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Editorial: St. Louis' problems deepened on Krewson's watch, in part for lack of leadership

Editorial: St. Louis' problems deepened on Krewson's watch, in part for lack of leadership

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St. Louisans will bid farewell on Tuesday to Mayor Lyda Krewson, whose single term in office underscored the difficulty of leading under a weak-mayor system of government. There’s only so much that any mayor can do alone to fix St. Louis’ myriad problems. But in assessing her four years in office, our conclusion is that Krewson’s own failure to take charge assertively is partly why most of those problems deepened on her watch.

Yes, she had some successes: the new soccer stadium and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus under construction, and the ambitious City Foundry project. But in claiming credit for those projects, Krewson, as politicians often do, would be largely taking credit for the work of others. When all is said and done, Krewson’s tenure as mayor was marred by poor judgment, particularly in following the lead of others down dubious roads to address the city’s big issues.

Early in her term, she supported the Better Together regional governance proposal. The mayor was willing to write her office out of existence and cede power to a St. Louis County executive who is now in prison. That effort was largely backed by megadonor Rex Sinquefield. Krewson also threw the city’s weight behind the Sinquefield-backed effort to privatize the St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Political reality ultimately forced her to kill the badly flawed effort. Having spent valuable political capital with nothing to show for it, Krewson had too few successes on which to build a reelection campaign.

On the issue of police accountability, Krewson talked tough in her 2017 campaign, demanding that the police union fire its controversial business manager, Jeff Roorda, after he made what she called “vile and disgusting” comments about then-city Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who becomes mayor on Tuesday. But as mayor, Krewson never held Roorda accountable or helped repair the broken relationship between city cops and the communities they patrol. Upheaval following former police officer Jason Stockley’s acquittal in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith was another chance for Krewson to lead, but she allowed cops to run roughshod over protesters.

Gun violence exploded on Krewson’s watch. The mayor correctly called out the Missouri Legislature for allowing the proliferation of guns in the city, but she did little to address the root causes of violence in the poorest neighborhoods. The city continued to see murders rise — with most going unsolved — while families continued to abandon the city’s most violent neighborhoods. More vacant buildings were added to the list of burdens on the cash-strapped city government.

Many of Krewson’s failures were also a product of the limited powers of her office. But if there’s one lesson her tenure offers for her successor, it’s that without bold assertiveness and persistent follow-up, the mayor’s office can be a powerless and very lonely place.

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