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Gardner easily wins primary for St. Louis circuit attorney

Gardner easily wins primary for St. Louis circuit attorney

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ST. LOUIS — Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner won Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the city’s top prosecutor by a healthy margin.

Gardner, who is completing her first term, defeated former assistant prosecutor Mary Pat Carl, 61% to 39%, according to final and unofficial results. She will face Republican challenger Daniel Zdrodowski in the November election. He ran unopposed Tuesday.

Gardner, 45, the first Black woman elected circuit attorney in St. Louis, has promised to continue efforts to reform the criminal justice system. Her controversial first term has been highlighted by tensions with police and criticism of her leadership as well as prosecutions of powerful people including a Missouri governor. She has described her opponents as “status quo tacticians” who have waged racial, political and sexist attacks on her reform efforts. She said she also has received racist death threats.

“I feel humbled,” Gardner told supporters at a rooftop warehouse watch party Tuesday night. “This is an exciting time, but this is also the people’s time. This is about the people who elected me, the people in this room who fought for equality and justice and this is about people who sent a resounding message that they want reform in the city of St. Louis.”

Carl, 43, came in second to Gardner in a field of four Democrats in the 2016 primary. She campaigned on her more than 14 years of experience prosecuting crimes in St. Louis. She pledged to restore stability to a Circuit Attorney’s Office that has weathered dramatic turnover under Gardner. Carl said she had hoped to give crime victims a voice in the courtroom, end cash bail and hold amnesty days for those who miss court dates. She, like Gardner, supports closing the city’s Medium Security Institution better known as the workhouse.

“We ran a strong campaign under unprecedented circumstances,” Carl tweeted Tuesday night. “I’m proud of what we accomplished, and grateful for the commitment so many made. I wish Ms. Gardner a successful term. I urge her to be transparent with the public, and build working relationships for a safer St. Louis.”

During her campaign, Gardner said she had worked to hold police accountable and reduce crime by focusing on its roots — poverty, addiction and mental health. Gardner took credit for a declining city jail population through pretrial diversion programs and no longer prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. A central issue in Gardner’s first term has been her office’s ongoing legal fight to win a new trial for a St. Louis man imprisoned for 25 years for a murder Gardner insists he did not commit.

Carl and Gardner both picked up last-minute financial support from dozens of donors in the two weeks before Tuesday’s primary, according to campaign finance reports.

Carl’s campaign took in at least $313,000. Backers included lawyers and businesses, and the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council. The STL Justice PAC received an $44,000 donation from the Joseph Wingate Folk Society on July 23 toward Carl’s campaign.

Gardner’s fundraising totaled about $200,000 including support from the Missouri Justice & Public Safety Political Action Committee, which on July 29 received a $116,000 donation from progressive New York mega donor George Soros. Gardner also received $5,000 from Hollywood celebrity Milla Jovovich and $5,000 from New York music industry executive Jason Flom.

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