new supercenter. Adam Paul campaigned against it and was elected mayor in 2012. Almost immediately, he and the council clashed. On April 8, 2013, the council voted 5-1 to oust Paul, saying he had trampled upon the city charter. The politics shifted nine days later with the seating of a newly elected council that was more Paul-friendly. He filed suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court and eventually won reinstatement. The new council voted to fire city attorney Paul Martin, who had worked closely with Mayor Paul’s opponents in the ouster. Walmart pulled out for good in October. Later that month, the council voted 4-2 to fire city manager Kevin Bookout, who also had pushed the Walmart.
The Rev. Biondi, president of St. Louis University, steps down:
The Rev. Lawrence Biondi, alternately charming and decidedly not so, had brushed away the calls for his removal. As president of St. Louis University for 25 years, he expanded the campus, enrollment and fundraising. He also left many a bruised ego. Long-simmering resentments among faculty members erupted in 2012 over a plan to modify tenure. The faculty senate voted 51-4 for a “no confidence” motion, in effect urging the Board of Trustees to fire Biondi. The Student Government Association followed with a similar vote. A more conciliatory Biondi promised to be “part of the solution,” but the conflict had gone on too long. On May 4, at a $1,000-a-person dinner celebrating his 25th anniversary, Biondi, then 74, surprised most everyone by announcing his retirement. He said, “I know it is now time for the next transformation to begin.” Biondi, a Jesuit priest, stepped down on Sept. 1. SLU is seeking a new president.
Drug shocker in St. Clair County courts:
The obituary listed no cause of death for St. Clair County Associate Judge Joseph Christ. It was revealed May 24, when fellow judge Michael Cook of Belleville was charged with drug possession. Christ had died of a cocaine overdose March 10 at the Cook family hunting lodge near Mount Pleasant, Ill. Cook, the son of a prominent Democrat and lawyer, presided over the county drug court. He entered a treatment center and resigned from his $179,655 job. Cook, 43, pleaded guilty on Nov. 8 and awaits sentencing. The courthouse, meanwhile, began untangling the conflicts over the drug cases he handled.
The Mississippi River rises again:
On Jan. 1, after a prolonged drought, the Mississippi River at St. Louis was within two feet of its historic low at the Eads Bridge. Then came late-winter rain and an even soggier spring. The river broke flood stage in mid-April — up 35 feet from the beginning of the year. It kept rising, and sandbaggers got busy, including students at Winfield High School in Lincoln County. In flood-savvy Grafton, the tourist trade worked around “road closed” signs. In Clarksville, Mo., scene of many flood fights, volunteers built another flood wall along vulnerable Front Street. The Mississippi broke minor levees in Lincoln County and along the confluence with the Missouri River, and threatened the fertile bottomland of St. Charles County. The main levees held. The river crested at St. Louis on June 4 at 10.5 feet over flood stage, the sixth highest on record and nine feet short of the Great Flood of 1993. (The flood of 2013 is now the ninth highest on record.)
Yellow buses drive back into the news:
The case was in Missouri’s courts so long that graduations required a change of plaintiffs. In 1993, the Missouri Legislature required failing school districts to pay costs if their students wanted to go to a neighboring district. A few families tested the law’s enormous implications. The St. Louis and Clayton districts, parties in that original case, said the law violated the state constitution. But on June 11, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld it. By then, city schools had regained provisional accreditation but Riverview Gardens and Normandy schools were declared failing. Their students were free to attend other districts, with home districts paying tuition. Normandy voted to provide transportation to the Francis Howell district in St. Charles County. Riverview Gardens picked Mehlville and Kirkwood. Most students stayed home, but about 2,000 took the buses. Officials of the failing schools warned of financial disaster. The issue returns to the Legislature in January.
County Police Board shuffle:
Floyd Warmann, longtime player in Democratic politics, resigned from the St. Louis County Police Board on Aug. 1. His lawyer said Warmann was concerned that a business opportunity might present a conflict. Then came word of board chairman Gregory Sansone’s part ownership of a subcontractor helping build the department’s new $9.2 million crime laboratory. His company, SM Mechanical, was doing $3.7 million of the work. Lawyers for County Executive Charlie Dooley, who appoints board members, had cleared the subcontract. Meanwhile, Police Chief Tim Fitch asked the FBI to look into the bidding. Sansone, insisting there was no conflict, resigned on Aug. 22. Then labor leaders objected to Dooley’s nominee to replace him, Republican Dave Spence. The County Council enraged Dooley by rejecting another of his board picks. Then Fitch surprised everyone by announcing his retirement.
Republicans can’t overcome key Nixon vetoes:
Much was said of the Republican “veto-proof” majority at the Legislature in Jefferson City. Republicans easily passed a long list of favorites on gun rights, curbs on public-employee unions and — the big one — tax cuts. At session’s end, the GOP adopted a bill that would cut the top income-tax rate and corporate rates and give a 50 percent cut for businesses that “pass through” income to their owners. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed those and 26 other bills, then went on the road to denounce the tax bill. Its backers spent big money on radio. Texas Gov. Rick Perry came to St. Louis with his low-tax pitch. As the Legislature assembled for its September veto session, everyone knew the margin would be close — Republicans held 109 House seats, exactly two-thirds, the override margin. Nixon prevailed on the three big vetoes. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, called it a “temporary setback” and pledged another tax-cut bill in 2014. Republicans did override vetoes of lesser bills.
Illinois embraces gay marriage:
In November, Illinois legislators gathered for their regular veto session and reconsidered a same-sex marriage bill that had died in the House earlier in the year. The Senate already had endorsed it by a wide margin. The opposition was in the House, where many urban black and rural legislators were, at best, reluctant to support it. Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, warned that “conservative people of faith will lose religious rights.” But supporters on Nov. 5 cobbled together 61 votes, one more than needed, making Illinois the 15th state to adopt gay marriage, which can begin June 1. Ten days later, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order allowing same-sex couples that file federal income-tax returns jointly to do the same in Missouri. The Missouri Constitution, amended in 2004 by a 71 percent voter margin, still declares marriage as between a man and a woman.
Red light cameras assailed in court:
Seen as a boon to safety by some and a shameless cash grab by others, Missouri’s red light camera rush began in Arnold in 2006. On Dec. 17, the red light camera law there was the latest to be dealt a blow in a court. A state appeals court ruled the law, which presumes the car’s owner is behind the wheel unless it can be proven otherwise, unconstitutional. Courts handed similar setbacks to photo-enforcement programs other cities. But backers of the cameras say none of the recent line of legal rulings have invalidated a city’s right to enact a photo-enforcement ordinance, and some rulings have been contradictory. The issue may be headed to the Missouri Supreme Court.
It's no contest when picking the biggest local news story of the year — it's the one that was a big national and even international story this year. The shooting of Michael Brown, protests in Ferguson and elsewhere, the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, other police shootings and associated issues dominated headlines from August through the end of the year, and will continue to generate headlines to come. Read more about that story here.
But there were other news stories that grabbed our attention before and after the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, from chilly weather to fiery politics, and the city's 250th birthday to a bear cub that just couldn't help nibbling on college students. Here are some of them.
Foot of snow, bitter cold:
The temperature and snow fell hard, covering the area with a foot or more of slick powder. It was 25 degrees the morning of Sunday, Jan. 5, and minus 8 only 24 hours later. In the meantime, blowing snow paralyzed roads.
The low on Monday, Jan. 6, was the coldest here in 18 years. Closings were almost universal for schools and common among businesses — as if anyone needed much urging to stay home. Plow crews churned through the mess, but bitter cold and stiff winds quickly covered up any gains they made.
The official total was 10.8 inches at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, a major snow for this area. Mascoutah had 15 inches, Belleville 14. St. Louis had 12.5 inches, enough to trap drivers on side streets.
And that increased Mayor Francis Slay's headache. Hundreds of city residents screamed about the long-established policy of ignoring the city's narrow residential streets, lest plow blades bury or hit parked cars. "I hear them," he said, ordering plows onto side streets.
One week later, it was 59 degrees.
Spanning the Mississippi on the Stan:
Nearly 3,000 hardy runners made the inaugural crossing over the wind-swept Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, the long-discussed new way over the Mississippi River. The temperature was a brisk 19.
"The view is spectacular," said runner Suzanne DeZego of St. Louis.
Missouri and Illinois began discussing the project in 1991, although commuters had clamored for years for a way around the overworked Poplar Street bridge. Illinois commuters wanted it more than Missourians did, which is part of why it took so long.
After Illinois rejected Missouri's talk of a toll bridge, the two states reached a deal in 2008. The result is a $230-million, four-lane cable-stayed bridge north of downtown that carries Interstate 70. It opened to vehicle traffic on Feb. 9.
Naming the bridge took an act of Congress. Missouri wanted it for Stan Musial, the Cardinals' slugger who died in January 2013. Illinois wanted it to honor veterans. The compromise included both.
Motorists just call it the Stan Span.
Happy 250th birthday, St. Louis:
Learned lecturers dazzled with their knowledge. Dancing puppets delighted the kids. Actors in colonial garb replayed the first day.
Love had to wait.
St. Louis celebrated its semiquincentennial with a long weekend of events primarily at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Contemporary scholarship claims Feb. 15, 1764, as the day St. Louis was founded on the riverfront. The bicentennial in 1964 had picked Feb. 14, but the 250th party was big enough to embrace both dates.
