An unseemly effort is afoot to force Alderman Cara Spencer from her 20th Ward seat. The recall effort has nothing to do with malfeasance or dereliction of duty. Quite the opposite: Spencer was too good at her job and too effective at fighting against someone who tries to use money to short-circuit democracy in St. Louis. Spencer dared to take on megadonor Rex Sinquefield, and now she must pay.
Recall efforts are rare and typically are prompted by some egregious offense. The recall petition being circulated in Spencer’s ward makes no allegation of wrongdoing nor says why she’s being challenged. The signature page simply states that “we the undersigned ... respectfully ask” that Spencer be subjected to a recall vote.
Since Sinquefield’s henchmen have no real evidence to use against her, they appear to be making it up as they go door to door gathering signatures. If about 1,100 residents sign, she would face a 10-day deadline either to resign or be forced to defend her seat in the November election.
Why would any self-respecting public servant subject herself and her family to such humiliation and slander? It’s certainly not for the measly $37,000 alderman’s salary, a pittance compared to the immense headaches that accompany the job.
The fingerprints of Sinquefield’s team are all over this effort. The company collecting signatures is Metropolitan Strategies & Solutions, which was heavily involved in ginning up public support for last year’s failed, Sinquefield-sponsored drive to privatize the airport. Sinquefield and his right-hand man, Travis Brown, are trying to relaunch the privatization drive.
Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who is spearheading an effort to put a privatization question on the November ballot, denounced the recall effort against Spencer even though she played a strong role organizing Board of Aldermen opposition to stall Reed’s effort.
It’s pretty clear Sinquefield and Brown want her out of the way. Metropolitan Strategies is owned by LeJuan Strickland, who has clashed previously with Spencer. Although he claims enough knowledge of Spencer’s ward to assert she is underrepresenting her Black constituents, it’s not even clear if he has anything beyond a cursory knowledge of her ward. He’s a longtime resident and former paid official of the District of Columbia government. As of January 2019, he served as a commissioner of the D.C. Housing Authority.
Metropolitan Strategies also is the name attached to a joint venture with another company, First Rule, that shares the same registered address as Brown’s lobbying firm, Pelopidas.
This recall effort is an unmistakable warning, if not threat, to any other aldermen who dare to continue defying Sinquefield’s will. He has the money and determination to bring any one of them to their knees and drive them from office, using Spencer’s experience to warn: This could happen to you. These tactics are the very antithesis of democracy.