Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Response from Tishaura Jones, Candidate for St. Louis Mayor

1. What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? What experience/attributes do you have that qualify you for this position?

The key roles of the mayor are to listen and to lead. The mayor needs to put people, not projects, first. As mayor, everything will be on the table. I will examine every policy through a racial equity lens, partner with the schools to improve public education, and reform our criminal justice and public safety system. My experience in various levels of government - the committee level, the State level, and the city level - also sets me apart. I’ve proven my ability to work with people of different belief systems in order to achieve the best results.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for this position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

I believe the city needs to change. I am the only person on the ballot who has experience reforming a city department. My staff and I took an office that did a lot of things poorly, and turned it around to do a lot of things well. We got rid of ghost employees, updated the parking system, brought city employees to direct deposit, and started the Office of Financial Empowerment and the College Kids Savings Program. I have relationships on the state and national level on both sides of the aisle, due to my time in the State House and participation in the New DEAL Fellowship and other programs. I spoke out against any tax money for the NFL stadium and have been vocal of my support of NARAL (by whom I was recently endorsed) and raising the minimum wage.

3. What do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

There are two ways to read this question. First, what are the most pressing issues that the mayor needs to address on behalf of residents. Those issues are racial equity, education, and criminal justice reform and public safety. Regarding racial equity, I will look at every program and policy through a racial equity lens. I will expand economic opportunities to minorities, women, and immigrants. The city must ensure St. Louis is a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of race, class, disability, or sexual orientation. Regarding education, while the mayor doesn’t have a direct role in the schools, I will work to be a better partner by having an open door policy with my office and the schools and by expanding programs like the College Kids Savings Program and STL Youth Jobs. Regarding criminal justice reform and public safety, please see question six. The question could also mean what are the most pressing issues that the mayor needs to address regarding the actual office of the mayor. Then, I would say that I would work to bring the office, and the rest of city government, into the 21st century. Like I did with the Treasurer’s office services, I would work to make sure city transactions can be done online, that processes are streamlined to make sure government works for, instead of against, residents, small businesses, and startups. I will also make sure that my office focuses on doing the small stuff - like trash pick up and road maintenance - right so that people are put before projects.

4. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

My time at the State Legislature taught me to work with people of all different belief systems. Relationships and finding common ground are key. In the Treasurer’s office, I focus on public/private partnerships, and I will do the same in the mayor’s office. Through partnering with banks and financial services, the Office of Financial Empowerment is able to offer classes free of charge to the public and also facilitate the College Kids Savings Program. I also worked with the Streets Department to make it easier for people to host events in the city - so they wouldn’t have to go back and forth between the Treasurer’s Office and the Streets Department to make that process easier to navigate.

5. Who are your 3 largest campaign contributors? Are there donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

My largest campaign contributor is my former campaign committee for Treasurer. Besides that, my three largest donors are Dr. Suggs ($25k), Dr. Bill Jones ($25k), and Mr. Darryl Jones and TriTec ($25k). There are donors I wouldn’t accept money from. When I was in the State House, for example, I received an unsolicited check from Rex Sinquefield. I sent it back.

6. Public safety is a concern for our neighborhood and the entire city. What can you do on day one and what can you hope to achieve on day one plus ten years?

On day one, I will start the process to hire a public safety director ​with a proven track record of reducing urban crime​, someone who can work across all departments to make sure public safety is the number one priority. The city needs to be smart on crime, not just "tough” on crime, by addressing the root causes of crime. I want to decriminalize mental health illnesses and substance abuse. From 1/4 to 1/3 of inmates in the Workhouse are suffering from one of these conditions - if the Workhouse was closed, the city could spend the $16 million it spends per year to keep it open on making sure the people there are getting the treatment they need. The city also spends $254 million a year repeatedly arresting, trying, and re-arresting the same people. St. Louis suffers from neighborhood disinvestment, poor mental health services, low officer morale, and strained community relations with law enforcement. My plan focuses resources on disrupting the small groups responsible for the large percentage of violent crime through programs like focused deterrence while also diverting those with mental health problems and substance abuse problems out of our jails and into treatment centers. I will ensure police officers are treated like professionals by their city, are paid well, and are held accountable when they fail to meet the city’s standards.

7. The Ferguson Commission Report asks government to look through a "racial equity lens" in developing policies. Specifically, what does that mean to you?

