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Lewis Reed won just 5 wards, but high turnout there pushed him to victory

Lewis Reed won just 5 wards, but high turnout there pushed him to victory

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Lewis Reed election night 2019

Lewis Reed celebrates his victory in the Democratic Party primary for president of the Board of Aldermen in St. Louis Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Reed defeated state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, and 15th Ward Alderman Megan Ellyia Green and frequent candidate Jimmie Matthews. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS • Lewis Reed won only five of the city’s 28 wards in Tuesday’s Democratic primary race for president of the city’s Board of Aldermen, but those victories came in historically high voting areas, providing enough support for him to prevail in a close battle with two opponents.

By comparison, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed won 13 wards, dominating the north side. Alderman Megan Ellyia Green won 10, with a strong showing in the central part of the city including her Tower Grove South neighborhood.

Despite Nasheed’s and Green’s faring well geographically, it was the turnout in the wards Reed won that made the difference.

In the end, Reed walked away with nearly 36 percent of the vote compared to just under 32 percent for Nasheed and 31 percent for Green. Just 144 votes separated Green and Nasheed.

Ken Warren, professor of political science at St. Louis University, said Reed’s strong performance in the south part of town plus his status as an incumbent helped push him to victory.

Another factor, Warren said, was the fact that Reed wasn’t overwhelmed in many wards he didn’t win. While carrying only five, he finished second in 20.

“It is very difficult to lose when you’re an incumbent,” Warren said, noting that all aldermanic incumbents seeking re-election also won their primaries Tuesday.

But the vote total, Warren said, “clearly shows he doesn’t have citywide support in any significant numbers.”

Lana Stein, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Green’s strong performance in her loss “shows there’s getting to be more progressivism and the idea of wanting change developing on the South Side and maybe the (central) corridor.”

Reed said his team focused on the wards where contested aldermanic races also were on the ballot, driving more people to the polls. Reed said history showed that a win in southwest city is a must for a successful candidate. And that’s exactly where he cleaned up.

Citywide, turnout was 17.8 percent. The average turnout for the five wards that went for Reed was nearly 21 percent. By comparison, the average turnout from the 13 wards Nasheed won was 14.9 percent. The average for the 10 wards won by Green was 19 percent.

But on the north side, Green performed poorly. In the 11 north city wards that Nasheed won, Green placed third in each of them, and often by a significant amount.

For example, in the 1st Ward, which includes the Penrose and Wells Goodfellow neighborhoods, Nasheed racked up 622 votes, Reed, 271, and Green, 37. A similar pattern emerged in the 2nd, which includes Baden and College Hill. There, Nasheed got 526 votes, Reed, 333, and Green, 56.

Going in as the sole white candidate against two well-known black candidates was something Green and her team knew would be an uphill climb in north city neighborhoods, which are predominately African-American.

But they were hoping Green could make enough inroads into southwest city, the heavily white part of town where former Mayor Francis Slay’s political career bloomed. Instead, Reed, an African-American, won handily there.

“We knew we needed to perform well in southwest city because historically that part of the city turns out in a larger fashion,” Green said. “We knew we had to beat (Reed) there in order to win,” Green said. “We fell just short, unfortunately.”

Reed was helped in that part of town by a strong set of endorsements from aldermen and Mayor Lyda Krewson, who performed well in southwest city when she won a narrow victory two years ago against four black candidates.

Reed also got the endorsement of the firefighters union. And the police union took to social media to attack Green, including digitally adding Green’s head to an image of the body of Chairman Mao, who led China’s communist revolution. Another post stated: “Better Dead Than Red.”

Green has been a vocal critic of police and pushed for law enforcement reform as part of the young progressive movement.

Green said it was unclear whether the police union antics helped or hurt her efforts in southwest city.

“It shored up the base and got the base excited to vote,” Green said. And “it very well may have cost us some votes.”

Reed’s dominance in the south city wards of 10, 12, 16 and 23 were what led him to victory, especially with a weak showing by Nasheed.

In the 16th Ward, which includes St. Louis Hills and Lindenwood Park, Reed got 1,125 votes, compared with 560 for Green and 178 for Nasheed. In the 12th Ward, which includes Boulevard Heights and Carondelet, Reed got 993 votes, Green got 571 and Nasheed got 148.

Nasheed’s wins were not all on the north side. Voters gave her the nod in the 20th Ward, which includes Gravois Park and Dutchtown, and the 17th Ward, which includes Forest Park Southeast and part of the Central West End. In the 17th, only 88 votes separated the three candidates.

Reed squeaked out a victory in the 28th Ward, which includes the Central West End and Skinker DeBaliviere neighborhoods and the residence of Mayor Krewson, who endorsed Reed. He beat Green there by six votes. Nasheed, who lives in the CWE, came in a distant third.

“Voters throughout the city overwhelmingly chose change,” Nasheed said Wednesday, referring to the majority of votes going to candidates other than Reed. “The voters disagreed on how we get there.”

Former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr., who endorsed Green, said that Reed’s slim victory meant he would have to show he has what it takes to continue to effectively head the city’s legislative board.

“In a close election like this so evenly divided, Lewis is going to have a challenge to establish himself as the leader of the Board of Aldermen,” Schoemehl said. “He can do it, but it’s going to take some time and attention on his part to establish himself again.”

Reed arguably had the most to lose on Tuesday. Had he lost, his political career would have been over, at least for now. Green has two more years on her term as alderman. Nasheed’s term as state senator runs through next year. Reed will face a Green Party candidate in the April 2 general election.

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Doug Moore is a former reporter for the P-D. Currently, policy director for St. Louis County Council.

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