Morning Digest: St. Louis, Missouri elects its first Black woman mayor

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Slay ended up retiring in 2017 after four terms, and Jones was one of the many candidates who ran that year to succeed him. St. Louis still held partisan primaries at the time, though, where it only required a plurality of the vote to win the all-important Democratic nomination in this very blue city. Then-Alderman Lyda Krewson, who is white, beat Jones 32-30, while a number of other Black candidates took much of the remaining vote.

Campaign Action

In 2020, though, St. Louis voters backed a ballot measure that transformed the city’s electoral system and made it only the second municipality in America to adopt an “approval voting” system for its local elections. All the contenders would face off on one nonpartisan ballot, and voters could cast as many votes as there are candidates, with up to one vote per candidate: The top two vote-getters would then advance to a general election, where voters could select one contender.

Jones quickly announced her second campaign for mayor, but we never got to find out if a second matchup with Krewson would have gone differently because the incumbent soon decided to retire. Ultimately, Jones led March’s open approval voting primary with the support of 57% of voters, while Spencer was in second with 46%.

Both general election candidates campaigned as progressives. As The Appeal’s Meg O’Connor wrote last month, “No matter who wins in April, the next mayor of St. Louis will be a single mother who supports reimagining public safety, changing the way the city uses tax incentives to spur development, and providing rent relief to St. Louisans who are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.” Both contenders, though, spent much of the campaign insisting that the other had not demonstrated enough transparency in office.

Jones also argued that her experience as a Black woman gave her an important perspective that Spencer, who is white, didn’t have. “A white person doesn’t have to tell their white children how to act when they’re stopped by the police. That’s a conversation I have to have with my son every time he leaves my house,” Jones said at a debate. “A white person doesn’t have to worry about their child getting hit by a stray bullet when he’s outside playing. That’s something that I worry about with my son. And it’s almost happened to him several times in our neighborhood.”

Jones ended up performing very well in the heavily Black wards in the northern part of the city (each elects one alderman), which St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum says makes her the first mayoral candidate to win with “significant north STL support since 1993.” However, she also won a number of other constituencies that Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann describe in their story as “high-voting white or integrated wards.”

Altogether, Jones carried 18 of the 28 wards; she even scored a 54-45 victory in Spencer’s 20th Ward. Spencer did keep the race close by scoring big wins in areas with relatively high turnout, but it wasn’t quite enough.

Jones’ win on Tuesday wasn’t the only notable election news out of St. Louis, though. Three candidates for the Board of Aldermen backed by a progressive group called Flip The Board scored wins, a result that St. Louis Public Radio says gives “progressive-minded aldermen a working if fragile majority at City Hall.”

1Q Fundraising

AZ-Sen: Mark Kelly (D-inc): $4.4 million raised, $4.4 million cash-on-hand

OH-Sen: Steve Stivers (R): $1.4 million raised, $2.4 million cash-on-hand (has not announced campaign)

GA-14: Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-inc): $3.2 million raised

Senate

AL-Sen: After spurning him during his 2017 Senate bid, this time Donald Trump has given his Complete and Total Endorsement to Rep. Mo Brooks, one of the ringleaders who egged on the crowd at the Jan. 6 rally that turned into an invasion of the U.S. Capitol.  (“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks roared.) So far, Brooks’ only notable opponent in the GOP primary for this open seat is self-funding businesswoman Lynda Blanchard (who herself coveted Trump’s support), though a number of other Republicans are eyeing the race.

AZ-Sen: The Arizona Republic reports that Jim Lamon, the chairman of the solar energy company Depcom Power, is considering seeking the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, though Lamon has not yet said anything publicly. Lamon does not appear to have run for office before, though local NBC reporter Brahm Resnik says that he founded a conservative voter registration group in the state and has spoken to a number of Arizona Republican organizations.

