ST. LOUIS • Two City Hall lions retire after a combined 68 years in politics. Three aldermen break tradition and support challengers to fellow board members. An alliance of young progressives works to expand its numbers.
And a veteran alderman still wants a reckoning over a bitter ward redistricting battle 16 years ago.
Those are currents in the March 7 Democratic primary for 11 contested seats on the 28-member St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Members serve four-year terms, and half of the seats are up every two years. This year is the turn of the odd-numbered wards, plus a special election for a vacant seat. Four incumbents have no opposition.
All told, 38 Democrats crowd the ballot, and two wards have six candidates to choose from. Four Green Party candidates and one Republican await the April 4 general election. All of the city’s aldermen are Democrats.
Winners will serve until 2021, when the board must begin work to reduce its numbers by half — a change that city voters narrowly adopted in 2012. The board will use the 2020 federal census to condense 28 wards into 14 new, larger wards. It is a daunting challenge that will test careers, alliances and tempers leading to 2023, the first election under the new map.
That won’t be a headache for aldermen Freeman Bosley Sr. and Tom Villa, who are retiring this spring. Bosley, 85, has represented the 3rd Ward for 36 years. Villa, 71, has been 11th Ward alderman for only six years, but was aldermanic president for eight and a state legislator for 18. Since 1953, a Villa family member has held the seat for all but eight years.
Following are summaries of the Democratic contests.
In 2001, during the decennial bloodbath known as ward redistricting, board members voted to move fiery Alderman Sharon Tyus’ 20th Ward to the other side of town. She warned colleagues that the decision “will come back to haunt you.”
Out of office for 10 years, she returned in 2013 by winning the 1st Ward seat, which runs along North Kingshighway in the heart of the North Side. Two years later, she skewered Phyllis Young, sponsor of the 2001 ward map, during Young’s retirement ceremony in the board chamber.
As Tyus seeks a second term in her new ward, she recites the names of the remaining members who voted with Young 16 years ago. “They will be paying,” said Tyus. “My community was treated unfairly. It’s wrong and it has to be righted.”
Tyus, 60, promised to be a voice for the North Side and fight subsidies for sports stadiums. “My people tell me they don’t want me to be quiet,” she said.
She has two challengers: Marissa Brown, 25, whose mother, 1st Ward Democratic Committeewoman Yolanda Brown, ran against Tyus four years ago; and Azim Aziz, 51, who twice failed to unseat Tyus’ husband, Sterling Miller, as the ward’s Democratic committeeman.
Brown, a social worker, said she is running “to get the younger generation involved. I have fresh ideas to modernize the ward and make it more family-friendly.”
Aziz, owner of a small IT business, said he supported Tyus in the redistricting in 2001, “but now there is a vacuum of leadership. She is articulate, but she isn’t doing anything for the ward.”
Even with Freeman Bosley Sr. stepping down after nine terms, the ward remains a family affair. His preferred candidate is one of his sons, Brandon Bosley, half-brother to Freeman Bosley Jr., the city’s first black mayor. Brandon Bosley’s mother is Lucinda Frazier, the ward’s Democratic committeewoman. The ward includes Fairground and Hyde parks north of downtown.
Josephine Young, who has a college-age daughter with Bosley Sr., is one of Brandon Bosley’s five competitors. The others are Anthony Bell, the ward committeeman who is making his fourth bid for alderman; former 19th Ward Alderman Velma Bailey; retired business owner Gloria Muhammad; and demolition contractor John C. Price.
Brandon Bosley, 29, said he grew up attending political meetings with his father and can bring a young person’s energy “to continue the progress that he has made. We need young people to become a part of the solution.”
Bell, 66, noting that he defeated Brandon Bosley in the committee race last August, said, “I am the most qualified to be alderman, top to bottom. (Bosley Sr.) did not address the issues of housing, development and violence.”
Bailey, 60, is making her second bid for the ward seat. Citing her time as midtown’s 19th Ward alderman from 1991 to 1997, Bailey said she can “bring experience that only comes from being on the job. I believe I can move the ward forward quickly.”
Muhammad, 63 and a retired retailer, said her business experience will help her revive the ward, “which has suffered greatly for decades. It’s time to let go of the good-old-boy network. The people want a change.”
