St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has performed several press conferences in the past two months in which she publicly discusses city’s violent crime. This afternoon, during her seventh such appearance, she appeared to have virtually run out of talking points. It was almost as if a) she’s tired and b) the mayor was feeling pressured into being a talk show host instead of doing her job.
What could be the cause of this apparent burst of activity? As the mayor has called for an end to violence on multiple occasions, her fellow leaders in the city’s government have essentially ignored her calls for change.
Krewson won her first mayoral election in a landslide in the fall of 2017. During the campaign, she promised to continue the policies of Mayor Francis Slay, who had also won with a strong majority. And Slay has not only continued in that role in St. Louis but has actively undermined the mayor’s agenda, notably in the crime fight.
Take for example, the failure of the city’s police department to be consistently and visibly present in neighborhoods to engage with residents. Such infrastructure is not something that comes for free, even when you’re a well-heeled incumbent mayor.
Krewson said, during one of her previous press conferences, that she would like to see more St. Louis police officials engaged in the community, but didn’t know if the department could afford this. It turns out that the city is mostly “handing out” these positions, although Krewson does not even pretend to be in the least bit aware of how much this is costing the city.
This lack of concern that the cost of this rhetoric is going to hinder public safety is obviously a leadership flaw, but it goes beyond that. When I started reporting for the city of St. Louis Times-Dispatch in 1994, we all were told by Slay that public safety was his top priority. Lately, however, Slay has made all kinds of false promises to the public about the steps he is taking to stop the violence in the city.
Slay, who has not made any major counter announcements as Krewson has, continues to pontificate on Facebook about doing the right thing. It makes one wonder whether he’s a part of the problem or the solution.
Krewson has been brutal in her criticism of Slay. Perhaps it’s because he’s put her in charge of trying to effectively tackle the violent crime problem. But whatever the motivation, it’s clear that the mayor has been caught by surprise by the city’s crime problem. In St. Louis, where we have millions of dollars worth of resources at our disposal, the fact that residents are dying in unprecedented numbers should have been a wake-up call. Instead, it seems as if everything the mayor and city leaders have offered has been either a throw-away line at a press conference or a desperate attempt to appease worried constituents.
Can anything be done to ensure St. Louis doesn’t become a place where violence is ever-present? The city will never turn a corner unless someone steps up and says enough is enough.
• Steven Baldwin, an investigative reporter for the St. Louis Times-Dispatch, is the author of novellas House of Spies and Remains. He was a St. Louis Times-Dispatch reporter from 1994 to 2002 and is author of the book Chicago and Murder. He lives in suburban St. Louis.