Jefferson City’s annual legislative assault on St. Louis, its favorite target alongside Kansas City, has begun. The GOP-dominated Missouri Legislature has already introduced a bill to starve voters in our city. We are specifically calling House Bill 301, sponsored by Joplin State Representative Lane Roberts, which directly nominates and targets only the City of St. Louis and our democratically elected circuit attorney, Kimberly Gardner.
St. Louisans in all zip codes already cannot democratically elect our judges, thanks to the so-called “Nonpartisan Court Plan.” Every judge in the city and county of St. Louis is appointed by the governor, which prevents primary elections that might otherwise challenge some of the corrupt judges and create voter accountability. And now, the state legislature wants to strip away the powers vested in our elected attorney.
Did we mention that the Missouri State House is also trying to take away local control of our police department in order to restore state control? Of course, this pathetic pushy attempt comes from Republican St. Charles State Senator Nick Schroer, whose white male frailty wouldn’t last a night on the town. But it’s also surprisingly short-sighted the support of the police’s “Ethical Society,” formerly recognized as the “common sense group,” now sadly, the police union has recently aligned itself with the disbelieving St. Louis Police Officers Association (SLPOA). New police chief Robert Tracy and outgoing interim director of public safety Dan Isom reportedly opposed the move, insisting the most important change needed is strong leadership.
Not only is this legislative policy rooted in “anti-darkness,” it also creates a situation where the infamous “Hancock Amendment” should be changed, as Missouri law prohibits the state legislature from imposing unfunded mandates on cities. The state legislature may forget that, by moving SLMPD under its control, Missouri becomes accountable for our policing costs—the good and the bad, including multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuits.
Meanwhile, local police apologist Jane Dueker has been rehired as a lobbyist for SLPOA. Dueker had recently resigned his job as police union spokesman to run and lose not just one but three campaigns against incumbent County Executive Sam Page, including her own. Is anyone betting on when Dueker will bring back notorious racist Jeff Roorda to run SLPOA again?
With Dueker’s return, we say goodbye to Dr. Dan Isom, who will step down as acting director of public safety in mid-February. Current St. Louis Deputy Fire Chief Charles Coyle will step into the vacant role as the city launches a nationwide search for a new public safety leader.
In St. Louis County, time is literally running out for Leonard “Raheem” Taylor, a black man on Missouri’s death row for the murders of Angela Rowe and her three children in Jennings. Taylor has maintained his innocence from the beginning, supported by a hermetic alibi and a lack of physical evidence tying him to the murders. Evidence shows Taylor was out of state at the time of the murder, and many witnesses saw the family after Taylor left. We can attribute Taylor’s conviction to police and prosecutorial misconduct, as another conviction was obtained under “The Shadow of Death” – former prosecutor Bob McCulloch.
County Attorney Wesley Bell once again found himself in a difficult situation. Taylor’s execution is scheduled for February 7. Despite significant evidence pointing to Taylor’s innocence, Bell’s office has yet to file any briefs questioning the integrity of Taylor’s conviction.
Earlier this week, St. Louis grimly acknowledged what would have been the 50th anniversary of the former landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, which allowed pregnant women to terminate their pregnancies until the second trimester. Roe was overturned last June in another Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health. The anniversary marked the growing urgency to elect pro-choice candidates to the Board of Aldermen to introduce and support critical legislation such as the Reproductive Justice Equity Fund, which was sponsored by Alderman Shameem Clark-Hubbard.
For two years in a row, St. Louis voters loudly and overwhelmingly chose proudly pro-choice leaders like Mayor Tishaura O. Jones and Council President Megan Green. Current aldermen Anne Schweitzer, Mike Gras, Tina Pihl, Bret Narayan and Shane Cohn have been reliable votes for pro-choice legislation and are running for re-election. Younger candidates running in aldermanic races leaned into a message of reproductive justice and bodily autonomy. Second ward candidate Katie Bellis frequently serves as an escort for patients at the Granite City clinic, where they are frequently harassed by white men who yell Bible verses out of context as they enter. Alisha Sonnier, a member of the SLPS Board of Education and Seventh Ward Aldermanic candidate, is a board member of Pro Choice Missouri and attended the organization’s annual gala this past September. Rasheen Aldridge, a 14th Ward candidate and currently a state representative, has strongly supported pro-choice and reproductive justice legislation in the Missouri House. In 2023, there is very little room for anti-choice candidates and politicians in St. Louis who don’t believe that adult women are empowered to make their own health care choices.
But St. Louis’ leadership in the fight for personal autonomy doesn’t end with elected officials: A group of 13 clergy announced last week that they are filing a civil rights lawsuit against the state of Missouri for violating of the separation of church and state.
The law’s preamble alone convincingly supports the legal action of religious leaders, stating, “Recognition that Almighty God is the author of life…” reflecting a Christian faith. Legislative testimony from the bill’s sponsors cited Christo-fascist ideologies and extremist beliefs that are not rooted in any religious text. The lawsuit, in turn, suggests that these “conservative Christian” talking points violate the religious and moral beliefs of others.
In other words, the clergy of St. Louis and Kansas City have argued that Missouri lawmakers are forcing their religious beliefs, their congregations, and millions of others living in the state on them.
Finally, we bring the news of a David versus Goliath victory: the community trumps the rich developers. Last week, Alderman Cara Spencer announced – for some reason – that a proposed expansion of the Kairos Academy in the Marine Villa neighborhood had failed. Kairos Academy is the charter school system founded by Teach for America alum Jack Krewson, son of former Mayor Lyda Krewson.
Why the commissioner announced the fate of a private project is beyond our understanding. Still, it makes us wonder about the extent of Spencer’s personal involvement, considering his full-time employment as senior vice president of community and economic development at Saint Louis Bank, one of the potential lenders identified by Kairos during a December community meeting for project development. Typically, an assessor does not get involved in a private building project. Clearly, Spencer has gone above and beyond for Kairos Academy, more than most of its other corporate “constituents” and certainly more than its actual constituents.
Even more curious, however, was Spencer’s complete flip-flop from fully supporting the charter school construction project – even going as far as going behind the backs of components to explore potential locations – to overcoming her past behavior and portraying herself as always aligned with the community. In real time, the EYE saw Spencer completely change her stance on this project, possibly in an attempt to save face for her in a closely contested contest with community activist Shedrick “Born Caliph” Kelley. Spencer deserves an Academy Award for his skillful pivot on this issue.
Neighbors complained that they were completely unaware of Kairos’ plans to develop the nearly two-acre campus until they were approached by developer Urban Improvement Conglomerate (UCI) about buying their homes. Spencer and Kairos said, however, that the community had been informed every step of the way. This turned out to be completely false.
When questioned directly about violating the Board of Aldermen’s moratorium on opening new schools, Kairos’ leadership doubled down on its curious argument that the proposed six-block charter school campus was not an “expansion,” it was not “opening a new school” — Kairos was just “adding” new classes to his school. The Post-Dispatch reported that Kairos has added just nine new students in the past year, calling into question the need for a massive expansion.
Ultimately, it was union opposition that shut down the project, with the union Teamsters, Brewers and Maltsters Benevolent Association refusing to sell a key piece of real estate to Kairos and UIC. The leadership of the American Federation of Teachers Local 420 had sent a letter to the Teamsters, citing the closure of the SLPS schools and the “fantastic numbers created out of thin air” by Kairos.
In the end, Kairos’ math just didn’t add up.