All weekend, children made cupcakes and watched puppet shows. Lectures attracted full houses of earnest history buffs. Gwenne Hickman of Fairview Heights, a retired French teacher, said the region's French origin was her "passion."
Regular romance had to take a weather delay. An outdoor "Burnin' Love Festival" for Valentine's Day was scratched due to ice. "Why didn't they found the city in April?" Rob Eichelberger of Creve Couer asked when the festival was finally held four days later.
Cyber trash talk in Arnold:
Three longtime critics of the Fox School District went to court, alleging that somebody had been libeling them over the internet. Anonymous postings made accusations of bestiality and child pornography.
Things got serious in April, when Jefferson County Circuit Judge Gary Kramer ordered internet providers to identify the authors.
Then came the shocker — the trash talk had been traced to computers in the homes of Superintendent Dianne Critchlow, assistant superintendent Dan Baker and William Brengle, a former assistant principal at Fox High School.
The school board met in June and put Dianne Critchlow on paid leave and fired her husband, Jamie, who also was a school employee.
In July, Dianne Critchlow agreed to retire. Through her lawyer, she said she'd had nothing to do with the offensive postings. She stayed on her $267,468 salary until October and was eligible for an additional $130,299 payout.
The board hired a new superintendent, Jim Wipke, at almost $100,000 less than Critchlow's rate, and tightened the nepotism rules that caused the original conflict. The libel suit continues.
I thee wed:
Miranda Duschack and Karen Davis stood in the mayor's office of City Hall, exchanged vows and received the city's first marriage license to a same-sex couple. City Recorder of Deeds Sharon Q. Carpenter stopped after issuing three more licenses, but the challenge officially was on in St. Louis.
Officials in the Metro East had begun issuing licenses a few weeks before, compliments of a law the Illinois Legislature had adopted in 2013. But Duschack and Davis were taking on a Missouri constitutional amendment, adopted overwhelmingly by voters in 2004, that declares marriage only between a man and a woman.
Full resolution awaits action by the Missouri Supreme Court and the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but advocates of same-sex marriage have won all the lower-court skirmishes since the Duschack-Davis nuptials. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison and two judges in Kansas City (state and federal) have ruled that Missouri's ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Covering the depressed lanes after all these years:
The Gateway Arch was topped in 1965 and opened to visitors two years later. Ever since, people have had to brave the unwelcoming expanse of Memorial Drive to get there. Study after study promoted covering the noisy below-ground interstate lanes with a lid of some sort.
Tourists, meanwhile, nervously pushed baby strollers across the challenging crosswalk to reach a marvelous monument that is recognized worldwide.
A lid finally began taking shape in July with placement of the first of 40 green-painted girders across the highway lanes, which the state had closed to traffic for the weekend. Each girder weighed 14 tons and was 100 feet long. The concrete-and-steel structure was finished in December. When landscaped in the coming months, it will support a grass-covered path directly from the Old Courthouse to the sweeping lawn of the Arch grounds.
The lid is part of $380 million in improvements underway at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the riverfront. Planners had hoped to finish by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Arch topping, but some work will miss deadline.
Stenger trounces Dooley in Democratic slugfest:
Charlie Dooley ran a corrupt administration. Steve Stenger defended prostitution.
So went charges hurled across the airwaves in the liveliest political campaign in St. Louis County since County Executive Charlie Dooley defeated one of his predecessors, Gene McNary, in 2004. This time, Dooley faced a challenge within his own Democratic party from County Council member Steve Stenger.
Stenger had most of the labor endorsements and county Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch. Dooley's core backing was from the political leaders who shared his North County roots.
Dooley was on the council in 2003 when his fellow members chose him to replace the late County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall. Dooley was going for a third full term this year.
Stenger beat him 2-to-1 in the Aug. 5 primary and was set to take on the Republican candidate, state Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood. Four days later, Ferguson police officer shot Michael Brown.
Many of Dooley's longtime supporters attacked Stenger bitterly, and McCulloch's endorsement became a liability to many voters. On Nov. 4, he edged Stream by only 1,854 votes of more than 291,000 cast. Stream has filed for a recount. Stenger is scheduled to take office Thursday.
Highland teachers strike for a week:
Negotiations began in April. The Highland school board offered a pay freeze, the teachers' union wanted raises averaging 6 percent. After a six-hour session with a federal mediator, union president ShiAnne Shively called the standoff "very disheartening."
On a rainy Thursday, the Highland Education Association put up picket lines at Highland High School and the district's five other schools. It was the first strike ever for the district of 3,000 students, and the first in the Metro East since a nine-day strike in Cahokia seven years before.
The Highland Bulldogs football team, then 2-0, had to forfeit its game with Mattoon. Students planning to take the ACT that weekend had to hustle up other arrangements.
Teachers rejected a modified district offer but overwhelming accepted another that offered an average of 4.3 percent raises over three years.
Classes resumed Friday, Sept. 19, after six lost days. That was just in time for the Bulldogs to take on Jerseyville and win 42-19. The team ended its season 9-2 after losing in the playoffs Nov. 18 to Taylorville, 36-15.
Better news for blue collars:
It was tonic to the old factory town that once turned out cars and jet planes by the thousands. General Motors Corp. announced it will hire a third shift in Wentzville early next year. Boeing Corp. said it will make parts for its 777X airliner and service F-22 fighter jets at its complex in north St. Louis County.
In the early 1970s, nearly 30,000 people worked at the area's GM, Ford and Chrysler plants or factories that made parts for the assembly lines. Another 40,000 once made fighter jets and space capsules at the former McDonnell Aircraft.
Today, 2,600 people work at GM in Wentzville and 15,000 at Boeing. A third shift at GM means 750 jobs. Boeing says it eventually will add 700 more for the jumbo airliner and as many as 500 to work on F-22s, which were built by Lockheed Martin. The 15 additional F/A 18 Growlers in the new federal budget will slow the loss of jobs as Boeing fighter lines wind down.
The gains barely dent the 30,000 local factory jobs lost during the Great Recession, but is cause for some cheer in blue-collar taverns. In December 2009, the metro unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. It was 6.9 percent last January, down to 6.2 percent in October. Maybe things are getting better.
Huge night for the GOP:
Voters in Missouri padded the Republicans' legislative majority. In Illinois, they picked a Republican for governor on a night of big gains for the GOP across much of the country.
Republican Bruce Rauner, a wealthy businessman who never had been elected before, unseated Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois by taking every county except Cook, and by snaring one third of the vote in that Democratic bastion. In Southern Illinois, Republican state Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro knocked off one-term U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, to capture a congressional seat the GOP hadn't held since World War II.
In the Illinois Legislature, the GOP picked up one senate seat. Democrats hold big majorities as Rauner comes to town.
In Missouri, Republicans padded their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. They nearly swept the races in Jefferson County, home turf of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The next day, Rep. Linda Black of Desloge switched to the GOP to give her new party a 118-45 House majority, nine more than needed to override a Nixon veto.
And finally, one of the weirder stories of year:
A student group arranged for a petting zoo at Washington University to offer stress relief during exam week in May. The menagerie included a baby pig, some goats and a 10-pound bear cub named Boo Boo.
The cub was a hit. Trouble was, he nipped about a dozen students. The university, fearing rabies, announced Boo Boo would have to be put down.
Students and animal lovers rallied to Boo Boo. State wildlife inspectors dug into his life story and declared that he couldn't have contacted rabies.
Boo Boo lived for a while at the St. Louis Zoo. Since September, he has been at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and, by all accounts, is prospering.
The St. Louis Zoo hadn’t had a polar bear since 2009, when 23-year-old Hope was euthanized because of a liver tumor. It wanted a new polar bear, but didn’t want to use the 90-year-old pit with the open pool and the landscape painted white to resemble snow.
The Zoo built the $16 million Polar Bear Point, incorporating the old site. It has several large glass viewing areas along its new water reservoir that allow visitors to watch a polar bear swim. The new setting is bigger than the original.
Good thing, because its new resident is Kali (pronounced Cully), who weighed 850 pounds when he was introduced to the public June 6. The male, now 2½ years, had been rescued as a cub by an Alaska Native hunter who had killed his mother.
Kali grew up at the Buffalo Zoo, then traveled to St. Louis by airplane. His antics in his 50,000-gallon “sea” have been a hit ever since.
What will happen to Grant's Farm?
Since 1954, the Busch family has invited visitors to its 220-acre estate in south St. Louis County. It has become a rite of summer — riding trams to see the exotic animals, feeding the baby goats and enjoying free draft beer at the Bauernhof.
When InBev snapped up Anheuser-Busch in 2008, plenty of locals worried that the new owners would close Grant’s Farm, which operates at a loss. As the trams kept rolling, farm fans relaxed.
Then came news in November of the St. Louis Zoo’s interest in buying most of the farm for $30 million, along with another split among Busch heirs (There were significant divisions when the brewery empire was sold). Billy Busch, brewer of Kraftig, wants to keep the farm in the family as a tourist attraction and add his own brewery.
The zoo wants to buy the farm, but needs voters to approve a sales tax to cover operations. A-B Inbev offered to donate $27 million to the zoo for the purchase.
Four of the six children of August A. “Gussie” Busch Jr. and his third wife, Trudy, want to sell to the Zoo and say they are concerned that brother Billy won’t be able to keep it going. They say they’ve seen plat maps of subdivisions for the area. The issue is in court.
Meanwhile, A-B Inbev says it will operate the farm as is.
