Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Response from Jamilah Nasheed, Candidate for President of the Board of Aldermen

1. What do you view as the key role(s) of this position? What do you view as the important attributes needed for this position?

The President of the Board of Aldermen is the leader of our local legislature and should perform as such. That means working collaboratively with every alderman and empowering the entire board to advocate for the needs of their constituents and pass legislation that will improve quality of life for all. It also means improving the culture of the Board of Aldermen by banning lobbyists from the floor, bringing decorum back to our local legislature, and fostering an environment that promotes collaboration, not competition and fragmentation.

Right now, we have a Board of Aldermen President who uses his role as an aldermanic seat on steroids. He uses his position to serve his own selfish interests, and the interests of his campaign contributors. That’s not leadership. And, it’s unethical.

To lead the Board of Aldermen, you must have a proven record of leadership and results. I’m the only candidate in this race who has consistently achieved real results for my constituents and all of St. Louis City. I secured $14.3 million in new funding for workforce development, pre-apprenticeships, higher education, support for survivors of domestic violence, healthcare, veterans, mental health resources, youth, families, and childcare. I’ve sponsored, passed, voted for, and supported legislation that protects LGBTQIA+ rights, reproductive rights, and reentry and rehabilitation.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for President of the Board of Aldermen? What experience and attributes do you have that qualifies you for the position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)? 

There are at least two important distinctions between President Reed and me. First, I’ve never taken a policy position because of a campaign contributor - but it seems like that’s all Reed does. Second, I have a track record of successes directed at improving the lives of everyday St. Louisans whereas Reed has been a failure with essentially nothing to show for his twenty years at City Hall.

Again, I think there are at least two key differences between Megan Green and me. First, she often proposes good ideas, but can’t work with other aldermen and stakeholders to actually get something passed. She’s not passed any significant piece of legislation in her time in office. I’m about results: legislation I introduce becomes law, and impacts everyday people.

Second, my political philosophy is grounded in real people and the challenges they face. I focus on fixing problems, and getting results that make a difference in the lives of real people. Too often, Megan Green is in the weeds, focusing on abstract political theories and chasing philosophical rabbits down the hole. In all her focus on political philosophizing, she loses sight of how laws impact real people.

3. What do you feel are the most important issues facing the city and this office? What plans do you have to address them? Please be specific. 

St. Louis has an image problem. Conventions don’t want to come here, tourists avoid us, and those who visit downtown for a ball game or visit the Botanical Garden quickly retreat from the city as quickly as they came.

But we don’t just face an image problem: we face a reality problem. The issues that give us a bad image - high crime, lack of opportunity, poverty - these are real problems that we must address aggressively and creatively.

First, we have to reduce crime. To do so, our City must pivot to treat crime like a public health crisis, and do everything possible to fix it. We need a fresh strategy that keeps our neighborhoods safe while also addressing the root causes of crime, like poverty, unemployment, and mental health. We can’t simply keep repeating the same mistakes we’ve been making under Lewis Reed for the past twenty years.

Second, we need to improve opportunities for every St. Louisan to ensure that our city works for everyone --- no matter their zip code. Everyone should have a fair shot at a job and better pay. And we must address the needs of our city’s underserved and marginalized communities.

Third, we must make sure local government improves the delivery of city services. We must work together with City Hall departments to fix basic services like trash pickup, mowing, snow removal, and tree trimming, and we must make it easier to get what you need from the City by eliminating red-tape and reducing unnecessary regulations.

Finally, our City needs a real leader at the Board of Aldermen. We need to change the way the board works, so that everyday St. Louisans are prioritized and the Board works collaboratively to serve our constituents.

4. The police-involved shootings of Michael Brown, VonDerrit Myers, Anthony Lamar Smith, and others have made our region a focal point of civil unrest arising from decades of racial inequality, economic inequality, and abusive-and sometimes fatal-policing practices that disproportionately target black men. What can you do as President of the Board of Aldermen to address these issues? What lessons have we learned, or should we have learned, from these shootings, and the subsequent unrest in our region? 

The first job of the Board of Aldermen president is to lead. That means leading in the chambers of City Hall, but it also means leading in our communities. Right now, our city is suffering from a clear lack of leadership. I’m going to change that.

Leading is what I’ve devoted my entire career to — from the metrolink protests, to the streets of Ferguson, to the halls of our state legislature. And I know, with my leadership at the Board, our city will do a better job of addressing the root causes of the civil unrest we’ve seen across our region in recent years.

