ST. LOUIS • Alderman Lyda Krewson held off city Treasurer Tishaura Jones and won a crowded Democratic mayoral primary fight Tuesday night, making her the front-runner to become the city's 46th mayor in next month's general election.
Republican Andrew Jones, a utility executive, won his party’s primary, bringing in 62 percent of the vote.
Krewson, the city’s 28th Ward alderman, watched as an early lead evaporated, with Jones gaining momentum. In the end, Krewson finished with 32 percent of the vote, according to complete but unofficial returns. Jones garnered 30 percent of the vote; only 888 votes separated the two. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Alderman Antonio French were next with about 18 percent and 16 percent respectively, with three other Democratic candidates trailing.
A victory next month would make Krewson the first woman in the city's history to hold the office. Krewson, 64, is expected to easily beat a Green Party candidate, a Libertarian, an Independent and Jones, the Republican, in the April 4 general election in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
The closeness of Tuesday's Democratic primary underscored the prevailing political math, which held that the four leading black candidates would split the vote and give Krewson a path to victory.
Krewson’s margin wasn’t nearly as large as some had predicted, but it was enough.
“When you have seven candidates in the race, the vote is going to be split,” Krewson said. “Getting 32 percent was enough. I feel good.”
Voter turnout Tuesday was just over 28 percent of registered voters, compared with 22 percent in the primary four years ago, when Slay beat Reed for the Democratic nomination.
Krewson's victory came against an unusually crowded field for an office few expected would be open this time last year.
Mayor Francis Slay surprised much of the city's political class in spring 2016 when he announced that he would not seek a fifth term.
Krewson was the first candidate to jump into the race following Slay's announcement. She built her campaign on a large-scale outreach effort as she crisscrossed much of the city making appearances through the fall, winter and spring. She also raised the most money, bringing in $1.25 million, more than double her nearest competitor.
Krewson talked up public safety as her top priority. An accountant by trade, Krewson said she would find money in the city's budget to hire 200 police officers and give existing officers a pay raise – costs she estimated would come in at $25 million annually. Krewson also sold herself as the candidate best positioned to usher in new economic development opportunities and to modernize the city's bureaucratic layers of government.
She claimed she was unafraid to take on big fights. In 2003, she pointed out, she took out a $75,000 home equity loan to help an unsuccessful fight against the state's concealed carry law. In 2011, she took the lead in the city's successful effort to pass a public smoking ban.
Last year, Krewson introduced a bill that would make it illegal to import, sell or possess an assault weapon inside the city. She backed off that bill, but is still pushing another measure that would require all guns left in unattended vehicles be stored in lock boxes permanently attached to the vehicle.
Krewson's victory comes in a race that wasn't particularly negative until the last few weeks when candidates began taking shots at each other in their ads and campaign fliers. Krewson declined to do so.
She said running a positive campaign was her strategy all along.
“We hoped that when the race was over, we could join forces with the other candidates,” she said.
Her opponents, however, criticized her for missing dozens of Board of Aldermen votes over the past year; for failing to sufficiently criticize the police union's controversial business agent Jeff Roorda; and for being a “nice lady” but out of touch with parts of the city.
Krewson was also derided for being too willing to hand out tax breaks to wealthy developers, specifically to those who wanted to develop the city's central corridor.
She has admitted that the city portion of the Delmar Loop and the Central West End have benefited greatly in her nearly 20 years representing the city's 28th Ward. It's something she's proud of.
As mayor, Krewson has said she would push for increased development in the city's most blighted neighborhoods.
After the results were in, Jones thanked her supporters, particularly women, at her watch party in The Grove.
"I don't want you to think this is the end," she said. "We turned this electorate on its head, and I want us to stay united and stay in contact, because we are the force that's going to keep the next administration accountable."
Jones says she plans to meet with Krewson to discuss policies that she and progressive supporters championed.
"There were a lot of good ideas that were put forth in this race. People wanted progress. I'd like to see that she's at least open to some of the platform ideas espoused by myself and other candidates," Jones said.
She said she believes the presence of other African-American candidates in the race hurt her chances at the mayoral seat. "It hurt all of us," Jones said. "We had several talks about coming together."
She added: "I'm going to be honest: The men decided to stay in this race because of their ego. And where are we now? We still have the status quo candidate that's going to be in that office for the next four years."
Jones, the Republican primary winner, stood out in the three-person GOP field in that he was the only candidate who actually ran a campaign. Opponent Jim Osher, a local businessman did not attend the roughly two dozen mayoral forums held over the past several months and Andy Karandzieff, co-owner of Crown Candy Kitchen said he only entered the race to drum up business for his restaurant.
Jones has branded himself as a free-market conservative, a constitutionalist and a mayor who will be tough on crime.
Ashley Lisenby and Kevin McDermott of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.