The Arch turns 50
The shimmering stainless steel of the Gateway Arch was bathed in gold floodlights for its anniversary on Oct. 28 — the celebration of “topping day” in 1965, when the last wedge was fitted into the monument to cheers, music and towboat horns 630 feet below.
Visitors didn’t actually reach the observation deck until 1967, but topping day has become a key date for St. Louis’ signature landmark. Its 50th birthday became the target deadline for a $380 million reshaping of the riverfront park and underground museum, still underway. (That work, like the Arch itself, is behind its original schedule.)
On the anniversary, about 2,900 people rode to the top at $1 per ticket, the opening-day price 48 years before. Several hundred more gathered outside the Old Courthouse for upbeat speeches and music, and at the History Museum in Forest Park to meet some of the builders and enjoy a seminar on the Arch in history and culture.
Thirty of the men who built the Arch busily signed posters and other souvenirs. “My hand is cramped,” said Ken Kolkmeier, the former project manager.
Complications still arise, such as continued discussion over how to pay for rebuilding the crumbling stairs to the two park overlooks. But the long-sought “lid” now stretches across the noisy below-ground interstate lanes.
Spy versus spy:
For 63 years, federal workers have been making maps and other secret things for the nation’s defense on the site of the old St. Louis Armory, established in 1827 near the Anheuser-Busch brewery. The 3,000 employees of National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency can’t tell their friends what they do, but they make good money. It’s a payroll any local official would covet.
The government announced it would build a $1.6 billion new home for the agency and promised to keep it in the St. Louis area.
So the agency became the object of a land and bidding war spanning the nearby Mississippi River. Missouri officials want to keep the agency and the $2.2 million its employees pay in city earnings taxes. Illinois officials want to lure it to county-owned land next to Scott Air Force Base, already their largest Metro East employer.
There have been battling press releases, rallies and op-ed pieces by elected officials. In February, St. Clair County offered the government 182 acres of free land, then sweetened its pitch with 200 more in November. St. Louis, meanwhile, has been scrambling to assemble 100 acres just northwest of downtown, including land held by North St. Louis developer Paul McKee.
The feds say they may pick a new site as early as March.
If we build it, will they stay?
As 2015 began, the St. Louis Rams were fresh off another losing season, their 14th since arriving in 1995. The glory days of Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce were long ago. Stan Kroenke, a Missouri native and Wal-Mart billionaire, never spoke to local fans but made it clear his heart (and wallet) were in Los Angeles.
Gov. Jay Nixon hustled up a committee, led by former Anheuser-Busch executive David Peacock, to organize plans for a new home for the Rams. In January, as the committee was preparing colorful renderings for a $1 billion open-air stadium on the north riverfront, Kroenke announced plans for a $1.8 billion football palace near Los Angeles International Airport.
St. Louis sentiment was decidedly mixed. Fans just wanted football. But many people were soured on Kroenke and the continuing $24 million annual public tab for the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said the county wouldn’t pony up this time without a public vote. Mayor Francis Slay backed both a new stadium and a vote, as required by city ordinance.
On Aug. 3, St. Louis Circuit Judge Thomas Frawley declared the ordinance invalid. Slay declined to appeal. As NFL owners mulled competing LA plans by Kroenke and a partnership of the San Diego and Oakland franchises, Peacock’s group went into high gear. Enterprise Holdings, the company of car-rental king Jack Taylor, agreed to buy the naming rights and call it National Car Rental Field. On Dec. 15, in a City Hall chamber packed with emotional onlookers, the Board of Aldermen voted 17-10 on a complicated stadium financing plan that still may be short of NFL requirements.
The league is to consider who gets LA next month. The Rams are committed to the Dome only until March 31.
Upheaval at old Mizzou:
On Sept. 12, somebody yelled a racial slur from a pickup truck at Payton Head, a black student and president of the Missouri Student Association. One month later, a white student loudly insulted members of the Legion of Black Collegians. The offender was removed from campus.
On Oct. 10, members of a new group, Concerned Student 1950 — named for the year in which blacks were allowed to attend Mizzou — blocked the car of University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe in the homecoming parade. He became the focus of student ire.
On Nov. 2, Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student and son of a railroad executive, announced a hunger strike until Wolfe stepped down. The issue exploded across the state five days later, when Mizzou football players refused to play until Butler got his demand.
Within the week, Wolfe resigned, Columbia campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin was demoted and football coach Gary Pinkel announced retirement at season’s end. In a bizarre turn for a university noted for its journalism school, mass communications assistant professor Melissa Click and Janna Basler, a campus Greek Life official, confronted journalists at a campus rally and ordered them to leave. That, too, went viral.
The Board of Curators chose as interim president Michael Middleton, the university’s first black law professor and a founder of the Legion of Black Collegians back in his college days. He promised to work on the issue of race on campus. The football team returned to the field and went 1-2 on Pinkel’s last games.
The homicide toll rises again:
The headlines, most of them small, were numbingly similar and frequent: Body found in alley. Body found in car. Shots fired from passing car. Man shot to death. Mother shot at busy playground.
As 2015 nears an end, the tally in the city of St. Louis stood at 188 homicides, the highest in two decades. It surpassed 2014 in October. There is small comfort in restating the record of 267 homicides, set in 1993.
Murder numbers rise and fall with the years. There were 73 in the city in 2003, the lowest in generations. Two years later, the body count was 131. Police officials and criminologists never are entirely sure why. Officers flood high-crime areas, or “hot spots,” but can’t make it stop.
Sometimes, residents are moved to action. Since May, the Rev. Kenneth McKoy, paster of Progressive AME Zion Church, has led a group walking through high-crime neighborhoods at night, offering food and prayers to anyone who will talk with them. McKoy said he was tired of presiding over funerals of murder victims.
“We all have a greater chance of getting shot if we don’t get engaged,” he said. As he led his group through a walk one night in December, a young stranger thanked them and said, “You all be safe.”
In the following week, five more people were murdered in St. Louis.
Landfill smolders, tension grows:
In 1973, a hauler dumped radioactive waste in a landfill in Bridgeton. Five years ago, an underground fire was discovered in a neighboring waste dump. Keeping fire and nuclear waste separate is a goal everyone agrees upon.
Just how to do that is a question that lingers with the foul odor. Republic Services of Phoenix, which bought the landfills in 2008, prefers capping the smoldering Bridgeton Landfill and installing a firebreak barrier to West Lake Landfill, which holds low-level waste from work in St. Louis on America’s first nuclear bombs. Activists and neighbors want the material hauled away, a much more expensive proposition.
In September, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, the likely Democratic nominee for governor next year, reported the fire getting closer. That contradicted Republic, against which Koster has a lawsuit. KMOX radio disclosed a St. Louis County evacuation plan for the area, and four area school districts sent letters to parents outlining emergency plans.
More than 500 people showed up at a community meeting. “I’m 16 and I’m already worried about my future,” said a sophomore from Pattonville High School, which is located 2 miles away. A brush-fire call at West Lake Landfill added to tension.
Koster later called it a “relief” that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the situation poses no exposure risk. The EPA plans to choose a solution in 2016. Read the coverage of the landfill issue.
Scandal in the Missouri legislature:
For weeks, there were rumors in the Missouri Capitol of something untoward between a legislator and female college intern. In April, Missouri Southern State University in Joplin pulled its interns without explanation.
For decades, students at Missouri universities have earned credit hours working for legislators in Jefferson City. They do research, take phone calls, deliver messages and scurry down Capitol hallways.
On May 13, the Kansas City Star published racy text messages between House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, and a Missouri Southern intern. In one he wrote, “God I want you right now.” She replied, “I wish you could have me right now.”
Diehl, 49 and a real estate lawyer, met with fellow Republicans in a closed caucus, then issued a statement taking “full responsibility” for his action. “I ask for forgiveness,” said the married father of three sons. He resigned the next day as the legislative session was ending. The intern, Katie Graham, 19, of Joplin, identified herself and thanked friends for their help “in this difficult time.”
There were calls to strengthen protocols. In July, two more interns said they had been propositioned and harassed by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence. LeVota, 47 and married father of two daughters, denied the accusations but soon resigned.
In October, after prodding from Democrats, a House committee strengthened rules on harassment and professional conduct. The Senate already had similar rules. Next month, all 163 House members will attend training on the issue.
Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich breezed to re-election in November 2014 with 73 percent of the statewide vote. Two months later, he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor, saying he knew “the good, the bad, the ugly” of Missouri government.
For weeks, Schweich, 54, was increasingly bothered by what he considered a whispering campaign calling him Jewish, the religion of one of his grandfathers. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, a mentor to Schweich and fellow Episcopalian, urged him not to go public, saying any accusation he made would reflect upon him, not his detractors.
On the morning of Feb. 26, Schweich called two reporters and asked them to drop by his house. Then, while his wife was on the phone with someone else, she suddenly screamed, “He shot himself!” His death by a single shot to the head was ruled a suicide.
Danforth, a priest, gave the eulogy at Schweich’s funeral March 3 at the Church of St. Michael and St. George. He was scathing in his attack upon dirty politics, denouncing “any whisper of anti-Semitism.” He added bluntly: “Words can kill.”
State GOP party chairman John Hancock, the main focus of Schweich’s complaint, insisted that he might have referred to Schweich as being Jewish in passing, but meant nothing by it. Hancock quietly rebuffed calls for his resignation. Mike Kelley, a Democrat and Hancock’s partner on KMOX broadcasts, came to his defense.