Price, 47, said his work in construction gives him good insight into the ward’s needs for demolition of vacant buildings and new housing. “This ward just looks so terrible,” he said.
Young, 54, could not be reached.
It’s been a challenging six months for the Hubbard family, which has held political power in the Near North Side ward since pushing aside the rival clan of former state legislator Louis Ford almost a decade ago. Court challenges to heavy absentee voting last August overturned the victories of two Hubbards, patriarch Rodney Hubbard Sr. for ward committeeman and his wife, Penny Hubbard, for state representative. The court victory inspired opponents, whose candidates won rematches.
The Hubbards are strongest in the Carr Square area, where Rodney Hubbard Sr. runs the community center. Their daughter, Alderman Tammika Hubbard, who won a special election in 2011, is seeking a second full term.
In her favor is that five candidates are lined up to oppose her, including three who were active in anti-Hubbard politics last year. Informal efforts to channel that sentiment to a single candidate failed. Hubbard, 39, said she wants to promote development in the ward, where North Side Regeneration leader Paul McKee controls many properties. The Hubbards support McKee.
“It’s unfortunate that people attack the Hubbards,” she said. “We are a family that has dedicated our lives to public service. I believe I have a good relationship with the constituents.”
Her challengers say she doesn’t return messages or calls and serves only Carr Square.
Bob Ray, 48, who runs a coffee shop on Washington Avenue, said the absentee-ballot issue “energized” him to make a first bid for office. “Our alderman is there for her family and Carr Square,” Ray said. He said he is running to promote “community empowerment.”
Robert E. Green, 62, a retired IBM employee, said Hubbard “was caught up in the ballot scandal.” He said he opposes tax subsidies for “big box developers and sports stadiums.”
Tayo Folarin, 33, who runs a laundromat near White Castle on North Florissant Avenue, said he joined protest marches last summer against the absentee-ballot scandal. Folarin said, “I want to look outside my window and see improvement — less crime, better housing and more businesses.”
Reign S. Harris, 51, a dispatcher for the St. Louis Airport Police, said she is running because she tried without success to get Hubbard to help rid her neighborhood of drug-sale activity. “When I never get so much as a call back, that’s unacceptable,” said Harris, who wants to reduce crime. She must quit her city job if she is elected.
Megan Betts, 38, was part of the anti-Hubbard slate last August but lost to Penny Hubbard for committeewoman, and did not challenge the result. Betts said she has the backing of two officeholders who unseated Hubbards in the recent special elections — state Rep. Bruce Franks and committeeman Rasheen Aldridge. She also has support from Mobilize Missouri, an organization of young progressives, many of whom backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president and worked against the Hubbards.
Mobilize Missouri also supports Dan Guenther’s campaign to unseat Alderman Ken A. Ortmann, who has served the South Side ward since he won a special election in 1999. The ward, shaped like a 7, runs along the Mississippi River on the South Side and includes Benton and Mt. Pleasant parks and Cherokee Street.
Working against Ortmann is Alderman Cara Spencer, a Mobilize Missouri activist who was elected two years ago in the neighboring 20th Ward. Board members traditionally stay out of each other’s re-election campaigns. It’s a high-risk endorsement for a freshman alderman, but she says she wants more young progressives elected to “change the board.”
Ortmann, 65, first won the seat with the backing of former Alderman Martie Aboussie, who represented the ward for 22 years. Ortmann’s wife, Pat, runs the Cat’s Meow tavern in Soulard in a building they jointly own. Ortmann said he has worked hard with developers and rehabbers to improve the neighborhoods and revive Cherokee, where many shopkeepers have his signs in their windows.
“I am a problem-solver, and I have expertise in making improvements to the ward,” he said. “We have many good changes in the ward, and we have attracted many millennials.”
Maybe too many. Last August, Pat Ortmann lost her ward committeewoman seat to Sara Johnson, who was backed by Guenther’s allies. Guenther, 40, said he is part of a “new wave of people with what I call the Cherokee Street mentality. We need to invest in the craftsmen, artists and musicians.”
Until he filed for office, Guenther worked for the city’s Operation Brightside promoting neighborhood gardens and habitat for monarch butterflies. Ortmann said he is taking the challenge “very seriously.”
The nominee will face Katie Gore of the Green Party April 4.
