Progressives still divided by race, runoffs needed

The division between black progressives and white progressives was on full display during the divisive campaign for President of the Board of Aldermen which ended Tuesday night with the two “change candidates” evenly splitting the opposition vote and allowing incumbent Lewis Reed, who we endorsed in this paper, to win a fourth term.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed blamed Alderwoman Megan Green for her loss. “If it wasn’t but for her being in this race—meaning Megan Green—we would have had a win,” she told the small crowd at her election night gathering. 

Nasheed did only slightly better than Green, winning only 144 more votes than the 15th Ward alderwoman, despite spending considerably more money. According to her most recent campaign finance report, Nasheed raised at least $543,161.65 for this election. Divided by her 11,012 votes, that’s nearly $50 per vote. That figure will likely be even higher when all funds are accounted for in the next few days. 

In contrast, Reed raised $304,220.00 and Green raised just $117,273.26. So it would seem that there was more to blame for Nasheed’s underperformance than just Green’s presence in the race. But her election night comments will surely add to the divisions.

“You know, the progressives, everything they hate about St. Louis, they perpetuated in this race,” Nasheed said referring to Green and her liberal supporters. “Because you can’t say you’re for Black Lives Matter and you want to try to reduce black representation.”

In our endorsement of Reed, we also pointed out the hypocrisy of Green’s politics:

“She describes herself as ‘woke’ (that is, aware of and actively attentive to issues of race), however, her only path to victory in this contest is to benefit from more experienced, black candidates splitting the vote. That’s not woke at all.”

But we also described the many inconsistencies of Nasheed’s record on issues such as abortion, mass incarceration, and a whole host of other issues. Ultimately, Nasheed lost because of Nasheed, not because of Megan Green. She knew the dynamics of the race before she entered it. She had money and many enthusiastic supporters. Unfortunately for her, she also had a record that was ultimately impossible to reconcile with the progressive agenda she attempted to paint herself as a champion of.

Lewis Reed was re-elected to his important seat with just 36% of the vote. That’s better than Mayor Lyda Krewson, who won with just 32% of the vote in 2017.

Overall, less than 18% of registered voters even bothered showing up at the polls Tuesday. That’s even worse than the last mayoral election in which only 28% showed up.

With less and less people voting, people are being elected to city government by tiny numbers of people.

South side aldermen Joe Vollmer (968), Christine Ingrassia (922), Carol Howard (674), and Cara Spencer (660) each won with less than 1,000 votes.

On the north side, aldermen Jeffrey Boyd (594), Lisa Middlebrook (575), and Sam Moore (516) won with less than 600 votes.

Newcomer Jesse Todd in the 18th Ward won his race by receiving only 390 votes.

The overall voter turnout percentage in St. Louis City is pathetic and embarrassing. But, much worse, the tiny number of actual votes received by members of city government, in many ways, challenges the legitimacy of these bodies’ representation. I mean, clearly, very few people in city government have any kind of mandate from voters. And that then adds to the overall apathy and lack of interest in these elections.

One solution to that problem, as well as the problem of “spoilers” like Nasheed alleges Green was in her race, is runoff elections. And it’s past time St. Louis adopted this.

In a runoff-style election, no matter how many candidates run, unless one candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face-off in a second election, ensuring that the ultimate officeholder will have been selected by a majority of voters.

We already have (and pay for) two elections in St. Louis. The first, the “primary” election which we held this week, determines the nominees for the Democratic, Republican and Green parties. The second, to be held next month, is the “general” election and that officially determines who wins the office. But in practice, it’s a complete waste of time here in St. Louis because every elected official in City Hall is a Democrat, making the primary election the real election.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the top two candidates in each ward and citywide March elections met again on the ballot in April? Just the two of them. No more claims of “spoilers”. No more legislating without a mandate, because only a few hundred of the ward’s 12,000 residents actually voted for their representative.

That would be a move in the right direction and help more people believe they actually have a say in their own government. Because then it truly would be a government of the people, by the people. Which is not what we have today.

Antonio French

Author: Antonio French

Antonio French is the publisher of MetroSTL.com, The NorthSider and SouthSider community newspapers. Born and raised in north St. Louis, he is a social entrepreneur and former two-term St. Louis City alderman. He lives in the O'Fallon Park neighborhood with his wife, son, and four rescue dogs. Follow him on Twitter at @antoniofrench.

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