Barely one month later, Spence Jackson, who had been Schweich’s media director, committed suicide in his apartment in Jefferson City. Jackson, 44 and a longtime GOP communications person, left a note expressing concern about unemployment. Investigators drew no direct connection between the two suicides.
Illinois' treasury troubles mount:
Bruce Rauner, a Republican and former chairman of a Chicago equity firm and novice to politics, unseated Gov. Pat Quinn in November 2014 by sweeping every county but Cook. He campaigned as a champion of business-style fiscal sense in a state swamped by more than $110 billion in unmet pension liability.
At his inauguration on Jan. 12 in Springfield, he said, “business as usual is over,” and called for all Illinoisans to “share in the sacrifice.” He had promised to go after public-employee unions, powerful allies of the state’s Democrats. But his opposition holds strong majorities in both chambers of the Illinois Legislature.
It hasn’t gone so well for either side. The 2015 legislative session ended in May in a standoff over a proposed $36 billion budget, itself underfunded by $3 billion. Rauner demanded changes in operations. Democrats refused to oblige.
Rauner halted $700 million in state construction, including $53 million in work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The state announced it would have to send IOUs for lottery winnings over $25,000. When players headed for neighboring states, Illinois cut the maximum payout to $600. The state announced that it was up to motorists to remember when their license plates were up for renewal. No more reminders by mail.
On Dec. 2, Rauner and legislative leaders finally met and agreed upon $3.1 billion for angry lottery winners and aid to local communities. House Speaker Michael Madigan, veteran Chicago legislator, soon called for restoring the temporary income tax hike to 5 percent, which had expired in January. Rauner didn’t reply, but a GOP legislative ally called the idea “outrageous.”
Ferguson, Year two:
The tension in and about Ferguson continued, with some signs of recovery. The suburban community’s name had become shorthand nationwide for racial conflict and injustice since Michael Brown, 18, was shot to death Aug. 9, 2014, on Canfield Drive by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. The new year began with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and County Executive Steve Stenger sworn into office Jan. 1 on the sixth floor of the courthouse rather than in the County Council chamber. McCulloch was the object of scorn by activists after a county grand jury declined to indict Wilson, who by then had left the police force.
Burned and looted businesses struggled to reopen. County police released videos of looting, leading to arrests. On March 4, the U.S. Justice Department issued a scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, alleging officers targeted blacks, ignored civil rights and used unnecessary force. One week later, Ferguson Chief Thomas Jackson resigned, saying the city “needed to move forward without any distractions.”
As protesters gathered outside the station to cheer the news, two police officers were wounded by gunfire.
On April 7, city voters elected two more black council members, giving the six-member board an even split racially and rejecting two candidates promoted by activists. Brown’s family filed a wrongful-death suit and helped install a plaque where their son had died.
On Aug. 9 and 10, anniversary protests were marred by gunfire, looting and the hurling of frozen water bottles. Police shot and wounded a man who fired at them.
On Sept. 13, Gov. Jay Nixon’s special 16-member Ferguson Commission released its 198-page report, calling for 47 reforms, from consolidating suburban municipal courts to ending high-interest “predatory” lending.
Police tracked down more looters. And in October, two businesses that were destroyed by rioting in 2014 reopened — Juanita’s Fashions R Boutique and Little Ceasars Pizza. “I was sad and hurt by what happened,” said Juanita Morris. “But a sore heals.”
Red all over:
Much like their counterparts in Washington, Missouri Republicans took even tighter control of the reins of government this fall, including claiming the top prize, the governor’s office.
The GOP already had a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the Legislature, but Gov. Jay Nixon had stubbornly held onto the top post for eight years. That ended with the victory of political newcomer Eric Greitens and a sweep of the other five statewide offices. Four of those six posts were snatched from the Democrats.
Greitens is a former Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and then founded a nonprofit to help veterans find their footing as civilians. He is expected to push a conservative agenda, likely ensuring passage of so-called “Right to Work” legislation that will curb the power of unions, and has vowed to bring ethics reforms to a state where voters, if not lawmakers, appear to be strongly supportive. On the same day they chose Greitens, Missouri voters overwhelmingly supported a measure putting limits on campaign donations, something the Legislature had failed to do.
Ken Warren, political scientist at St. Louis University, gave the credit for the GOP’s sweep in Missouri to its national standard bearer. “[Donald] Trump really connected [in] Missouri. He had coattails. There’s no question,” Warren said.
In the St. Louis region, perhaps the biggest surprise of the election actually came in the August primary. That’s when state Rep. Kim Gardner outpolled her Democratic rivals to replace St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, clearing the path for an easy victory in the general election and for becoming the city’s first black top prosecutor. Among those vanquished was Joyce’s preferred successor.
Yes, even as the state became a deeper shade of red on political maps, St. Louis remained a dot of blue.
Monsanto, Scottrade sold:
Two of St. Louis’ marquee business names — Monsanto and Scottrade — got gobbled up by other companies in mega-mergers this year.
Creve Coeur-based Monsanto, an agribusiness giant, was sold to Germany-based pharmaceutical company Bayer AG in a $66 billion deal announced in September and approved by shareholders this month. The sale still needs the approval of federal regulators but could be done by the end of next year. How Monsanto’s 4,100 workers in the St. Louis region will fare in the merger remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, many of the people employed by Town and Country-based Scottrade stand to be losers in its $4 billion acquisition by TD Ameritrade of Omaha, Neb. Scottrade has 1,800 on its payroll, but when the merger of the two discount brokerages was announced in October, the buyer said it expected to have 500-1,000 jobs in St. Louis after the regulatory hurdles are cleared.
While TD Ameritrade might have a smaller economic presence here than the company it swallowed, its name will still be big. The company’s moniker will replace Scottrade in giant letters on the downtown hockey arena where the St. Louis Blues play.
Another year, another budget battle:
Illinois’ political powers continued their standoff over the state budget. Almost two years after taking office, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has so far failed in his attempts to coax the state’s Democratic power brokers, especially longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, to accept his terms for shoring up state finances that are now more than $5 billion in the red. Meanwhile, the state has been without an official budget since July 2015, instead passing partial spending plans while leaving many bills unpaid, programs unfunded and the state’s credit rating in the tank.
Rauner wasn’t on the ballot in November, but he used riches from his business career to help fund the campaigns of fellow Republicans. His assistance wasn’t enough to seize either legislative chamber from the Democrats’ grip, but their party lost four House seats and its supermajority.
The governor is demanding that Democrats agree to his agenda, including term limits and a property tax freeze, at the negotiating table. Democrats refuse to start budget talks with preconditions. Illinoisans are left to wonder if their state will ever make its way out of its financial morass.
NGA stays in STL:
Despite an enticing offer to move across the river, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency opted to keep its western headquarters in St. Louis. Construction on the $1.75 billion project, the largest federal one in the city’s history, is expected to begin in the middle of next year.
Instead of picking up stakes and heading for a free site next to Scott Air Force Base near Mascoutah, the agency will move from its current cramped quarters on the river just south of downtown to 100 acres northwest of downtown. The new spot is in a section of the city that has seen its population dwindle and its crime rate rise in recent decades.
Not surprisingly, the decision to keep the agency and its more than 3,000 jobs here and rejuvenate a struggling neighborhood thrilled St. Louis officials and Missouri’s congressional delegation. But some longtime residents of the area were none too happy about being forced to take buyouts to make room for the plum project.
Also angered were elected officials in the Metro East, some of whom alleged bias and flaws in the site selection process. In the view of St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern: “This playing field was not level. There was a thumb that was on the scale the whole time.”
Slay says 16 years is enough:
Just as the final year of his fourth term in office was beginning, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay announced that it would be his last. The mayor’s decision came as a surprise to many who thought he would extend his record-setting and generally scandal-free run as the city’s chief executive for at least one more term. What life after City Hall might have in store for Slay is unknown. He hasn’t disclosed any plans.
But several wannabe successors began lining up as soon as Slay made his intentions known. The crowded field of candidates includes Treasurer Tishaura Jones, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Aldermen Lyda Krewson, Antonio French and Jeffrey Boyd. The general election for the mayor’s and other seats isn’t until April 4. But the race will probably be decided, as most city races are, in the Democratic primary on March 7.
Political dynasty shaken:
Challenges to absentee voting procedures in St. Louis ended up serving a double whammy to a family steeped in Democratic politics in St. Louis.
First, state Rep. Penny Hubbard was ousted in September after a judge ordered a do-over primary because of irregularities in the absentee votes. Her seat went to newcomer Bruce Franks Jr. A month later, her husband, Rodney Hubbard, lost his post as a Democratic committeeman in a re-do election ordered because of the same allegations. The party position went to Rasheen Aldridge Jr. In the primary, absentee votes had put the Hubbards over the top in both contests.
A federal investigation is underway into whether the voting issues cited in the primary constitute fraud.
Meanwhile, Franks and Aldridge are part of a new guard of local politicians. Both gained prominence as activists in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
Pamela Hupp already figured prominently into one murder case when she became the prime suspect in another one this summer.
Hupp had been a key prosecution witness in the 2013 trial at which Russell Faria was found guilty of fatally stabbing his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, in their home in Lincoln County two years earlier. Just days before Betsy Faria was found dead, she had made her friend Hupp the beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy. And Hupp had been the last person to see Betsy Faria alive. But Hupp had told investigators that Betsy Faria feared her husband and wanted out of the marriage.
In 2015, a judge ordered a retrial for Russell Faria because of new evidence in the case. He was acquitted in the second trial. His attorneys insisted that investigators ignored a prime suspect in the case: Hupp.
