February 3, 2023
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At least four are eyeing campaigns for St. Louis aldermanic president | Politics

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ST. LOUIS — Aldermanic President Lewis Reed’s abrupt departure this week from the key post he held for 15 years has spurred at least four ward aldermen to consider running to succeed him in upcoming elections.

Two have run citywide previously: Cara Spencer of the 20th Ward, who lost the mayor’s race last year, and the 15th Ward’s Megan Green, who ran unsuccessfully against Reed in the 2019 Democratic primary. Both are considered part of the board’s progressive faction.

Also expressing interest Friday in running were Aldermen Tom Oldenburg, 16th Ward, and Jack Coatar, 7th Ward, who are in a bloc of more moderate members. Others also could be looking at the race.

Reed resigned Tuesday following his indictment June 2 on corruption charges; he has pleaded not guilty.

Joe Vollmer, the board vice president, immediately became acting president and will serve until voters elect a successor at the Nov. 8 general election.

Vollmer has said he’ll serve only on an interim basis and won’t run in the election.

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Candidates to run in November likely would be chosen at a special primary in late August, September or early October, city Election Board chairman Jerry Hunter said Friday.

It’s too late now under state law to put the aldermanic president’s race on the Aug. 2 statewide primary ballot.

Hunter said it also is probable that the primary and November vote would be run using rules under Proposition D, the nonpartisan “approval voting” ordinance enacted by voters in 2020.

Under that system, residents vote for as many candidates as they “approve of” in the primary; the two top finishers square off in a runoff in the general election.

But Hunter emphasized that the four-member board has yet to decide and that legal research is continuing on the matter.

“This is new territory and our goal is to get it right,” he said. This is the first vacancy in a citywide office occurring since the approval voting measure was passed.

Whoever is picked in November would hold the post until the end of Reed’s four-year term expires next April. Another election will be held then for the next term, preceded by a primary in March.

Spencer, 43, said “certainly I’m getting a lot of encouraging calls” about running and that she’s taking a serious look.

“It’s important for someone to bring together the different factions (on the board) and heal our community,” she said.

Spencer, an alderman for seven years, lost to Tishaura Jones in the April general election last year, 52% to 48%.

The two made it to the runoff in St. Louis’ first use of approval voting; Reed and a fourth candidate were eliminated in the March primary.

Green, 38, who joined the board in 2014, said in a text message that she’s “strongly considering another run” for the president’s post. In 2019, Green finished third in a tight Democratic primary race, getting 31.2% of the vote.

Reed, the winner, got 35.6% and the second-place finisher, then-state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, pulled 31.6%. Reed went on to win the general election.

Spencer and Green, because they ran citywide, could have an initial advantage if they decided to run, especially in a relatively short time period in which to raise money and line up political support.

But Oldenburg pointed out that both had lost those citywide contests, indicating that voters might be more receptive to someone new.

“That is all part of my analysis” of whether he’ll run, he said. Green also lost a 2020 Democratic primary race for a state Senate seat.

Oldenburg, 41, has been on the board since 2017. He said “this is an opportunity to restore some dignity to the board and to run the board professionally.”

Coatar, 36, said, “I’m looking at it. Some of (his decision) will depend on the field.”

Coatar, a former assistant circuit attorney, was first elected to the board in 2015.

Meanwhile, Alderman Sharon Tyus, 1st Ward, said she had been approached to run for the office, even before Reed was indicted and when it appeared likely he would seek reelection next year.

But she said “I’m not actively looking at anything but” trying to change the board’s seniority rules to give her credit for her most recent nine years as an alderman and her previous 12-year stint that ended in 2003.

If that happened, she would have more seniority than Vollmer and under board tradition become vice president, which would make her acting president. The rules now allow only continuous seniority to count.

Tyus, 66, wouldn’t comment on whether she’d consider running then for the post in the upcoming elections.

Another potential candidate, Recorder of Deeds Michael Butler, said he had considered jumping into the race but had decided against it.

Also in the current aldermen’s political calculus is the scheduled reduction of city wards and ward aldermen next year to 14 from 28.

The Election Board already has scheduled special elections on Aug. 2 and Aug. 23 to pick aldermen to succeed John Collins-Muhammad and Jeffrey Boyd in the 21st and 22nd wards. They were charged along with Reed in the federal corruption case.

However, the board has not used the nonpartisan approval voting process for ward-level special elections.

Instead, it followed a city charter provision that says political party committees designate nominees to run in ward aldermanic special elections. The charter holds precedence over an ordinance.

Hunter said there doesn’t appear to be such a conflict regarding vacancies for citywide offices.

He also said the board wants to make sure which city agency is the proper one to send notification of the vacancy.

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