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Former prosecutor turned state rep takes St. Louis circuit attorney primary

Former prosecutor turned state rep takes St. Louis circuit attorney primary


ST. LOUIS • State Rep. Kimberly Gardner got her birthday wish.

Gardner, who turned 41 on Tuesday, soundly defeated three other Democrats vying for the nomination to become the city’s next top prosecutor.

Tuesday’s four-way primary for St. Louis prosecutor was perhaps the biggest local election, marking the first time since 2000 a new face will lead an office of more than 60 prosecutors since Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced she would not seek a fifth term.

Gardner took 47 percent of the vote, nearly twice the total for runner-up Mary Pat Carl, an assistant circuit attorney in Joyce’s office, who got 24 percent. Assistant Circuit Attorney Patrick Hamacher came in third with 17 percent of the vote; Steve Harmon, a St. Louis Public Schools attorney and former police officer, came in fourth with 13 percent.

Gardner’s campaign targeted those disillusioned by the criminal justice system since a Ferguson police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, 18, ripped the region apart two years ago. Gardner’s win means she will run unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election, because no Republican has entered the race.

Gardner said Tuesday night that she was humbled to be elected and thought the win was a chance to “heal our city.”

“I’m a people’s champ,” Gardner said Tuesday night. “I believe we worked together in the community to keep going forward despite hardships, but I felt good and I just put my head down and worked to win this election.”

Gardner overcame strong political traction built by Carl, who began her campaign 13 months ago and was endorsed by Joyce and the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Carl, lead homicide prosecutor for the circuit attorney’s office, campaigned on her 13 years of experience prosecuting homicides, child abuse, domestic and sexual assault, and gun and drug offenses.

Gardner was a prosecutor under Joyce from 2005 to 2010 and was assigned to the property crimes unit. She is nearing the end of her second term as the 77th District representative in the Missouri House. She ran on a platform of restoring trust in the criminal justice system, pushing for stricter gun laws and improving diversity in an office that has few black lawyers on its roster.

Gardner lives in the Central West End; she is married and has a daughter, 19. Gardner grew up in St. Louis and became a star cross-country runner at Webster Groves High School before earning degrees from Harris-Stowe State University and St. Louis University.

About two weeks before Tuesday’s primary, Gardner collected nearly $200,000 in campaign donations from a Washington “super PAC” backed by liberal billionaire investor George Soros. Gardner defended the donations, which bought TV and online political ads touting her pledge to restore public trust. Her rivals criticized her for taking money from donors without ties to St. Louis, but she defended the contributions, saying the backers were aligned with her platform of rebuilding trust.

Part of her platform included a pledge to use special prosecutors to review controversial police shootings, which have drawn intense public scrutiny nationwide in the two years since Brown was killed.

Until a few weeks before the primary, Carl had far more campaign money than her three opponents, raising about $260,000 during her campaign, including $140,000 of her own money.

St. Louis sheriff’s race

In another contested city primary Tuesday, former St. Louis sheriff’s deputy Vernon Betts defeated four others vying for the Democratic nomination to replace Sheriff Jim Murphy, who is retiring after 28 years. With 43 percent of the vote, Betts beat out former deputy Johnnie Chester, Alderman Joseph Vaccaro, former Alderman Jimmie Matthews and Deputy Charley Williams. The winner will face Republican John Castellano III, also a deputy.

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