In my platform, I’ve called for the creation of an Underserved Communities Committee for our city, so we can tackle issues of racial and economic inequality head-on. As president, I’ll also be committed to bring the police together with everyday citizens, along with social services, prosecutors, faith organizations and others, to build up the relationships we need to move our city forward together.

I’ll also continue to push for the same accountability I always have. Our police serve and protect the people in our city. When an individual officer isn’t up to that task or worse, is in clear contradiction of that code, I’ll make sure they answer for their actions.

We need a fresh approach to reducing crime in our city, because the status quo isn’t working. That’s why I’m committed to a strategy that addresses the root causes of crime, like poverty, unemployment, and mental health, and also gives our police every resource they need to keep our neighborhoods safe.

The civil unrest across the country these past few years demonstrated what so many of us already knew: the racial and economic disparities that have existed in our country for so long have not gone away. As a nation, we’re not as far along as some people might have believed 10 years ago, an our region is a microcosm of that. So, we need to deal with these disparities causes honestly and, most importantly, together as one city. With my leadership, I know we can do exactly that.

5. St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of wards and Aldermen from 28 to 14. How do you feel about this change? As President of the Board, what will be your approach to the anticipated ward reduction? 

I know there are many St. Louisans who are worried that ward reduction will limit racial and demographic representation at the Board of Aldermen, and that is a fair concern. However, ward reduction is looming - it’s happening. Attempts to take it back to the voters have failed. Now is the time to be working to ensure the process is objective and fair, and that decisions are made through an equity lens. That means we need unbiased, third party guidance and a committee made up of both citizens and professionals to oversee the process. 

We cannot let the carrot of another vote distract us from the important work: which is making sure ward reduction does not limit representation, and that redistricting decisions are fair, unbiased, and equitable.

6. Public safety is always an important topic in the city. What does public safety mean to you? What roles do policing, social services, and economic development play in addressing public safety? What have you done to address public safety and crime in the city, and what will you do as President of the Board? 

As President of the Board of Aldermen, I will pursue reforms of the criminal justice system in two ways. First, I will craft legislation that addresses criminal justice issues based on recommendations outlined in the Ferguson Commission’s Report including, but not limited to, use of force, training, civilian review, response to demonstration, and resolving issues caused by the fragmentation of our police and courts. I will work to strengthen and elaborate on steps already taken such as the civilian oversight board or legislation I supported at the state level to reduce use of lethal force.

Second, I will use my extensive legislative experience to build consensus and collaborate around a progressive agenda that includes criminal justice reform. Working with the Circuit Attorney, constituency groups, grassroots activists, and community leaders, we will fashion a new progressive majority on the Board of Alderman that can start accomplishing real results that make a difference in the lives of everyday St. Louisans.

7. What is your position on the proposed privatization of St. Louis Lambert Airport? Do you support a citywide public vote on this issue? What are your thoughts on privatization of city facilities and resources generally? 

Privatizing a public asset is serious business. We can’t just have a knee-jerk reaction to it - we have to take it seriously. Because there’s not an actual proposal yet, the only responsible position is to keep an open mind, but to insist on a public vote and unbiased advice.

The process that’s been pursued by Lewis Reed so far is flawed. I was the first person to call for Grow Missouri, the Rex Sinquefield-funded non-profit, to be removed from the decision-making process. Then, Reed insisted that his campaign donors be paid huge retainers before he would support the initiative, further polluting the process.

I will not support any privatization measure not supported by a majority of St. Louis City residents. It is simply too important to proceed without a public vote. I think it’s critical that, once a proposal is prepared, it be subjected to intense public scrutiny and garner widespread public support.

No reasonable person would take a firm position on a proposal that doesn’t exist. Our City needs big ideas, we must take big steps to move us forward, and we must explore ways to solve our funding shortfall. So I’ll keep an open mind until the details of a proposal are actually released.

That being said, I will put five conditions on any proposal to restructure management of the airport with a private entity:

1. First, the proposal must consider the impact of the deal on everyday St. Louisans. Let’s be honest: the airport is used primarily by people with money. Low income people in the City simply don’t fly and therefore do not receive a benefit from the way it’s run now. We owe it to ourselves to see if working-class St. Louisans can benefit from the airport in a meaningful way.

2. Second, any proposal must improve the airport. Even if you don’t use the airport regularly, we still want a first-class facility that attracts visitors, airlines, and business to our region.