In August, Hupp was back in the headlines because of another homicide, this one at her home in O’Fallon, Mo. Hupp told police she had gunned down a stranger who had threatened her and demanded that she take him to her bank to get “Russ’ money.” But within days, police said, her story fell apart. Officials accused Hupp of having lured the man, Louis R. Gumpenberger, to her home in a bizarre scheme to divert attention from her in the ongoing investigation of Betsy Faria’s murder.
Rams leave; MLS is courted:
St. Louis became a “two-sport town” in January, when the St. Louis Rams got approval from the NFL to pick up its goal posts and move to Los Angeles. The departure outraged fans here, most of whom focused their wrath on team owner Stan Kroenke.
The billionaire real estate developer had cited a clause in the team’s lease agreement for the Edward Jones Dome to demand that public officials renovate it to “top tier” quality in order to keep the team. Officials balked at the $700 million price tag.
Instead, a special task force proposed a $1.1 billion open-air stadium on the St. Louis riverfront — with $400 million in public funding. Kroenke snubbed that plan and cemented his status as persona non grata in St. Louis by describing the city that had been home to his team for 20 years as “struggling” and too poor to sustain three professional teams.
With the football team gone, a new push got underway to secure a Major League Soccer franchise. A plan has been floated for a $200 million stadium just west of Union Station, with much of the funding coming from the public. So far, none of that funding has been approved and Gov.-elect Eric Greitens made it clear has no interest in backing any plan with tax support, which he calls “nothing more than welfare for millionaires.”
Riverview Gardens resurges:
After nine years on the state’s black list, the Riverview Gardens School District got word this month that it would be getting provisional accreditation next year. The announcement was a victory for a district that has long struggled with academic and financial troubles.
Losing the state’s seal of approval had created an extra drain on the district’s coffers because a state law required it to cover the costs of students who transferred out of the district to attend school in an accredited one.
Superintendent Scott Spurgeon had made regaining accreditation his goal from the time he took the reins of the 5,200-student district in 2013. He was jubilant over its turnaround. “We could’ve just thrown in the towel for any number of reasons,” Spurgeon said. “But that’s not who we are.”
Thousands of people lined the nearly 50-mile route of the funeral procession for St. Louis County Police Officer Blake Snyder. Snyder, 33, a husband and father of a 2-year-old son, was fatally shot Oct. 6. when he was sent to investigate a disturbance in the south St. Louis community of Green Park. An 18-year-old, whose only previous run-in with the law was a marijuana case, is jailed on a first-degree murder charge in Snyder’s death.
Snyder was a four-year veteran of the department. At his packed funeral, his brother said the family didn’t discourage Snyder from donning the badge “because we knew it was his calling to serve and protect others.” After the service at St. Louis Family Church in Chesterfield, a line of police vehicles stretched an estimated five miles behind the hearse that carried the young officer’s body to Godfrey for burial in his native Illinois.
The shooting was the first fatal one for the county police department in 16 years, but it followed another near-fatal police shooting in the county by only a few months. Ballwin Officer Mike Flamion, 31, was gunned down by a motorist during a traffic stop July 8. A bullet hit him in the neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. And just weeks after Snyder was slain, a St. Louis police officer was shot in the face by a man who pulled up next to his patrol car. That officer, Sgt. Tom Lake, was on his feet days later.
The shootings served as a grim reminder of the dangerous job law enforcers perform, and the great humility of most of them. “It’s incredible to still see the support people are giving me,” said Flamion, as people greeted him at an event in late November. “It just amazes me.”
Ferguson accepts consent decree:
In March, the Ferguson City Council approved a consent decree with the federal Department of Justice to reform its police department. The contentious pact was reached 17 months after the north St. Louis County city because the focus of local protests and national attention following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown.
Brown's shooting shined a spotlight on allegations of racial bias by police departments and municipal courts in many of St. Louis County's dozens of municipalities. A subsequent DOJ investigation documented constitutional violations by police in Ferguson, including searches without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause.
Wesley Bell, one of two black residents who won seats in April 2015 on what had been a mostly white Ferguson City Council, saw the approval of the decree as a potential watershed moment for the racially divided city. “In many ways we are trying to repair a tear in the fabric of our city ... The fact that the world is watching us, gives us an opportunity to show what change can look like,” Bell said.
Social House ousted:
The Delmar Loop has become a go-to entertainment destination in the region based in part on its mix of ethnic restaurants and alt-culture vibe. But its embrace of diversity proved to have limits this year when University City officials shunned Social House II. The bar and restaurant’s trademark was its risque wait staff, who were covered only in body paint from the waist up.
The joint managed to stay open for three months as city officials finagled to yank its liquor license and its operators urged a court to intervene. In June, a settlement was reached that shuttered the place and restored the Loop to its pre-Social House level of decency.
A new governor for Missouri
Eric Greitens, Navy SEAL, Rhodes scholar and former Democrat, spoke at his inauguration Jan. 9 with the same zeal that propelled his out-of-nowhere quest to become Missouri governor, the only political office he has held. He promised to abolish “the culture of corruption in Jefferson City,” one of his campaign mantras.
“To those who would trouble this house for their own selfish and sinful gain, hear me now. I answer to the people,” Greitens, 43, said on the steps of the Capitol. That same day, he barred his employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Working with big legislative majorities of fellow Republicans, the Maryland Heights native enjoyed some easy victories, such as limits to discrimination lawsuits and a “right-to-work” law intended to diminish unions — both longtime GOP goals. (A union-backed petition drive put right-to-work on hold until voters decide its fate next November.)
Greitens, 43, kept his campaign-era distance from the press, preferring social media for announcements. Borrowing a phrase from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, the governor told reporters he wouldn’t submit to “drive-by” interviews in the capitol hallways.
Greitens, a former motivational speaker and author, also has encountered some limits of gubernatorial persuasion. The Legislature declined to adopt his limits on lobbying, in part because the governor refused to identify donors to his inauguration or his nonprofit organization, A New Missouri, which has financed attack ads against recalcitrant Republicans.
Four GOP senators even joined a largely symbolic call for an investigation of A New Missouri’s finances. “You can’t ignore possible unethical behavior by the governor or his campaign,” said Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City. A Greitens spokesman dismissed the matter as “temper tantrums from career politicians.” Legislators grumbled when Greitens twice called them back for special sessions.
On Dec. 1, Greitens prevailed in a four-month campaign to fire Schools Commissioner Margie Vandeven by appointing enough new members of the state Board of Education. Greitens never outlined detailed objections to Vandeven.
And a new mayor for St. Louis
For most of his historic fourth four-year term as mayor of St. Louis, Francis Slay gave every impression of planning to seek re-election. His surprise announcement in April 2016 that he wouldn’t run unleashed pent-up aspirations for his job. Seven Democrats, three Republicans, a Libertarian and a Green filed to replace him in the 2017 election.
No Republican has been mayor since 1949, making the March 7 Democratic primary the de-facto election. Five of the Democratic hopefuls had serious chances — three aldermen, the aldermanic president and the city treasurer.
Lyda Krewson, who represented the politically influential Central West End area for two decades, won Slay’s endorsement, raised twice as much as any opponent and campaigned on public safety. Treasurer Tishaura Jones emerged as her strongest challenger, appealing to the city’s growing population of young activists who had backed Bernie Sanders for president.
Krewson’s share of the primary tally was 32 percent, enough to edge Jones by 879 votes. She ran strongly in her own and the white-majority wards. Jones split the black-majority wards with other black candidates, but ran up big numbers in activist strongholds.
Krewson, 64, breezed through the ritual April general election to become the city’s first female mayor and worked to straddle the conflicting sentiments of her narrow victory. Vandals broke windows in her home during the protests over the acquittal of former police Officer Jason Stockley. She appointed veteran Circuit Judge Jimmie Edwards, who is black, as city public safety director. In her first serious test, Krewson won voter support for a sales tax increase to boost salaries for police officers and firefighters, and did so over the opposition of Jones and her aldermanic allies.
How safe is MetroLink?
On the night of March 19, Mac Payne stepped off a MetroLink train downtown. Inside the train, four people tried to rob two passengers. A robber’s errant shot through a window fatally struck Payne, 57, who was on the platform.
Less than two weeks later, Jesse Boone of St. Louis was shot to death during an argument on a train in north St. Louis County. It turned out that Boone, 22, had committed a violent robbery on a train in 2015.
The two murders occurred amid rising public concern over safety on the region’s $1.8 billion, 47-mile commuter rail system. The concern unearthed a simmering dispute among local governments and the Metro agency over MetroLink security.
About 60 St. Louis and St. Louis County officers and St. Clair County deputies patrol MetroLink, but Metro’s own 150 guards provide most of the security. When guards don’t issue tickets, said Metro board member Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., “that word travels.”
Part of the dispute concerned Metro’s long-term practice of writing tickets with St. Louis County’s nine-digit identifier, a number the FBI uses to compile crime statistics. The city resumed honoring guards’ tickets for fare-jumping, but the county still doesn’t prosecute that offense.
In July, Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported that county officers assigned to MetroLink loitered in a station office and covered the interior security camera. Eleven county officers eventually were reprimanded. The same day St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar announced the reprimands, he also gave the county MetroLink unit a commendation.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and Krewson asked Greitens to appoint new members to all five Missouri seats on the Bi-State Board of Commissioners, which runs Metro. No word yet from the governor.
