Spencer, Hutton square off in 20th Ward

DUTCHTOWN – A staff member for a neighborhood nonprofit organization seeks to oust the incumbent alderwoman in the race for the Democratic nomination for 20th Ward alderman. 

Alderwoman Cara Spencer, 40, is running against Satia R. “Sunni” Hutton, 26, a community development manager for the Dutchtown South Community Corp., in the March 5 Democratic primary. 

The winner of the primary will not have opposition in the April 2 general election.

The ward includes the Dutchtown, Gravois Park, Marine Villa and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods.

“I love this job,” said Spencer, who defeated longtime Alderman Craig Schmid in 2015 to get the position. “As a single mother, I see no better way to spend than to try to improve the city I love.”

The Marine Villa neighborhood resident said she was elected with the goal of changing the community’s direction. “For many decades, these neighborhoods have seen disinvestment and decay, and as a mother, I wanted to help our community become a safer and healthier place for all,” said Spencer, who is also the executive director of the Consumers Council of Missouri.

Spencer said that when she took office, 30 percent of the neighborhood’s housing units were vacant. Crime was a major concern. 

In four years, the vacancy rate has been driven down by 20 percent, she said. She got the long vacant Marquette pool open again. Sixty percent of projects are for affordable housing with rate caps in place so people aren’t priced out of the neighborhood. Spencer says violent crime has decreased 40 percent, and crime overall was cut by 20 percent.

Spencer introduced a bill requiring a public vote for any proposal to privatize St. Louis Lambert Airport. It had broad support but died in committee. “[Privatization is] benefiting a small number of people, and the public has really been left out of the process,” Spencer said. “A public vote is a way of giving the public input.”

Spencer said a merger of the city and county is necessary to redistribute the wealth in the region. But she has concerns about the current proposal. Key components like school districts and education funding are left out, she said.  

A resident of Dutchtown, Hutton said that her experience with the Dutchtown South Community Corp. would help her as alderwoman.

During the campaign, Hutton is on leave from the job, which involves making residents part of decision-making. That includes drawing up neighborhood plans, resident-led initiatives like tenant organizing and addressing the quality of rental housing.

“Our neighborhood is going to be experiencing a huge influx of investment and development. With development comes displacement,” Hutton said. There should be an aldermanic strategy to keep families in their homes, she said.

Hutton said Spencer has failed to listen to the needs of those who have been most severely affected by development decisions. “Right now, the power resides in her seat, and I’m here to bring the power back to the people,” she said.

Hutton said there are ways the city and the county can cooperate, but that she’s opposed to a merger.

Hutton also is against the privatization of the St. Louis Lambert International Airport. “I feel that we have a viable asset at the airport,” she said. A merger runs the risk of cutting benefits, pay and working conditions at the facility, Hutton said. “I’m not ready to run that risk.”

On the scheduled reduction of the number of wards in the city from 28 to 14, she said there is a grassroots effort now to put the issue back on the ballot. She supports that measure.

But if it loses, she says a nonpartisan group should guide the redistricting process. 

Jim Merkel

Author: Jim Merkel

Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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