3. Third, any restructuring will need to be a good long-term deal for St. Louis -- not a short-term deal setup for failure in the long run.

4. Fourth, the proposal will need to protect the interests of workers, and leave in place the collective bargaining agreements currently in place for airport workers. A restructuring should not be a subterfuge for busting the unions, and we can’t let that happen.

5. Finally, the process must be open, involve intense public scrutiny, and ultimately be submitted to a public vote.

Lewis Reed’s position on the airport demonstrates his lack of stewardship. That he would give away one of our city’s biggest assets without real oversight and opposes a public vote on the proposal shows he’s not working for everyday St. Louisans.

Megan Green’s position shows her lack of leadership. A knee-jerk rejection of an idea --- without receiving any details or offering efforts to improve it --- isn’t bold and it’s not realistic. Alderwoman Green doesn’t seem to care whether a proposal would help working people or not; she’s just against it for her own self-indulgent philosophical reasons. But her abstract political philosophy won’t feed people, put them to work, reduce crime, or create decent housing. My political philosophy is grounded in helping working people, but Megan’s pie-in-the-sky worldview has led her to forget about how these projects impact real people.

8. What are your views on a city/county merger? What terms would a merger deal need to have to get your support? Who do you think should get to decide whether there is a city/county merger? 

Public policy must put the people — not the insiders — at the center. My focus in evaluating any merger proposal will be on making sure the people’s interests are protected.

Specifically, to earn my support, any proposal for a merger or consolidation will have to meet three conditions. First, any proposal must contribute to reducing crime and improving public safety. Second, any proposal must protect minority representation. Third, any proposal must demonstrate that it will achieve enough cost savings to pay for necessary city services like snow removal, filling potholes, improving services for the unhoused, and stabilizing funding for our city parks.

I’m not prone to knee-jerk reactions, and won’t jump on the pro or con side immediately just because I oppose any merger or because there are people who support merger with whom I disagree about other issues. We shouldn’t be in a rush to adopt one plan or another. We should take it deliberately, and start with combining departments and functions where we can. The health department, for example, would be a good place to start. It makes no sense to rush into a ballot proposition just because some rich people want us to.

Finally, the question of a city/county merger must be decided by the people who are most impacted by it: the people of the City and St. Louis County. It shouldn’t be decided by insiders or by a statewide vote.

9. How would you characterize present economic development policies in the City of St. Louis? What are we doing well and what needs to be changed? What type of reforms, if any, would like to see with the city’s policies towards tax abatement and tax increment financing (TIFs)? 

The Board of Aldermen’s approach to development is far more broken than any of us want to admit. It’s not just the establishment that is voting to give away TIFs and tax abatement - even Megan Green blindly votes yes on the majority of development bills involving use of public subsidies and came under fire in her own ward for incentivizing development against the will of her constituents.

That means we need to implement a process by which all development details are analyzed, instead of leaving it up to individuals. While we do not want to impede on business, we must also understand that every dollar we give away impedes on the average citizen’s ability to succeed, be happy, and be well.

I am currently working to redefine blight at the state level, and I will continue this work at the Board of Aldermen to ensure we are not giving away subsidies in areas where they are not needed and do not benefit the people.

At the Board of Aldermen I will lead in passing legislation to guarantee Community Benefits Agreements for any development receiving public subsidy; and I will work with citizens, city planners, developers, investors, elected officials, and community organizations to identify exactly what this legislation should look like. It won’t be based on what insider lobbyists want (like Reed would) or what insider activists want (Green) but what the people need.

10. In Spring 2017, St. Louis City voters rejected a proposal for a taxpayer-funded soccer stadium. In Fall 2018, a new soccer stadium proposal was put forward, which still includes public investment, although less than in the previous proposal. What do you think about the new soccer stadium proposal? Should there be a public vote on it? Generally, what approach should the city take when it comes to large-scale development proposals like stadiums? When should public votes be required? 

The Spring 2017 taxpayer-funded soccer stadium was a sham. In that case, it absolutely should have gone to the people for a vote. From the non binding resolution the BOA passed in the winter, no new taxes were dedicated to the stadium or any taxes from outside the stadium, meaning all public funding would be generated and paid by people attending the games, that is how it should be done. If later on something changes where new taxes and taxes generated outside the stadium are asked for, I will demand a public vote.

