St. Louis Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones was about to step off the podium at her victory party Tuesday night when a young Black journalist called out, “What do you have to say to those Black girls on the north side?”
An hour before, Jones had learned that she will become the first Black woman to lead St. Louis city, starting on April 20. She defeated Alderwoman Cara Spencer 51.7% to 47.8% in Tuesday’s race for mayor, according to unofficial election results.
Surrounded by dozens of ecstatic supporters, she gave her victory speech in the Omega Center parking lot in North St. Louis — not far from where she grew up.
“Number one, to every single mama who wants to do something more, you can,” Jones replied. “One of my mentors always told me, ‘You can have it all, just not all at the same time.’ And to those little girls, this is possible.”
St. Louis is a highly divided city. The northern half has suffered decades of disinvestment, while other areas in the city have benefitted from tax incentives for development and job creation.
North St. Louis is also about 90 percent Black.
This inequity is at the heart of the city’s continual protests and high homicide rate.
“St. Louis, this is an opportunity for us to rise,” Jones told her supporters. “We are done avoiding tough conversations. We are done ignoring the racism that has held our city and our region back.”
For many in the Black community, Jones’ win means a promise to address racial inequities.
“Tishaura’s point of reference, growing up in the Walnut Park neighborhood gives her a vantage point that is needed right now,” said James Clark, executive director of the Neighborhood Alliance for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Inc. “People are going to start hearing the right narrative — the narrative that impacts families that have been shut out for too long. So that’s why this is such an historic moment.”
State Rep. Rasheen Aldridge campaigned heavily for Jones in North St. Louis, an area he represents. He worked alongside labor unions, NARAL and other advocacy groups to knock on doors these past weeks. He says Jones’ win will give hope to more than just the Black community.
“To our LGBTQ community, to our distressed neighborhoods who have not had a voice when it comes to Room 200,” Aldridge said, referencing the mayor’s official office in City Hall, “you got somebody who’s gonna listen.”
The Missouri Independent followed Aldridge one Saturday morning as he knocked on doors and had conversations with constituents about the election. They talked about the $500 million in federal relief funds that St. Louis will receive over the next year. He explained that Jones is going to be asking for residents’ input through a process called participatory budgeting. And he encouraged residents to make their voices heard through her website.
“While I have plenty of proposals — affordable housing, public transit, school renovation, free Wi-Fi, community centers, land remediation, upgrading 911 dispatch, workforce development and more — I’m committed to listening to and incorporating your ideas, and making this the people’s stimulus,” Jones stated in a post about her plan for the stimulus funds.
In 2020, the city saw a record-breaking number of homicides, and a large focus of the election debates has been on crime prevention. And after a summer of unrest, the future of policing has been a major focus.
Heather Taylor is the business manager for the Ethical Society of Police, a police association that advocates for racial equity. She’s also a retired homicide detective for the city’s police department.
“It means equality will be a priority now,” Taylor said of Jones’ win. “Our police department will have to own up to its mistakes and be prepared to change. It’s a new day.”
Jones has already made history a couple times in Missouri.
While serving two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, she was selected as the first Black woman in state history to hold the position of assistant minority floor leader. She then became the first Black woman to serve as St. Louis treasurer, a position she’s held since 2013.
During her time as treasurer, she launched the College Kids Program, which has helped more than 18,000 public school students start college saving accounts — using parking revenue, family contributions and community support.
She said she’s committed to creating more programs that focus on giving youth — particularly those in disadvantaged communities — better access to opportunity.
“As a city, we’ve been surviving,” Jones said. “It’s time for St. Louis to thrive. It’s time to bring a breath of fresh air to our neighborhoods.”