No public money for a soccer stadium
Long before soccer became a national youth sport, St. Louis was a hotbed of the game. Schoolboys honed their skills in parks, brought home 10 national championships for St. Louis University and routinely filled the rosters of colleges throughout the country. Amateur teams sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and Kutis Funeral homes had national reputations.
Somehow, the passion didn’t translate to professional soccer. The St. Louis Stars played to sparse crowds from 1968 to 1977, mostly at the previous Busch Stadium. Two indoor franchises named the St. Louis Steamers played for a combined 17 years. The current indoor team, the Ambush, plays at the St. Charles Family Arena.
There have been repeated efforts to bring back outdoor professional soccer to St. Louis, but promoters never found a place to play.
The most serious bid yet took form in 2016, when deep-pocket soccer fans bidding for a Major League Soccer franchise proposed a $200 million, 20,000-seat open air stadium on state-owned land west of Union Station. The plan would need $60 million in public assistance. With strong backing by then-Mayor Francis Slay, the Board of Aldermen voted in February to place a business tax levy on the April ballot. Promoters embarked upon a $1 million campaign.
The soccer tax narrowly fell short on April 4, getting 47.2 percent of the vote. It was backed in the soccer-playing southwest St. Louis neighborhoods and downtown, where many young loft dwellers follow international soccer. But it was drubbed in north St. Louis. Jim Kavanaugh, a lead sponsor of the effort, called the vote a “kick in the pants.” In November, St. Louis was eliminated from the professional soccer expansion.
Another record flood
In late April, a drenching band of rainstorms drummed the rolling hills of Missouri. St. Louis had 10.3 inches over eight days. The tempestuous Meramec River swelled beyond its banks again, overwhelming flood records in some places.
The U.S. Geological Survey rated it as a 100-year flood, a major event.
“Shouldn’t it be, like, (an) every 15-month flood?” lamented Keith Roeder at his swamped home on Electra Drive in Arnold. He and his wife, Stacy Robison, had just finished repairing damage from another disastrous Meramec flood in December 2015.
Roeder’s reference was a common misunderstanding of the scientific likelihood of flooding — there’s a 1-in-100 chance any year of a “100-year” flood, not an occurrence every 100 years. His only consolation was that the Meramec’s crest at Arnold on May 3 was 1.7 feet lower than the time before.
The crests of early May set or tested records elsewhere along the lower Meramec. It became the worst ever in Eureka, where residents and volunteers once more bagged sand to protect their old-time business district. In the vulnerable neighborhoods of Pacific south of the railroad lines, about 170 homes and businesses once again were damaged.
The Meramec drowned a stretch of Interstate 44 south of Valley Park and one direction of Interstate 55 at Arnold, as well as numerous major roads in its meandering valley. Some school districts and businesses had to close because so many workers living across the river were stranded.
Valley Park’s levee, built after the devastation of December 1982, held — and renewed grumbling by other valley dwellers that it made flooding worse elsewhere. And then the Meramec fell quickly, like the picturesque rain ditch that it is.
Illinois finally breaks budget impasse
The standoff lasted 737 days. The conflicts remain, burdened by $15 billion in IOUs.
The state of Illinois went that long without an official state budget, beginning July 1, 2015, and ending only when the Legislature overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto on July 6 to enact a budget for the fiscal year that had begun six days before. Two full fiscal years were lost in the standoff, forcing schools, social services and other functions to muddle through layoffs, cutbacks and uncertainty.
The stage was set in November 2014, when the normally blue state’s voters elected Rauner, a Republican, as governor. He preached a pro-business philosophy that quickly clashed with the state’s strong Democratic powerbases, especially public-employee unions. Among his demands were “right-to-work,” and cuts in workers’ compensation and pensions — fighting words to Democrats.
Most legislators, eventually even Rauner, realized the state needed to raise income taxes. But without other changes, the governor said no deal. The titans in the clash were Rauner, a wealthy businessman, and House Speaker Mike Madigan, a hard-nosed Chicago Democrat and a legislator since 1971.
Three annual regular legislative sessions (2015, 2016 and 2017) came and went without passing budgets. The state’s credit rating plunged. In 2016, a group of Democratic legislators had the nerve to file suit demanding they get their salaries on time. A Cook County judge swatted them down, saying they could solve it by passing a budget.
After the third legislative stalemate, Rauner called lawmakers back into special session in June. The Democratic majorities obliged with a $36 billion budget that includes increases in income and business taxes. They overrode Rauner’s veto to adopt a budget good until June 30, 2018.
Rauner slammed the legislators for following a “never-ending tragic trail of tax hikes.” Madigan said the budget was “right for the future of our state.” It’s a future including a massive unfunded liability in pension obligation, an issue the new budget didn’t touch.
Voter ID arrives in Missouri
Jane Foster ran home to get her driver’s license. Nicole Scott left hers behind on purpose.
They were among nearly 2,100 registered voters in St. Louis’ 28th Ward, north and south of Forest Park, who showed up at polling places July 11 for a special election to fill new Mayor Lyda Krewson’s former aldermanic seat. They elected Heather Navarro.
Neighborhood elections usually don’t attract much attention. But on that day, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spent time there, explaining and promoting Missouri’s new voter ID law. The law, which took effect June 1, requires registered voters to present valid IDs, such as driver’s licenses, to cast ballots. Those without IDs — such as Scott — can cast provisional ballots to be verified later.
The ward election was the first in St. Louis to be conducted under the new law. Ashcroft said the system works. Scott said she declined to show her ID “to push the envelope a little.” Her provisional vote was counted in the certified tally later, but not on election night.
The national Republican Party has spent years pushing for voter ID laws, claiming they prevent voter fraud. Democrats oppose them, calling them veiled efforts to suppress votes among minority and low-income voters.
Republicans in the Missouri Legislature acted last year to put the issue before voters and overrode then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. On Nov. 8, 2016, Missouri voters gave the requirement 63 percent approval.
Shortly after the law took effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit to block it, claiming the state hadn’t adequately prepared voters for the new requirement. A ruling is expected soon in the case.
The big tests of the law come next year, with the St. Louis County municipal elections in April and the federal midterm elections, especially the re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.
A total eclipse of the sun
Festus Mayor Mike Cage knew the event at West City Park would draw an out-of-town crowd. “I was expecting Arkansas, Illinois, maybe Kansas,” the mayor said. “Not Chile, Taiwan and Poland.”
But there they were, mingling with the locals on the muggy afternoon of Aug. 21 to gaze upon a total eclipse of the sun. Even in our world of smartphones, GPS and Skype, some natural phenomena still provide wonder and awe.
Moving swiftly along a 70-mile-wide earthly path from Yaquina Head, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., a pinpoint of the moon’s shadow blocked the sunshine for nearly three minutes. The center line cut through Columbia and De Soto, Mo., and Carbondale, Ill., darkening nearly half of the St. Louis metro area.
It had been the first total eclipse in the United States since 1979 and the first in the future St. Louis since 1442, 50 years before Christopher Columbus’ famous voyage.
There was plenty of pre-eclipse hype and bookings of hotel rooms by far-flung visitors. The necessary fashion statement was wearing special dark glasses to safely watch the moon pass across the sun’s blinding light. It seemed almost everyone had a pair.
About 3,000 people joined Cage in Festus. Another 10,000 spread across Jefferson Barracks St. Louis County Park. Many more gathered in schoolyards and parking lots, gazing upward. Shortly after 1 p.m., sunshine gave way to an early dusk, then a sensation of twilight. Summer bugs thrummed. For the brief time of total eclipse, it was safe to look upward toward a pitch-black dot with a brilliant halo of white fire.
Visitor David Fialkoff of Miami called it “incredible”; Mark Humphrey of Ontario chose “fantastic.” Whatever your favorite superlative, St. Louis doesn’t get another total eclipse until 2505, although in 2024 one will pass near Cape Girardeau.
‘Not guilty’ for Stockley
Lawyers in the murder trial of former police Officer Jason Stockley rested their cases Aug. 9 before St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson. Because Stockley waived his right to a jury, the verdict was the judge’s to decide. Wilson said he would rule later.
A region still stressed by a Ferguson officer’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 — and the resulting protest and violence — waited uneasily for Wilson’s verdict. Some activists warned of “mass disruption” if Stockley, who is white, were to be acquitted. Metal barriers were installed around the courthouse downtown.
The Stockley case began three years before the eruptions over Brown. On Dec. 20, 2011, Stockley and his partner tried to arrest Anthony Lamar Smith on suspicion of drug dealing. Smith, a felon, sped away. The officers stopped Smith’s car near West Florissant and Acme avenues, where Stockley fatally shot Smith, 24, who was black.
No charges were filed. Stockley left the force in 2013. Three years later, then-Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce cited new evidence to charge him with murder. During the trial, Stockley testified he believed Smith was armed. The officer retrieved a pistol from Smith’s car.
On the morning of Sept. 15, Wilson issued a 30-page verdict of acquittal. Outside the courthouse, protests grew through the day, turning violent at times. Protesters threw water bottles at police. Officers used pepper spray. That night, a march in the Central West End ended with windows shattered at the mayor’s house, several businesses and a branch library.
The third day of protests ended downtown with more windows smashed before police in riot gear surrounded protesters, bystanders and a few journalists in a “kettle” and arrested more than 120 people.
On Nov. 15, in a lawsuit brought by protesters, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry criticized some police tactics, including the kettle. The U.S. Justice Department says it will review police conduct in the turmoil.