A commitment to equity and inclusion goes beyond using buzzwords, and requires consistent commitment from leadership to confront uncomfortable topics. When I am mayor, every program and policy will be on the table. It starts with having knowledge of the disparities that exist, and then acting to do something about those disparities. There are several sources, such as the For Sake of All report, which detail the stark racial disparities in our region. As a snapshot, the unemployment percentage in St. Louis is 26% for blacks, 6% for whites, the higher education attainment percentage is 50% for blacks, 70% for whites, and the poverty percentage is 30% for blacks, 8% for whites. The median wealth for black families is $11,184, while for white families it is $134,008. Even today, since the city currently allows its three wealthiest wards to receive the most TIF money, it seems the leaders at the Board of Aldermen are continuing the same development patterns established after Jim Crow. I am the only candidate who has implemented recommendations of the Forward Through Ferguson report, and as mayor, I will continue to incorporate a racial equity lens in governmental decision-making. I will expand economic opportunities to minorities, women, and immigrants and make sure inclusionary zoning is part of developments. The city must ensure St. Louis is a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of race, class, disability, or sexual orientation.

8. The causes and effects of homelessness are serious issues in St. Louis. What are your plans for addressing each?

St. Louis has a homelessness crisis on its hands. The city bears the brunt of the region’s homeless population and must recommit to the ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness and address the root causes of homelessness. As mayor, I will support a Homeless Bill of Rights that will decriminalize homelessness and keep St. Louis aligned with HUD regulations. Biddle House is an excellent resource for the homeless, and it’s something the city is doing well, but it’s not enough. The city needs good, quality shelters like Biddle House in more places, with more beds, and with more cooperation with groups like St. Patrick’s Center to end the cycle of homelessness. Specifically, we need to open a shelter for women and a shelter for families, and each needs to provide intensive services. We also need to think creatively about how to provide the best possible services for the homeless. Denver and Albuquerque, for example, are addressing homelessness with a day laborers program. Through providing a day’s work to the homeless, and the opportunity to be invited back the following day, people who would otherwise have a difficult time finding work are able to build employment histories and skills. Denver has even learned that the program reduces panhandling. Lastly, we need to do more to keep people in their homes by creating more affordable housing and providing interventions before someone becomes homeless.

9. In 2016, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions formed the Alliance for a Sustainable Future with the goal of spurring public-private cooperation on climate action and sustainable development in cities. Will your administration participate in the alliance, and what specific local initiatives would you support to advance climate action?

Yes, my administration will participate in the Alliance. As mayor, I want to recommit the city to the St. Louis Sustainability Plan, specifically through MetroLink expansion, increasing the number and diversity of trees planted by strengthening partnerships with groups like Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, and through supporting neighborhood initiatives like urban gardens.

10. What are your plans, if any, for Metrolink expansion, particularly a North-South line?

Metrolink expansion is one of my main priorities. A few months ago, in my capacity as Treasurer, I directed $2,000,000 in reserve parking funds to pay for the study update needed to start the process for applying for federal funds for Metrolink expansion. The city must receive federal funding in order for this project to happen. I also outlined the ability of the city to start with what is called a “Minimum Operating Segment” (MOS) in an op-ed I wrote for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. A MOS allows the project to be completed in more bite sized chunks, and helps the city arrange necessary funding. In order to receive federal funds, the government needs to see full commitment from the city, which is why I also support the half cent sales tax that may appear on the April ballot. As mayor, I will not only make the North-South Metrolink a priority, but will also focus on transit oriented development around this proposed line.

11. What process do you believe should be used to reduce the Board of Aldermen to 14 members following the 2020 census?

The city should rely upon a non-partisan redistricting commission to help reduce the Board of Aldermen. I expect this to a transparent process led by the President of the Board of Aldermen, whoever she is at that time. The aldermen should open this process to residents, and convene a focus group that researches ways other cities have reduced the sizes of their city councils or boards, and find best practices that can work in St. Louis.

12. What are your criteria for approving tax abatements and TIFs?

Currently, the only criteria for approving tax abatements and TIFs seems to be that someone has asked for one. When I am mayor, I will not be afraid to use the veto when necessary. I also believe this process starts with a city-wide plan. How do we know where our highest priority neighborhoods are for tax incentives if there isn’t a plan? My platform calls for community benefit agreements, inclusionary zoning, and equitable development. If the city gives tax breaks, it must demand developers include affordable housing and other community benefits that serve all residents of the area. I would also be in favor of creating specific criteria for TIF approval - that the proposal must achieve a certain number of these criteria before it can even be considered for a tax abatement. I would want to work with the SLDC and other planners to determine what those standards should be.

13. If you could ask each of your opponents one question, what would it be? (You may specify a different question for each opponent or the same question for all.)

How much money have your votes at the Board of Aldermen for tax abatement and other subsidies diverted from the public school and city services?

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