Both Lewis Reed and Megan Green dropped the ball in bringing forward a community benefits agreement when it mattered. The entire Board of Aldermen is guilty of failing our people in this instance. We need to pursue community benefits agreements in every case where public subsidies are provided as incentives for development. Doing otherwise is unacceptable.

11. What is your view of the city’s financial situation? What changes would you propose to how the city allocates its budget? What other ideas do you have to improve city finances? 

Our City is dealing with a financial crisis. While I have many thoughts on how the budget is allocated, I also know that we’re leaving state and federal money on the table. In addition to pursuing that funding, we need to aggressively pursue public private partnerships that benefit citizens and drive civic progress. As part of this effort, I plan to work closely with Arch to Park.

While we have to remain tough on violent crimes and all gun crimes, we must also acknowledge the Ferguson Commission’s Report and other reports that clearly show that the number one way to prevent crime is to make sure that all people have access to opportunity and quality of life. That means we need to allocate more funding for human services, education, reentry and rehabilitation. It also means we need to ensure affordable housing is accessible to everyone, even if it means making room in the budget to do so.

We also have room to improve the way the police department’s pension system is managed. It should be controlled by the City. Currently it is controlled by the State of Missouri and in effect, it is an unfunded mandate.

I will advocate for the elimination of ward capital so that the few resources we have are spend at the places that need it the most like North City and some neighborhoods in South City that currently don’t receive the bare minimum in citizen services.

Finally, and most importantly, I will set new standards for community engagement leading up to budget planning to ensure all aldermen are seeking input from their constituents and fully understand their needs. Then, I will work with the entire board to ensure that every position I take at the board of E&A is driven by collective input and not my personal agenda.

12. What impact can the President of the Board of Aldermen have on public education in the City of St. Louis? What initiatives do you have in this area? 

The President can take the lead in setting our city’s spending priorities and ensure tax dollars are going to support our schools instead of being siphoned away to other areas. I’m an advocate of bringing back local control over education by turning over control to the elected school board, and I’ll use my position to continue to push for that change.

I’m proud of the numerous initiatives I’ve fought for in education: I founded the “In it 2 Win” Coalition, which identifies students who have dropped out of school, or were pushed out, and assists in returning them to the classroom. I’m also active in the Fresh Start Program, which assists youth between the ages of 17 and 21 to return to the classroom to earn their high school diplomas, as well as the A+ Schools Program and Inspire STL.

Throughout my career, education has always been a huge priority of mine and it will continue to be as Board of Aldermen President.

13. Would you take action as President to make this city more friendly to migrants, especially undocumented migrants? If yes, what concrete policies would you put before the Board? If not, why not? 

Yes. As President, I’ll a​ppoint an Underserved Communities Committee to address the needs of underserved and marginalized communities including immigrants, refugees, racial and ethnic minorities and others. I’ll also require City Hall to improve services to those who speak languages other than English

14. Describe how you work with others. How do you plan to involve city residents in the decision-making process? Do you make it a practice to collaborate and form coalitions with existing organizations that are concerned about an issue? Please provide an example. Additionally, how will you approach committee assignments for individual Alderpersons? 

I believe that a real leader has a strategic vision, builds teams, collaborates with colleagues, even when they might not always agree, and works respectfully together to achieve results. I want to change the way the Board of Aldermen works, so that the people’s interest is considered paramount and the Board works collaboratively. And I’ll work with the aldermen and residents to figure out what that looks like.

I intend to put people at the center of all legislation by increasing public engagement and involving the community in the Board of Aldermen’s work. I’ll also include each alderman in the transition process to drive a collective vision for leadership and operations during my term.

Collaboration has been at the heart of everything I’ve done in my legislative career. In Jefferson City, I’ve been able to work across party lines to pass legislation into law in one of the most inhospitable state capitals in our country — like my work enshrining January as Sex Trafficking Awareness Month in Missouri, which relied on a bipartisan coalition of legislators and established advocate groups like MCADSV to turn this from initiative to reality. As President, I’ll work to pair committee assignments with the talents of individual Alderpersons — putting people in a position to benefit our city instead of doling assignments out as favors or political payback.

15. Who are your three largest campaign contributors? Are there any donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions? 

My three largest campaign contributors are Carpenters Helping In the Political Process, the Coalition for Disability Rights, and Missouri AG.

I have not made it a practice to reject campaign contributions from people with whom I disagree. In fact, many people have donated to my campaign that I disagree with, but campaign donations can’t change what I believe. A campaign contribution has never changed my mind about anything, and won’t.

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