A New Direction in 2019

Being elected to serve as alderman in St. Louis has been an honor and privilege, and I want to thank voters in the 24th ward for choosing me to represent them twice, in 2011 and 2015. I am proud of my accomplishments at City Hall and in the 24th Ward over the last seven and a half years. I have decided that I will not be running for a third term in the spring of 2019, and wanted to announce that now so other interested candidates would have time to make a decision and plan a campaign. I doubt I will be endorsing anyone to replace me - may the best woman or man win (and make sure they repave Clayton and Southwest Ave - they are next on the list).

I've enjoyed many aspects of this job and look at the last eight years mostly with satisfaction, but St. Louis is a difficult City, and some aspects of the job have become more troubling to me over time.

Here is the metaphor I would use: My wife is a hairsylist, and I asked her to imagine what it would be like to go to work every day without scissors. To have customers come into the salon and sit in her chair, and then to explain that yes, this is a hair salon, but no, unfortunately she does not have any scissors. She understands they want a haircut, but there are simply no scissors here. They can wait, sure, perhaps some scissors will arrive, but she isn't sure when. She left a voicemail for the scissor store. Hopefully they will call her back.

Many days this is what it feels like to be an alderman. People come to you because they want help, but you don't trust that help will be coming, even when you ask, and ask again. Maybe this is just what it feels like to live in St. Louis - I don't blame any one particular person for this dynamic. This is what living and trying to govern in a City wrecked by suburban sprawl and depopulation and devastating crime and an inadequate tax base is like. The easy thing to do is yell, "It must be the mayor's fault!" But the issue is far, far more complicated and old than that.

It's not just me that feels this way, I talk to other alderman who experience the same frustration, as well as City employees. It's not unique to me, but it's a dynamic that seems to have gotten frustratingly worse over time. I don't think it will be much different for the next person in this role, but I wish them well. It feels great when things work, when you are able to help a constituent, when you can resolve a problem. But the anxiety that the problem will not be fixed, that the resident will be disappointed, that help will not be coming, has slowly become the dominant feeling of this job. I've come to expect things to go wrong, and I think that means it's time to give someone else a shot.

Another thing particular to me, I cannot stomach asking people for campaign contributions again for another campaign. I always loathed it and I ran the cheapest DIY campaigns I possibly could and raised as little money as possible. Something about it does not click for me, and I can’t gin up the enthusiasm to do it again.

On the other hand, almost the whole list of things I wanted to see achieved have happened, or are well on their way to happening. Dogtown is getting a grocery store, Clifton Park has a master plan. You can safely push a baby stroller into Forest Park at the Clayton and Skinker intersection. The vacant school I looked at every day for 10 years from my old house has been renovated and is fully occupied. The other vacant school in the ward will soon be under contract. We've successfully reined in development incentives inside the ward, and a city-wide effort on the same front is trudging forward. I fought a quiet and quixotic quest to repave the Penrose Park Velodrome, and that too is underway, keeping open a north city park amenity that would otherwise have had to close. We also passed an historic charter amendment to reduce the size of the Board of Aldermen - and if naysayers and fear don't win, it may even go into effect. After 8 years at City Hall, I promise you this only begins the reform that is needed. On the daily treadmill of this job I tried to make good decisions, to know what I was talking about, to not bullshit people, and to nudge forward the good things and slow down the bad things.

I also want to point to what needs to be changed about government in the St. Louis region: Everything.

Everything. Government in the region needs to be completely remade from the ground up. It does not work in St. Louis City, it does not work in the poorer areas of St. Louis County. We accept that rich people get excellent services because they wall themselves into suburban enclaves and avoid engaging with the rest of the region, and we accept that poor people will have poor services because they are poor. We accept that the middle class will endure a series of choices driven by anxiety and fear rather than love and optimism.

In 2000, a year after moving here, I was riding my bike on a weekend as I often do in Forest Park. A driver began a confrontation with me that ended in an assault near Skinker and Forsyth. Afterwards, angry and annoyed but not particularly hurt, I called the police. The response I got was not, "Are you ok?" but "What side of Skinker were you on?" This is our regional government in a nutshell. It first asks not what someone needs, but where they live. What you get is determined by your address.

We largely got here by accident. But with decades of perspective on this dynamic, we all know it's the central problem in the St. Louis region. It's time to do something about it. My parting shot in my role as alderman is this: We need to erase all the artificial boundaries of City and County and Municipalities. The only way this region will ever work is if we are governed as one region, where everyone pays into the same pot, everyone has a seat at the same table to determine the regional direction, and resources are distributed equitably. Tinkering around the edges is metaphorically the same as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. People are literally dying because of the way this region's government is structured.

After 8 years in government, my wish is we stop tinkering around the edges of an obviously un-salvageable and routinely harmful regional dynamic - We should be the St. Louis of 1.3 million people we want to be.

Well I have one more wish - take a look at my résumé, I need a new job in April.