More money for county police, more pressure for city
In elections seven months apart, voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County boosted sales taxes to spend more on public safety, mainly to raise pay for police officers. In both jurisdictions, comfortable majorities pushed aside opposition that arose for completely different reasons.
In the county, officials in some well-off municipalities said their police forces already were adequate, or opposed the formula for dividing a share of the money among their departments. In the city, opposition was mainly from activists fresh off protests after the acquittal of former St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley.
County voters went first. On April 4, they gave 63.2 percent approval to generate $80 million annually for public safety, $45 million of which would go to the St. Louis County Police Department for raises and hiring more officers. Most of the rest goes to the county’s 90 municipalities. Stenger called it a “transformational initiative for policing.”
Belmar said that would translate into generous raises for officers and let the 890-officer force grow by 110. Base pay of $48,256 would climb nearly $4,000, and top pay by more than $7,000.
The county’s new pay schedule put the city in a pickle; starting pay for city police officers, at $41,815, was already lower than the county level. The Board of Aldermen asked city voters for a half-cent sales tax to collect about $20 million annually, and set the vote for Nov. 7.
Krewson urged voters not to “shortchange” public safety and said $3 million would go to social services. City Treasurer Jones, who narrowly lost to Krewson in the March mayoral primary, opposed the idea as “tone deaf.” Activists said the police department needed reform, not raises.
But 59.8 percent of voters approved the tax. It failed only in four South Side wards with significant activist populations. City officers and firefighters, who have pay parity with the police, are in line for raises of $6,000, subject to City Hall approval.
Both propositions increase sales tax rates by 0.5 percent, nudging overall rates in checkout lines to near or above 10 percent.
Missouri's governor resigns after scandal:
On the night of Jan. 10, Gov. Eric Greitens stood before legislators in the Missouri House chamber and promised to unveil the “boldest state tax reform in America.” But something else was troubling him.
Barely an hour later, KMOV (Channel 4) broadcast a report alleging the governor had taken a partly nude photo of a woman in 2015 and threatened to release it if she revealed their affair. Greitens and his wife, Sheena, issued a statement confirming the affair. His lawyer denied the blackmail allegation.
Less than five months later, Greitens resigned, calling himself the victim of “legal harassment.”
Greitens, a native of Maryland Heights and a former Navy SEAL, burst into politics with a carefully choreographed campaign for governor in 2016 that featured lots of military-style gunfire and a grand promise to crush corruption. But his hypocrisy over campaign finance — he doggedly refused to identify many of his own donors after pledging to do otherwise — caused tension with the GOP legislative majority.
An investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, led to an indictment. A grand jury accused him of felony invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a nonconsensual cellphone photo of his partly clad lover. Greitens assembled a dream team of defense lawyers, including former federal prosecutors and a former St. Louis judge.
Back at the Capitol, a legislative committee took riveting testimony.
Gardner bypassed St. Louis police and hired William Don Tisaby, a former FBI agent, to do her investigative work. But they had to admit that the video recorder they used while questioning the woman had malfunctioned. Tisaby swore he took no notes. When an IT specialist recovered the video, it showed Tisaby with pen and pad. The dream team pounced, demanding to question Gardner under oath.
On May 14, three days into jury selection for Greitens’ trial in St. Louis, Gardner dropped the charge after the judge ruled she had to testify about Tisaby, who already had taken the Fifth Amendment. Greitens was ecstatic.
But numerous GOP legislators called for his impeachment and demanded information on his campaign finances. On the morning of May 29, a judge in Jefferson City ordered Greitens to hand over the records. That afternoon, he resigned.
He was replaced by Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, an Ozarks farmer and former sheriff and legislator.
St. Louis polishes its image:
Two monuments to St. Louis’ place in the world look much improved, largely compliments of hefty private donations.
At the Gateway Arch National Park, two improvements were completed — the long-discussed “lid” connecting the Arch grounds with downtown and a new, bigger underground museum. Ten blocks west, the 80-year-old Soldiers Memorial reopened after a two-year, $30 million renovation and expansion of its exhibits.
St. Louisans had discussed bridging the below-ground-level “depressed lanes” of Interstate 70 (now part of Interstate 44) since the Arch was completed in 1965. The new “park over the highway,” or lid, is a block wide and directly connects Luther Ely Smith Park with the Arch grounds.
Opened on a rainy, chilly March 26, it gives pedestrians traffic-free passage to the underground museum, which reopened four months later and is 50 percent larger than the original museum. The new one is arranged as a walking trail of exhibits offering a much richer story of Native American residents, frontier colonists and the explosive growth and tensions of a booming river city.
The new museum, at $176 million, is the largest single part of the $380 million effort to reshape the riverfront park. Private donations covered about two-thirds of the cost.
The formal opening was marred when none of the dignitaries who helped to cut the ribbon on July 3 were people of color. Organizers quickly apologized, and a group of black elected leaders organized another ceremony two days later. The episode earned St. Louis national headlines.
Reopening Soldiers Memorial at 13th and Chestnut streets went off crisply on Nov. 3. The top-to-bottom restoration doubled museum space and put the memorial under management of the Missouri History Museum, which expanded and reorganized the exhibits. The city built the memorial for $1 million in 1938 to honor soldiers who fought in World War I, and expanded its grounds to include subsequent wars.
A philanthropy of the family of Enterprise Rent-A-Car founder Jack Taylor paid for most of the work. Taylor, who died in 2016, flew a Hellcat fighter from the carrier Enterprise in World War II.
The perils of travel by app:
Passengers have shared their lives with cabdrivers for decades. But passengers in a local Uber driver’s truck unwittingly had their conversations livestreamed to a gaggle of video voyeurs. Anonymous viewers shared snarky comments about the passengers’ looks.
Such are the perils of cutting-edge transportation, another clash between convenience and intrusiveness in the dizzying growth of the gig economy. Add the proliferation on St. Louis streets this year of phone-app rides on rented bicycles and motor scooters, some of which get left in inconvenient places. Zipping scooters make trouble for motorists, joggers and grandmas walking dogs. Reports of scooter-related injuries jumped.
With the bikes and scooters, users unlock rides with their phones and charge their personal accounts, then leave them wherever they are finished riding.
The livestreaming Uber incident made national news in July, when the Post-Dispatch published articles about Uber driver Jason Gargac, of Florissant, who had cameras in his Silverado to broadcast the doings of his passengers. Some were drunk. Others complained about friends, relatives and bosses. Names and addresses were revealed on Gargac’s stream, channeled through a website called Twitch. Gargac got tips from Twitch users in addition to his Uber fares.
The issue blew up among Uber users who felt violated. Uber and Lyft, a rival ride service, “deactivated” Gargac. Uber changed its livestreaming policy this fall. Lyft didn’t respond. Twitch removed Gargac’s 180-hour video archive, but other examples of livestreaming drivers popped up around the country.
Missouri law doesn’t require mutual consent for one party to record another. And drivers can use cameras to monitor passengers for personal safety.
Just as in the days of Brooklyn Bridge salesmen, the lesson never changes: Buyer beware.
Missouri rejects ‘right to work’:
In 1978, Missouri voters resoundingly defeated a bid by Missouri business interests to adopt a “right to work” law. When Republicans gained control of the Missouri Legislature, the idea was revived. And when then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed a right-to-work bill as one of his first acts in 2017, business leaders thought they finally had prevailed.
Labor unions and Missouri voters had a different idea.
A petition drive organized by labor forced the issue — called Proposition A — onto the ballot, and the Legislature set the date for the Aug. 7 primary. On that day, a state that had greatly preferred President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 rejected right to work by more than 2-to-1, which was stronger than the whipping its voters gave the idea in 1978.
“We just got blown out,” said Dan Mehan, director of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a longtime champion of right to work.
The law he seeks, already in effect in 27 states, prevents labor contracts from requiring covered employees to pay dues or fees. Mehan says workers should not be compelled to pay a union to hold their jobs. Union supporters say the real goal is to cripple unions financially and sow division among workers.
Opponents rolled up $15 million in donations, mainly from national unions and liberal groups. Promoters raised less than $6 million, including $2.3 million from a Greitens campaign fund. (By election day, Greitens had resigned.)
Voters in just 15 Missouri counties approved Proposition A. St. Charles County, which preferred Trump nearly by 2-to-1 in 2016, rejected Proposition A by an even larger ratio. Undeterred, some GOP cheerleaders for right to work said they’ll try again in the Legislature next year.
Soccer push gets powerful new striker:
Will the latest shot at returning big-time outdoor soccer to St. Louis finally hit the net?
St. Louis, for decades a national power in amateur and collegiate soccer, has been without a major franchise since 1977, when the former Stars played their last game. Since then, a series of efforts bloomed and wilted because nobody could, or would, build a suitable stadium.
A serious bid to join Major League Soccer in 2017 fizzled after city voters narrowly defeated a $60 million tax subsidy for a new stadium on the west end of downtown. Local soccer enthusiasts have the St. Louis FC (football club), a professional squad that plays at Soccer Park in Fenton in the United Soccer League. But it’s not the bigs.
Along came some serious money.
In October, members of the family that owns Clayton-based Enterprise Rent-A-Car announced a new pitch to MLS. This time, the prospective owners promise to build a 20,000-seat, $250 million stadium without a direct public subsidy. Carolyn Kindle Betz, a granddaughter of company founder Jack Taylor and president of the Enterprise Holdings Foundation, became a leader of the effort with James Kavanaugh, the face of the 2017 bid.