Had Tom Villa run again, the Carondelet-area seat likely would have been his for the keeping. He won 84 percent of the vote in a special election in 2011 and was unopposed four years ago. The legacy of his late father, Alderman Albert “Red” Villa, is honored in the ward 27 years after his death. The elder Villa was on the board for a record 37 years.
Tom Villa filed for re-election but withdrew after the filing deadline, a tactic that probably kept the competition to three candidates. He then endorsed Sarah Wood Martin, his next-door neighbor and the wife of state Sen. Jake Hummel. Villa called her “bright, energetic and enthusiastic about the future of our city.”
Martin, 32, grew up in Oklahoma and was a legislative intern in Jefferson City. She later joined the staff of the House Democratic leadership, which she said “gives me experience in budgets and an appreciation of the legislative process.” She moved into the 11th Ward five years ago.
Dee Brown, 64, contrasts that to her 30 years in the ward and her work in creating the St. Louis Safety Group, which promotes neighborhood watch programs. Brown has been active in trying to rid South Broadway of drugs and prostitution.
“The truth is that Villa has let things slide, and Sarah probably doesn’t have a clue about our neighborhood,” said Brown, a nurse. “I have worked a long time in the grass roots.”
Also running is Eddie Tucker, 60, who runs Tucker’s Bar and Grill at 8518 South Broadway, and who has filed twice before for alderman. Tucker said Villa has ignored his far southern part of the ward, and Martin knows little about it.
“I loved Red. I don’t like Tom,” said Tucker.
The winner will face Hannah Donelle Lachance of the Green Party.
Alderman Megan Ellyia Green, who first won the seat as an independent three years ago, faces a comeback bid by Jennifer Florida, alderman from 2001 to 2014 in the ward south of Tower Grove Park. Mayor Francis Slay appointed her city recorder of deeds in 2014 to replace Sharon Carpenter, who resigned in a nepotism scandal. Carpenter then won her seat back that November, defeating Florida, who had to run as an independent.
Green, meanwhile, won a special election to replace Florida on the board. Green ran as a Democrat for re-election in 2015, and has to run again this year because all odd-numbered wards are on the ballot.
Green, 33, said she has organized “participatory budgeting” to let residents vote on ways to spend the ward’s discretionary improvement money. She said aldermen must tend to potholes, but also push for “forward-thinking citywide policy” on such things as major developments.
Green was active in Ferguson protests and has Mobilize Missouri’s endorsement. Florida, 55, said Green “wants to be on a national stage. I will be the alderman who cares about dumpsters and alleys and works well with the other aldermen.”
That was a reference to Green’s claim in December 2015 that there was “bribery” in the board’s vote on the doomed plan for a new outdoor football stadium. The accusation enraged many fellow aldermen, and Green didn’t appear before a committee meeting to hear her evidence. She said the conflict is “water under the bridge.”
There’s a strain of musical chairs in this Democratic primary.
Donna Baringer, alderman for 14 years, gave up the seat after being elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in November. She replaced Michele Kratky, who had to leave the Legislature because of term limits.
And now Kratky, 60, is one of two Democrats seeking Baringer’s old seat on the Board of Aldermen. The other is Tom Oldenburg, 35, a community-development executive for US Bank downtown.
Both have good credentials for the South Side’s most prosperous ward, anchored by Francis Park. Oldenburg is vice president of the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood Association. Kratky is a former lobbyist for the St. Louis Association of Realtors, once led by her husband, Fred. And he had the legislative seat before she did.
Oldenburg has the backing of Baringer and the 16th Ward Regular Democratic Organization, which endorsed him 28-21.
Oldenburg said he can bring a new perspective to the board with his financial expertise in development. “I respect Michele and her family’s service, but now, more than ever, we need a fresh approach,” he said.
Kratky said she offers her legislative experience, 30 years of residence in the ward and a lifetime in city politics, first learned when her mother, Eileen O’Toole Alberti, was a Democratic committeewoman. “I am going to be a full-time alderman and, with my time in the Legislature, I know how to get things done,” she said.
The winner will face Republican Abigail Niebling. The ward last had a GOP alderman in 1983.
Alderman Joe Roddy is seeking an eighth term to represent the ward east and southeast of Forest Park, where his late father, Joseph P. Roddy, was a longtime citywide Democratic power. Among the people who want the younger Roddy defeated is a fellow board member.