OH-Sen: Republican Rep. Steve Stivers hauled in a hefty $1.4 million during the first three months of 2021, but it doesn’t sound like he plans to decide for several more months whether he’ll enter the open Senate race. “It’s a huge statement that someone who’s not in the race can outraise announced candidates,” the former NRCC chair told The Plain Dealer before adding, “I’ve got a long way to go to show this makes sense. I need to string together a couple solid quarters, but this is very encouraging to me, and I’m excited about it.”

PA-Sen, PA-17: Army veteran Sean Parnell looks very likely to join the GOP primary for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, a race he’s reportedly been considering for a while. The chair of the Republican Party in populous Allegheny County (home of Pittsburgh) says that Parnell told him this week that “he was 99% sure this is what he was going to do,” and a Parnell spokesperson said their boss is “currently speaking with people throughout the state on how he can best stand up for the people of Pennsylvania.”

If he does join the Senate fray, that would take Parnell out of the running for a rematch with Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb in the 17th District, another option he was reported to be looking at. Last year, Lamb beat Parnell 51-49.

Governors

CA-Gov: Axios reports that former reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner is considering running as a Republican in this year’s likely recall election against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom. Jenner, who is a prominent transgender advocate, talked about campaigning for the Senate in July of 2017, but she didn’t end up entering that contest.

NY-Gov: Do we have to cover this? Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew, a former Trump White House staffer, says he’s considering a run for governor of New York. Thus concludes our coverage.

House

FL-01: The New York Times reports that Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking, sought “blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed” from the White House shortly before Donald Trump left office. Trump put out a statement in response claiming that Gaetz “never asked me for a pardon,” which likely means of course he did (or rather, as the Times says, Gaetz asked White House staff, rather than Trump directly).

FL-20: A special election will take place later this year to succeed Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died Tuesday at the age of 84, and the field has already begun to develop. This majority Black seat, which is located in the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale areas, supported Joe Biden 77-22 last year, and there’s no question that the winner of the Democratic primary will prevail in the general election.

Hours after Hastings’ death became public on Tuesday, state Sen. Perry Thurston confirmed that he would run to succeed the late congressman, whom he identified as “a mentor, a friend and a fraternity brother.” Thurston is a longtime politician in the Fort Lauderdale area who was elected to the state House in 2006. Thurston ran for attorney general in 2014 and badly lost the primary, but he won a seat in the state Senate two years later.

Thurston’s Democratic colleagues chose him in early 2020 to lead the caucus for 2022-2024 (in Florida, these kinds of decisions are always made several years in advance), but he had to get through a tough primary that year. A newly formed group linked to a prominent Republican consultant sent out mailers accusing Thurston of being a secret Republican. Ultimately, Thurston won his four-way primary 57-24.

No other notable Democrats have entered the race yet, but two fellow state senators have acknowledged that they’re considering. Bobby Powell told Politico Tuesday shortly after Hastings’ death, “I am concerned for his family, and I have not made any decision about a Congress run yet.” Shevrin Jones, whose 2020 win made him Florida’s first LGBTQ state senator, said to the Miami Herald, “I believe over the next few weeks there will be a diverse pool of people who will be in that race … No decisions have been made on my end, but it’s going to be interesting.”

Another name to watch is Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, who set up a campaign committee with the FEC back in December but does not appear to have ever publicly expressed interest in this race. Sharief has twice served as county mayor, a largely ceremonial role that rotates among members of the County Commission, which made her both the first Black woman and Muslim to hold the post.

Sharief, who faces term limits in 2022 for her current job, is a longtime intra-party rival of Hastings. In 2014, Hastings backed a primary challenge to Sharief, who responded, “Obviously my working relationship with Alcee is not what I thought it was.” Sharief in turn supported Hastings’ primary opponent, but both incumbents ultimately won easily that year.

Politico additionally mentions Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dale Holness and state Rep. Omari Hardy as possibilities. The Miami Herald in turn name-drops former state Sen. Chris Smith and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, who waged a quixotic 2020 presidential bid.

P.S. Florida has a resign-to-run law in place that could impact the deliberations of potential candidates. The state requires any state-level elected officials who are seeking federal office to submit an irrevocable resignation at least 10 business days before they file to run if the two positions’ terms overlap.

