Flanked by family, friends and four former mayors, Lyda Krewson became St. Louis’ 46th mayor on Tuesday — and, as she was sure to note, the first woman to do so.
Her address then took a swift, and somewhat surprising turn as she signaled that one of her main goals is to encourage an urban coalition that includes St. Louis County and Kansas City.
Tuesday also marked the beginning of six new aldermanic terms for the Board of Aldermen, as well as the beginning of Comptroller Darlene Green’s sixth full term.
Krewson said she’ll “seek every opportunity to work with the other regional leaders to think and act regionally, to combine into one region and to build a St. Louis that is sharper, stronger and more competitive in the world marketplace.”
Underscoring Krewson’s proposed collaboration between governments was the presence of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern and Kansas City Mayor Sly James, the latter of which addressed the crowd packing the City Hall rotunda right before Krewson was sworn in.
James praised Krewson as “somebody who has the guts to stand up for what she believes in,’’ citing her stances in favor of a smoking ban and a prescription drug monitoring program and her disapproval of some of the state’s gun-rights laws. He added that it was time for St. Louis and Kansas City, which often have been wary of each other, to work together to face similar challenges, notably crime and struggling public schools.
“If you want to go fast, you go alone,’’ James said. “If you want to go far, you go together.”
Krewson began her address a few minutes later by telling James, “I believe this will be the first of many times that we talk and work together for the good of our cities and our urban agenda.”
In fact, Krewson, James and Stenger already have begun such informal talks. The trio and their top staffers had dinner Monday night at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, in what Krewson aides described as a move to find common ground.
The other things at stake for Krewson include jobs, public safety and the, as she called it, “urgent and worrisome” concerns about GOP-led efforts in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., to trim programs that aid urban areas.
“Federal and state funding for programs that we depend on for law enforcement, health services, housing and real estate development are on the chopping block, “Krewson said. “If those funds disappear, progress won’t be easy.”
Krewson praised her predecessor, Francis Slay, for his work that led to growth and improvements in such neighborhoods as The Grove, Cherokee Street and the new federal National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency complex slated for the near north side.
At the same time, Krewson said she was committed to fulfilling her campaign pledges to focus on expanding job opportunities and tackling crime. All St. Louisans must remember, she said, that “30 percent of our neighbors in the city live in poverty.”
Green makes history as well
Despite such serious rhetoric, Krewson also made a point of singling out the historic nature of Tuesday’s swearing-in beyond her own. Green, who already is the city’s longest-serving official in that post, was sworn in for a sixth consecutive term.
Green and Krewson both noted that their dual presence means that women for the first time will dominate the city’s three-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which makes most of the city’s major financial decisions. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed the other member of the E&A.
Green was particularly upbeat in her address, saying that she had turned down two presidential jobs under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to serve her hometown.
She also noted that she carried all 28 wards in this spring's primary and general elections. As a result of that vote, she said, "I have a mandate and a responsibility to do what is in the best interests of the people and their tax dollars."
Changing of the aldermanic guard
Before Krewson was sworn into office, the Board of Aldermen kicked off its legislative session by welcoming six new members.
One of the largest freshmen classes in recent memory will have to wrestle with a busy agenda over the next few months. A major aspect of Krewson’s campaign was finding more money for the city’s police department, including raising officer pay. That may become a more urgent priority with a salary increase coming to the St. Louis County Police Department, a development that may prompt city officers to jump ship.
Aldermen also may need to debate whether to spend taxpayer funds to upgrade the city’s convention center, which could cost tens of millions of dollars. Stenger told St. Louis Public Radio earlier this year that he’s been in early talks about possible county participation in such a venture.
New Alderman Dan Gunether said he’s optimistic that the new mayor and the Board can have a productive relationship, but the 9th Ward Democrat noted that tough decisions lie ahead, including whether to raise fees for trash pickup.
“It seems like there is a lot of reaching out not only to the new aldermen, but also the existing aldermen — and just people in different offices across the city,” said Guenther, whose district includes neighborhoods like Soulard, Benton Park and Mount Pleasant. “Through so many of the campaigns during this election cycle, the common dialogue was that we need to work together to make the city better as a whole.
“We need to maybe take a break from our just individual ward politics and ward focus and we need to look at things as a whole.”
Brandon Bosley, another new alderman, represents the city’s 3rd Ward, which takes in north St. Louis neighborhoods like College Hill and Hyde Park. He said the new members started talking about ways to work together even before they were sworn in, which he believes is a positive sign.
“It seems like everyone is looking for a change right now. Everybody kind of understands this is a different point in time,” Bosley said. “And there’s new blood in. So there are things we can do to bring things into the 21st century.”
Krewson’s ability to enact big policy changes may depend on whether aldermen that supported other mayoral candidates buy into her agenda. St. Louis Collector of Revenue Gregory F.X. Daly expects that Krewson’s existing relationships could help.
“I think she’s got some good ideas, and it’s just a matter of making sure that the money is there to incorporate some of these good ideas,” said Daly, who worked as a Board of Aldermen staffer before pursuing citywide office.