In his bid to become the city’s longest-serving mayor, the incumbent Slay defeated Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and former Alderman Jimmie Matthews Tuesday. With no Republicans vying for the seat, Tuesday’s vote virtually grants Slay a fourth term as mayor after next month’s general election.
The unofficial tally released by the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners Tuesday night showed Slay with 23,968 votes (54.43%), Reed with 19,494 (44.27%) and Matthews with 575 (1.31%). According to the unofficial figures, 21.9% of registered voters cast a mayoral ballot and 13.8% of city residents, registered or unregistered, did.
The race began in earnest on November 26 of last year when the three candidates filed for the primary. On that Monday morning, it was already apparent that two issues – race and crime – would dominate much of the campaign. Speaking with reporters that day, Slay, who is white, said he was “concerned” that Reed, who is African-American, would “try and use the ‘race card’ in the campaign.” Reed fired back, saying Slay had “already been stoking those coals and I think that’s a mistake and the wrong way to go.”
The racial divide took an ugly turn in February when flyers began circulating in the city depicting the mayor as a slave owner and his black supporters as boot-licking “Slayves.” Both campaigns denounced the flyer; Reed’s campaign manager Glenn Burleigh said it was in “extremely poor taste” while the Slay campaign issued a statement claiming it was “an appalling contradiction to the Reed campaign’s theme of ‘One St. Louis’ when they and their supporters demean, in the worst possible way, African Americans who support Mayor Slay.”
In early February, Reed and his supporters twice accused the mayor of unscrupulous behavior. On February 1, KMOX reported Reed was fearful that $160,000 raised for a ballot initiative was finding its way into the mayoral race. “They could be paying people cash transactions. They could be doing nearly anything,” Reed said. The mayor’s campaign manager and campaign attorney both denied the accusations.
Days later came the election’s biggest bombshell. North St. Louis Alderman Sam Moore, a supporter of Reed in the race, told KMOX it all began when he received a phone call. “It happened about three, four months ago. An individual called me on the phone, a public servant, and they offered me $10,000 not to say anything, not to be a part of the race, just do nothing,” he said. “Do not help Lewis Reed by any means, just stay out of the race.” Moore refused to identify the alleged briber by name and Slay’s campaign manager, Richard Callow, called the story “poppycock.”
Among the mayor’s endorsers were two of the city’s most high-profile black politicians: U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Missouri Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, the latter of whom was outspoken in her defense of Slay on social media, saying on Facebook Monday, “If you don’t like Slay because he is white – vote for Jimmy Matthews because Reed is no different than Slay!”
Among Reed’s supporters was Ward 21 Alderman Antonio French. The city’s labor community, meanwhile, was split; the Labor Council endorsed Slay but firefighters and the Carpenters Union sided with Reed.
Tuesday’s result came as little surprise to University of Missouri – St. Louis political science professor Dave Robertson who said last month that Lewis Reed faced an uphill battle in his mayoral bid. “The odds are in the mayor’s favor,” Robertson noted. “The mayor has gotten enough support, I believe, to be able to build a winning coalition in this primary election and I don’t think his opponents have built up widespread enough support.”
Still, Robertson argued, Reed’s approach was a good one. “He’s got to put the incumbent on the defensive and you can see Lewis Reed is trying to do that, raising issues of crime, raising issues of various rankings of the city, talking about Slay’s various financial dealings.”
Both Slay and Reed appeared in-person on KMOX’s Mark Reardon Show Monday to make their final pitch to voters and look back on the campaign. “It’s been really hard and difficult to keep this thing focused on the issues,” Reed lamented, adding that the “race card” was played by the mayor from the beginning, returning to the morning of November 26 when the candidates filed for the election.
“Right out of the box it started, but it started with that volley from him. You have to understand the subtleties of politics to understand exactly what he had just done. What he had done was just make it about race because he forced the press to come ask me about race,” Reed said. “His campaign staffer this weekend said African-American women should never vote for Lewis Reed because he has a white wife. That comes from his paid staffer. They continue to play this race politics and it’s ridiculous.”
Slay, by contrast, spent much of his time Monday discussing future endeavors. “We need to break the back of crime. We need to continue to create more quality free public education options for parents and children. We need to do more to improve our airport, we got plans we’re working on to make that happen.”
With his win Tuesday, Slay becomes the city’s longest serving mayor though not the first four-term mayor of St. Louis. William Carr Lane, the first mayor of St. Louis, was elected to eight one-year terms from 1823 to 1829 and again from 1837 to 1840.