LA-02: State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson earned an endorsement on Wednesday from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, a longtime ally, ahead of the April 24 all-Democratic primary. New Orleans, which is coterminous with Orleans Parish, makes up about 40% of the 2nd District and was responsible for 50% of all ballots cast in the first round of voting on March 20.

NJ-11: The New Jersey Globe writes that 2020 Republican nominee Rosemary Becchi has “quietly discussed” with local Republican officials the idea of her seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill. Sherrill won 53-47 last year as Joe Biden was carrying her North Jersey seat by a similar 53-46 margin.

NM-01: Republican state Sen. Mark Moores has released his first TV ad for the June 1 special election, and it’s really confusing. The only topic it covers is the fact that he used to play football for the University of New Mexico some 30 years ago, but it also features a bunch of unidentified white guys—all wearing red polo shirts—talking directly to the camera (former teammates?) without making it particularly clear which one even is Mark Moores until the very end of the spot (aside from a quick chyron when the actual Moores first speaks). The ad also doesn’t mention Moores’ party affiliation, which makes sense given that New Mexico’s solidly blue 1st District voted for Joe Biden 60-37 last year.

NY-18: Sophomore Assemblyman Colin Schmitt kicked off a campaign against Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney on Tuesday, making him the first notable Republican to challenge the current chair of the DCCC. New York’s 18th District, located in the lower Hudson Valley, shifted to the left last year, according to Daily Kos Elections’ calculations: After backing Donald Trump 49-47 in 2016, it voted for Joe Biden 52-47 in November.

Legislative

Special Elections: Here’s a recap of Tuesday’s five special elections:

CA-AD-79: As of Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Akilah Weber was leading this five-candidate field with 52% of the vote. While there are still some mail ballots that remain to be counted, this would be enough for her to win the seat outright and avoid a June 8 runoff. Her closest competitor, Republican Marco Contreras, was in second place with 33%. Three other Democrats combined to take the other 15%.

Should Weber be victorious, she would replace her mother, Shirely Weber, who left this seat to become California’s secretary of state.

MO-HD-54: Democrat David Smith defeated Libertarian Glenn Nielsen 75-25 to hold this seat for his party. Smith’s win makes him the first Black legislator elected from outside of Kansas City or St. Louis. Republicans control this chamber 114-49 with no other vacancies.

OK-SD-22: Republican Jake Merrick defeated Democrat Molly Ooten 65-35 to hold this seat for his party. This chamber is now at full strength with Republicans in control 39-9.  

WI-SD-13: Republican John Jagler defeated Melissa Winker 51-44 to hold this seat for his party. Minor party candidates Ben Schmitz and Spencer Zimmerman took the remaining 5%. Winker turned in a strong performance for a Democrat in a district that Donald Trump won 58-37 in 2016 and Mitt Romney won 56-43 in 2012.

Republicans control this chamber 21-12 with no other vacancies.

WI-AD-89: Republican Elijah Behnke defeated Democrat Karl Jaeger 63-37 to hold this seat for his party. Republicans now hold this chamber with a 61-38 majority and no other vacancies.

Mayors

Atlanta, GA Mayor: There has been speculation for months that former Mayor Kasim Reed could challenge his successor, incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Reed did not rule out another campaign for elected office this week in his appearance on the podcast “Pro Politics with Zac McCrary.” At the 50:09 mark McCrary asked, “Is it safe to say you’ll be on the ballot at some point in the future?” to which Reed responded, “Yeah, I don’t have any idea about that … I haven’t gotten there yet. But I tell you what, I still love politics, and I love Atlanta.”

Meanwhile, City Councilman Antonio Brown told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was thinking about launching his own campaign against Bottoms this week. Brown is a prominent progressive voice on the body, but he’s been under federal indictment since July on fraud charges. The paper adds that there are rumors that Reed “is urging Brown to run, or is considering another run of his own.”

Anchorage, AK Mayor: With only about 11,000 ballots counted, Democratic City Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar leads Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary with 35% of the vote, while conservative Air Force veteran Dave Bronson holds a 30-12 lead over former City Manager Bill Falsey for the second spot in a likely May 11 general election.