The Taylors are among the deepest pockets in St. Louis, with a record of generously supporting local causes and institutions, including Washington University, the St. Louis Symphony and the Gateway Arch. In May, the company put its name on the hockey arena downtown.
“I think this is a big piece of the puzzle,” Kavanaugh said of the partnership with Enterprise.
Since then, the Missouri Department of Highway and Transportation has agreed to renew its offer to sell land west of Union Station for the stadium site. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has endorsed a list of tax breaks on such things as construction materials and tickets.
Betz and Kavanaugh hope to field a team by 2022.
Hawley unseats McCaskill:
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a blunt-speaking Democrat who models herself after Missouri’s own Harry Truman, has represented an increasingly GOP-dominant state since 2006, when she unseated Republican Jim Talent by 49,000 votes.
McCaskill defeated Republican challenger Todd Akin in 2012, but that was after his gaffe about “legitimate rape.” In 2016, Trump trounced Democrat Hillary Clinton in Missouri by almost 19 percentage points.
McCaskill ran for a third term this year proclaiming herself an independent-minded moderate. A veteran of state politics, her résumé includes state legislator, Jackson County prosecuting attorney and state auditor. A native of Rolla, she has a law degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
Her Republican opponent was state Attorney General Josh Hawley, first elected only two years before. New to Missouri politics, Hawley was a darling in conservative intellectual circles — a former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and writer of legal briefs in the Hobby Lobby religious-freedom case. Raised in Lexington, in western Missouri, he graduated from Stanford University and the Yale University School of Law. In 2011, he became an associate professor of law at McCaskill’s alma mater.
Hawley’s race for attorney general in 2016 included a TV ad attacking “career politicians just climbing the ladder.” McCaskill made hay when Hawley announced for senator only 10 months into his state job.
With party control of the U.S. Senate on the line, their contest quickly went national. Hawley pounded McCaskill as “just another Washington liberal” and latched on to Trump, who praised Hawley at an election-eve rally in Cape Girardeau. McCaskill pledged to work for “common ground.” She supported Obamacare; he opposed it. She voted against the Supreme Court nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. He endorsed them. McCaskill said Trump’s trade wars were “disastrous” for Missouri farmers; Hawley trusted Trump.
McCaskill outspent Hawley, but the result was another clear Missouri GOP victory. He received 51.4 percent to her 45.6 percent, a margin of nearly 142,000 votes. The county-by-county map closely reflected Trump’s results in 2016 — St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Boone County went for McCaskill, many rural counties went 4-to-1 for Hawley.
Tycoon vs. Tycoon, Illinois style:
Out with a near billionaire, in with a real one.
On Nov. 6, Illinois voters ditched Bruce Rauner, their Republican one-term governor, for his Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker. It was a battle between largely self-funding rich men — Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, is said to be worth about $3.5 billion. Rauner, rated at nearly $1 billion, is a former CEO of a private investment fund.
Both men are from Chicago with thin political résumés.
When Pritzker is sworn in on Jan. 14, he will be holding public office for the first time, just as Rauner was after he was elected in 2014. Both candidates personally paid for much of their extensive TV campaigns. Pritzker blew through more than $160 million of his own money — a record in American gubernatorial politics — and Rauner spent a personal $60 million. The tycoon-vs.-tycoon contest unfolded in a state that once was famous for party-machine politics.
Rauner ran with taped recordings made by federal investigators of embarrassing conversations Pritzker had with disgraced former Democratic governor Rod Blagojevich, the latter having been an FBI target and now a federal prison inmate. But Rauner suffered from Trump’s unpopularity in deep-blue Illinois and from his protracted budget battles with the Democratic-controlled Legislature and the powerful House speaker, Mike Madigan.
Rauner was elected by promising to bring business acumen to the state’s daunting financial troubles. But the stalemate led to more than two years without a state budget. His efforts to weaken public employee unions failed. In 2017, when Rauner vetoed a budget that included a tax increase, the Legislature overrode him.
Rauner promised to reduce those tax hikes. Pritzker said he’d support higher rates on people like himself.
Pritzker won easily, gathering 54 percent of the vote. He helped the national Democratic Party pick up seven governors’ mansions across the country. Republicans now control 26.
Red Missouri goes progressive:
If Missourians mainly like their candidates bright-red Republican, they also have a progressive streak when it comes to specific issues.
On Nov. 6, the state’s voters gave landslide approval to ballot issues that change the rules on government ethics and legislative redistricting, grant a right to medical marijuana and boost the state minimum wage. Each issue received approval ratios of nearly 2-to-1. But challenges are expected on the issues of ethics and minimum wage, and it will take a while to make medical marijuana available.
On marijuana, voters managed to find their way through a haze of three competing and complicated ballot issues to pick a constitutional amendment that outlines state control and a sales tax at 4 percent, with the money going to veterans’ health care. Voters rejected a competing amendment that would have granted control to a single doctor in Springfield and a proposition that the Legislature could have amended.
With 65 percent of the vote, Missouri became the 33rd state to allow medical marijuana. The Illinois Legislature joined the club in 2013.
Missourians also voted by 62 percent to raise the state’s minimum wage. Urban areas gave overwhelming support to both issues. The few counties in opposition are decidedly rural.
The proposition will raise the state minimum wage of $7.85 an hour to $8.60 on Jan. 1, gradually rising to $12 by 2023. Labor and Democratic groups circulated a petition to force the issue onto the ballot, then followed up with a vigorous TV and grassroots campaign. Opponents sat back, but threatened post-election challenges.
That’s because the Legislature can change the minimum-wage proposition, which isn’t a constitutional amendment. In 2017, the GOP legislative majority nullified local minimum-wage hikes in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Business groups also have their postelection sights on a constitutional amendment, adopted by 62 percent of voters, that limits campaign contributions and creates a new, less partisan system for drawing legislative districts. There is precedent — courts struck down some campaign-finance limits that Missouri voters adopted just two years ago.
Clang, clang, clang (finally) goes the trolley:
After an absence of 52 years, streetcars are back in St. Louis.
The Loop Trolley, brainchild of longtime University City Loop promoter Joe Edwards, had its inaugural trundle along Delmar Boulevard on Nov. 16. There hadn’t been such a sight in St. Louis since 1966, when the Hodiamont streetcar made its last run through north St. Louis. In the 1920s, the city was webbed with nearly 500 miles of streetcar track.
The 2.2-mile Loop Trolley line runs along Delmar and DeBaliviere Avenue, from the History Museum at Forest Park through the Delmar entertainment strip to the University City library. (The region’s MetroLink has operated since 1993, but it has its own right of way and operates like a railroad.)
After all the trouble getting the Loop Trolley on line, it was maddeningly fitting to have a bureaucratic snafu on Day One. There also was the embarrassment of a crime scene.
University City refused to let the trolley cross the city border with St. Louis because its backers hadn’t put up a $300,000 bond or fixed a few things along the line. Later that day, an auto accident followed by gunfire at DeBaliviere and Forest Park Parkway blocked the track with yellow police tape.
Most passengers were forgiving. Said Jeanne Bethmann, 60, of St. Peters, “It brings the new generation to see how the older generation used to travel.“
Edwards, owner of Blueberry Hill tavern and the Pageant music hall on Delmar, had promoted the idea since the late 1990s to boost the entertainment area. The Loop Trolley Transportation Development District won a $25 million federal grant and, along with other financing, began construction in 2015. Clayco donated $500,000 to fill the last funding gap.
One week after the inaugural run, the trolley began covering all 2.2 miles. A relieved Edwards called it a “glorious day.”
St. Louis County split widens:
At the St. Louis County Government Center in Clayton, the year ended the way it began, with acrimony over the county budget. It also ends with two port authority boards, each claiming legitimacy. It’s all about the widening feud between County Executive Steve Stenger and the County Council, with no end in sight.
The council and Stenger have been at odds for more than two years over spending authority, development projects and other issues. Stenger says the executive’s broad authority in the County Charter gives him the final say on most issues. But he also faces a hostile council with a demonstrated ability to override his vetoes, even with Democrats holding a 4-3 council majority. Since voters created the County Council in 1950, overriding vetoes has been the council’s big gun.
It used that power in a 6-1 vote to adopt the current 2018 budget. Stenger retaliated on Jan. 3 by withholding money from the council’s own operations. It was a strike at the council’s effort to hire staff for its in-house auditor, a post the executive does not control.
“I am hoping that reasonableness prevails,” Stenger told KMOX radio. Council Chairman Sam Page, a fellow Democrat, called Stenger’s move “petty and illegal.”
Trouble simmered as Stenger campaigned for renomination, narrowly edging a vigorous challenge by Mark Mantovani in the Aug. 7 primary. Voters rejected the council’s request to hire its own staff attorney. But Democrats in the mid-county 5th Council District dumped incumbent Pat Dolan, Stenger’s last reliable council ally, for Lisa Clancy of Maplewood, who has “concerns” with Stenger’s performance.
The council then placed a charter amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot to increase its budget powers. Stenger vetoed it at 4:59 p.m. on deadline day to submit issues to voters. A judge ordered it onto the ballot anyway.
Stenger directed a $230,000 campaign to thwart the council’s plan. He breezed to re-election, but voters approved the amendment resoundingly.
One day later, both Stenger and the council nominated competing membership lists for the county Port Authority board, a development agency. The dispute landed in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
There’s more: Voters Nov. 7 also endorsed creating a commission in 2019 to review the charter for possible changes. Stenger and the council each get to appoint seven commissioners.