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St. Louis Lambert International Airport

A Frontier Airlines plane sits at a gate with the Airport Tower behind it, Thursday, May 17, 2018, at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. Photo by Nikos Frazier, nfrazier@post-dispatch.com

There's a new front in the ongoing push for a citywide election on whether to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport — Jefferson City.

Following the rejection of such a bill by a city aldermanic committee on Jan. 17, state Rep. Bruce Franks has introduced state legislation to do the same thing.

Franks, a St. Louis Democrat, said he normally prefers to let the city handle its own issues and not impose state government's will on a local matter.

But in this case, he said, he believes it may be the best way to ensure that residents get a chance to weigh in on the privatization idea.

"Give the people a vote," said Franks, a privatization opponent.

To get anywhere with his bill, Franks — a St. Louis Democrat — will have to pick up some support from Republicans in the GOP-run Legislature. That has yet to materialize, but Franks says he's hopeful.

The aldermanic measure, sponsored by Alderman Cara Spencer, failed in committee on a 3-2 vote.

The key negative vote was cast by a former supporter of the bill, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad.

Collins-Muhammad has tied his decision  to his failure so far to get aldermen to put on the ballot a revote on a 2012 decision by voters to cut the size of the board in half. That's now set to happen after next year's national census.

Franks said he shares Collins-Muhammad's concern about ward reduction and "the dilution of black representation" that he contends could occur because of it. However, Franks said he doesn't support tying the two issues together.

Spencer said her bill likely is dead for the current aldermanic session. She said no further meetings of the committee are scheduled before the board's final meeting of the session April 15.

But she said the bill will be introduced again in the new session which begins April 16.

Meanwhile, a group called STL: Not for Sale is gathering signatures in an initiative petition drive to try to get the issue to the ballot that way.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, who has continued the process of considering leasing all or part of the airport begun by former Mayor Francis Slay, has said she's undecided on whether it ultimately should happen. She said that will depend on how the city would actually benefit.

A team of consultants hired by the city has been working with an advisory committee to determine whether to go forward with seeking bids.

One advisory committee member, Alderman Marlene Davis, said last week  that a request for qualifications could be issued as soon as late March to determine which companies are interested in bidding.

After that, the city would decide which companies will be asked to submit bids.

Before either of those things happen, Airport Director Rhonda-Hamm Niebruegge said, the airlines serving Lambert would first have to sign a memorandum "saying they're OK with looking at the process."

The memorandum would include "some minimum things" the airlines would want, she said. That's now under negotiation with the city, she said.

A majority of the airlines also must approve any eventual deal with a private operator. So would the Board of Aldermen, federal officials and the city Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

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