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Tone deaf and stone cold

Published March 21, 2019 in the St. Louis American


The March election results revealed some important insights that could be misread or ignored by elected and appointed officials, future candidates and the powers-that-be. There is an emerging electorate that is more informed and strategic. They will not be taken for granted.

One of the issues that I found troubling was the capacity of candidates and some of the elected officials supporting them was to understand and gauge voter sentiment. They were stone cold clueless about the voters’ situation and how disconnected those running for office are to that reality. A barrage of campaign mailers is no substitute for building constituent relationships.

The most contested city race was president of the Board of Aldermen. Despite wide disparities in fundraising, it was nearly a three-way split between incumbent Lewis Reed, Alder Megan Green and Senator Jamilah Nasheed. What does this tell us?

I believe it tells us that s/he who has the most money doesn’t always win. Nasheed racked in a little over half a million dollars, Reed raised $304,000 and Green brought up the rear with about $117,000. It also said that voters are paying attention to track records (or lack thereof), to the way candidates run their respective campaigns and to their articulated vision for the city.

There was criticism by candidates and political pundits that voters kept the status quo. Again, I think this is a misread. What I hear from constituents is that this incumbent may not be the best for the job.

What others surmise is very different. We hear, “No more voting for Tweedle Dum(b) just to unseat Tweedle Dee. We will either groom a candidate of our choice or wait it out. No more swapping out incompetence over our community interests.”

For years, I written about voter turnout and the lack of a plan by Black elected leadership to address how they engage and grow their constituencies. No self-respecting candidate – especially an incumbent – should be crowing about a victory when they can’t inspire voters to get to the polls. Aldermen like Jeffrey Boyd won with only about 600 votes, just 10 percent of the 22nd Ward voting population.

St. Louis has some big challenges ahead. Some are old like crime and very old like racial inequality. Others are new like the proposed city-counter merger and the privatization of the airport. We need fresh, bold leadership of all hues and gender to take on these issues. This leadership must be pressed out of a community mandate that favors collective progress and not individual elevation.

Just like we need a new type of leadership – elected or not – some of us are working on how to build a powerful electorate that does not rely on a savior. We’re looking at the re-investment of our tax dollars. We’re organizing citizens around issues they deem important to their families. We advancing a progressive agenda rooted in the aspirations and needs of the people.

The movement for political power is paying attention to woke voters. Voters are awakening and flexing their political muscles. Elected officials need to get woke if they are to be relevant.


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