This tally only represents a small portion of the overall vote count, as the Anchorage Daily News‘ Emily Goodykoontz writes that there are at least 48,700 mail-in ballots that have been received so far and there’s still time for more to arrive. Candidates need to win at least 45% of the vote to win outright.

Fort Worth, TX Mayor: Tarrant County Democratic Party chair Deb Peoples earned an endorsement this week from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a longtime political figure in neighboring Dallas, ahead of the May 1 nonpartisan primary.

Omaha, NE Mayor: With about 72,000 votes counted from Tuesday’s nonpartisan top-two primary, Republican Mayor Jean Stothert is so far in first with 59% of the vote. The city requires a second round of voting even if one candidate takes a majority of the vote, though, and developer RJ Neary leads his fellow Democrat, public health official Jasmine Harris, 15-13 for the second spot in the May 11 general election. There are about 12,000 absentee votes that still need to be tabulated, and the city says it will not release updated results until Friday.

Other Races

Wisconsin Schools Superintendent: Progressive candidate Jill Underly, the schools chief for the rural Pecatonica School District, defeated Deborah Kerr 58-42 to become Wisconsin’s top education official. Kerr, the former head of the Brown Deer School District in the suburbs of Milwaukee, was backed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and charter school supporters, while Underly had the backing of almost the entire state Democratic Party.

Turnout was high for this off-year election: 912,678 were cast in this race, compared to the 708,289 votes tallied in 2017. This officially nonpartisan race turned into an expensive contest, with over $1 million in spending flowing in, the overwhelming majority of which was for Underly. Her dominant victory extends the streak of double-digit wins for the progressive-aligned candidate for this post that goes back to 2001.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling, a Republican who was swept into his only term in office during the 2010 tea party wave, died Tuesday at the age of 57 of cancer. Schilling lost re-election two years later to Democrat Cheri Bustos and failed to unseat her in their 2014 rematch. Schilling later moved across the Mississippi River and campaigned for Iowa’s 2nd District last year, but he lost the primary to eventual winner Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Schilling owned and operated a pizza restaurant in the Quad Cities area of western in Illinois when, without much fanfare, he launched his campaign against sophomore Democratic Rep. Phil Hare during the 2010 cycle. Schilling initially raised very little money for his campaign for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, but he gained traction as the cycle got worse and worse for Democrats in Illinois and across the nation. Republicans had not seriously contested this seat in years, but Schilling ended up unseating Hare by a wide 53-43 margin.

However, Schilling’s luck quickly ran out. Illinois was one of the few states where Democrats had complete control of the redistricting process, and they made the new 17th District considerably more Democratic. Schilling was a top Democratic target, and he lost to Bustos 53-47 as Barack Obama was carrying the seat 58-41. During that campaign, Schilling made news when he suggested that many Hispanics were having a hard time learning English “primarily because they don’t even know Spanish.”

Schilling sought a rematch with Bustos the following cycle, but while 2014 was another ugly year for Democrats, Bustos beat him by a stronger 55-45 spread. The following year, Schilling considered running in the special election for the neighboring 18th District after scandal-tarred GOP Rep. Aaron Schock resigned, but he ended up backing Darin LaHood’s successful bid instead. Later in 2015, Schilling openly mused about challenging Sen. Mark Kirk in the GOP primary, but he didn’t go for it.

Rather than run again in Illinois, though, Schilling moved across the river to Iowa in 2017. He later launched a 2020 campaign for the 2nd Congressional District, which bordered his old constituency, after Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack retired.

State and national Republican leaders consolidated behind Miller-Meeks, however, and she decisively outraised him. Despite her advantages, though, Miller-Meeks still felt the need to go up with a negative ad against Schilling late in the campaign; shortly afterwards, Schilling announced he’d just been diagnosed with cancer and would immediately undergo surgery. Miller-Meeks ended up winning 48-36 ahead of her extremely tight victory that fall.

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