Roddy, 58 and a financial planner, has been alderman since he won a special election in 1988. His opponent is Joe Diekemper, 42, a nurse at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital who is making his first bid for office.
Supporting Diekemper is 15th Ward Alderman Megan Ellyia Green and Mobilize Missouri. Roddy has returned the favor by backing Green’s challenger, former Alderman Jennifer Florida. Roddy is the board’s most senior member and chairman of the powerful Housing Committee.
“I still get very excited about being on the board and working on the rebirth of city neighborhoods,” Roddy said, also pointing to his work in developing the Cortex research area in the ward. “We can create value and bring more people back into the city.”
As for his opponent, Roddy said Diekemper “is a nice person but hasn’t been involved in our ward’s network of organizations.”
Diekemper said he was inspired to run over his shock that Donald Trump won the presidency. “There is a groundswell of people who are looking for more progressive politics in St. Louis,” he said. “I think (Roddy’s) focus is too much on projects and not people.”
This central-city ward is another setting for a battle between a veteran politician and a young progressive making her first bid for office.
Alderman Marlene E. Davis, 66, was president of the St. Louis School Board before she was elected 19th Ward alderman without opposition in 2007. She brushed by an opponent two years later, getting 73 percent of the vote, and had no opposition four years ago.
“I enjoy working with people, and I believe the ward has truly improved,” said Davis. “I am in tune with the young business people.”
But not well enough, said Lindsay Pattan, 30, an independent marketing consultant. “We need a change, not just in the 19th Ward but in the whole city, with people who understand the balance between economic development and putting people first,” Pattan said. “I will prioritize racial equity. We have systemic issues, cycles perpetuated by allowing some of our neighborhoods north of Delmar (Boulevard) to decline.”
Responded Davis, “Nobody is more diverse than me.” She said she has promoted affordable housing in the ward.
Pattan has the backing of Mobilize Missouri. The 19th roughly runs along Grand Boulevard, from Tiffany Park north through midtown to Cass Avenue.
In the contest to replace mayoral candidate Antonio French, one candidate has the inside track as far as established politics is concerned. Not so fast, says another young progressive.
Alderman French had to choose between seeking re-election or joining the seven-candidate scrum for the mayoral nomination. He took the riskier path.
He then endorsed ward committeewoman Laura Keys, whose husband, James, is the committeeman.
“We bought our house here as a young couple, and we have strong roots in this ward,” said Laura Keys, 53. “I have a passion for helping people.”
This is her second bid for the ward seat, having failed to unseat former Alderman Bennice Jones King in 2005.
Challenging Keys are John Collins-Muhammad and Marlene Buckley. Collins-Muhammad, 25, ran unsuccessfully last August for state representative with the Keyses’ backing. Laura Keys accused Collins-Muhammad of “betrayal,” claiming he promised to support her bid for alderman, then jumped in the race.
Said Collins-Muhammad, “She asked if I would support her, and I said, ‘Good luck.’ There is a trend of young progressives running for office, and I want to be a part of that.”
He has the backing of Mobilize Missouri. Buckley, 49, could not be reached for comment.
Since 1984, a member of the Carter family has held a political office in the ward. The matriarch was the late Sen. Paula Carter, committeewoman from 1984 until her death in 2001. Her son, Gregory, was alderman for 18 years until he was killed in a truck crash in 2012. Grandson Chris Carter, who replaced his uncle Greg on the board, isn’t seeking re-election.
Stepping forward is Keena M. Carter, a daughter of the late senator. “It’s all about timing,” said Carter, 57. “I believe I am ready to serve.”
Opposing her is Pam Boyd, the committeewoman, who ran against Chris Carter four years ago and lost; and Ciera L. Simril, a member of the city’s new police Civilian Oversight Board, which reviews complaints against police conduct.
Boyd, 64, accused Carter of having “an entitlement mindset. I believe I have worked and earned the right to serve this ward.” She said Chris Carter doublecrossed her by running for alderman four years ago, a charge the Carters deny.
Simril, 29, grew up in the ward and said she respects the Carter legacy (Chris Carter recommended her to the police watchdog board), but said her youth gives her an advantage. “I can come into the situation with a fresh pair of eyes,” Simril said. As for the Boyd-Carter dispute, she said, “I can work impartially with both of them.”