Mayor Tishaura Jones is here.
Like a fastball hurled high and tight at a batter who is crowding the plate, the first Black, female mayor of the city of St. Louis announced her presence with authority.
“I’m standing on stone that was not built for me,” Jones said in City Hall on Tuesday shortly after taking her oath as mayor. “But I’m here.”
I’m here. It’s a statement she repeated over and over as she made clear that she intends to be a mayor for all of St. Louis, white, Black and brown, Muslim and Jewish, gay and straight, trans and nonbinary.
“I’m here,” she said. “I’m here today as the proud single mother of the most adorable 13-year-old son, Aden. … I’m here today because of you.”
In her speech, Jones painted with a broad brush what she said would be a theme of her administration over the next four years:
Equity. Equity for Black people. Equity for people living in poverty. Equity for neighborhoods that have been devastated by decades of disinvestment.
“Our city stands at a pivotal moment in our history,” Jones said. “Decades of problems will not be solved by days or months of solutions.”
Such problems — poverty and crime topping the list — won’t be solved without partners. And that’s where a theme of regionalism took root in the moments before Jones gave her speech. Standing on the dais before her was Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who campaigned for Jones and signaled the potential for new partnership between the state of Missouri’s two major cities, often ignored by a Missouri Legislature dominated by rural interests.
“I see this as a moment of renewal, and not just for the city of St. Louis,” Lucas said.
To the east was another mayor, from East St. Louis, a city across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis that faces its own battles with crime and poverty. Those battles should not be considered separate challenges, said Mayor Robert Eastern III. He pointed out that, in his lifetime at least, it was the first time a mayor from his city had been invited to speak at a mayoral inauguration in St. Louis.
“For so long,” Eastern lamented, “these two cities have been working in silos.”
So, too, has the city of St. Louis and its neighbor to the north, south and west, St. Louis County. But those days are coming to an end, said County Executive Sam Page, who pledged that the “good trouble” Jones promises in the city, in particular the battling of racism that has often held the region back, will also “inform the policies and direction of St. Louis County.”
On a grand occasion like the inauguration of a new mayor, words are just that, but there’s irony in the theme of regionalism, in Jones’ historic day. Part of what toppled the last big attempt to create more cooperation between the city and the county — the Better Together effort in the previous mayoral administration — was its top-down tendency to tell Black people what to do, rather than listen to them and make their ideas, their goals, part of the solution.
Now, through Jones, Black residents of the city have, perhaps, the most important seat at the table of regional leadership. Jones’ vision of cooperation is bigger than getting along with Page and other county leaders. This self-described daughter of Walnut Park, Wells-Goodfellow and Hamilton Heights is looking across the river and across the state to establish St. Louis, once again, as the Gateway to the West.
“When we recognize that the success of all of our communities are linked, we will move forward,” Jones said. She was speaking then not of geography but of our shared humanity, with an appeal to a new unity that for too long has escaped the politics that more often than not divide St. Louis.
It’s a hopeful tone on a first day of a new mayoral administration. With the opening day pomp and circumstance out of the way, it’s time for the real work to begin.
Tishaura Jones is here. It’s time to play ball.