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Politically Speaking: Alderman Villa on the suddenly scrambled St. Louis mayor's race

Tom Villa
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Tom Villa

On the latest edition of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann break down St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s stunning decision not to run for a fifth term with St. Louis Alderman Tom Villa.

After he told Rosenbaum in late March that he would run for another term, Slay shocked the political world last week by effectively changing his mind. The decision sets up an unpredictable race to replace Slay, which may involve citywide officials, state lawmakers, aldermen and business leaders.

Villa knows a thing or two about unpredictable mayor’s races. He was a Democratic candidate for mayor in 1993, the last time that particular race didn’t feature an incumbent. He narrowly lost to then-circuit clerk Freeman Bosley Jr.

Before embarking on that campaign, Villa wore a number of political hats: He served as the House majority leader during his first stint in the Missouri House. He nearly won a statewide election for state treasurer. He won two elections as president of the Board of Aldermen. He was elected back to the Missouri House in 2000 and served for eight years in the General Assembly’s lower chamber. And a couple of years after he termed out of office, Villa was elected to serve the south St. Louis-based 11th Ward.

Since joining the Board of Aldermen in 2011, Villa has voted against many of Slay’s big priorities – including an ambitious plan to revamp portions of north St. Louis and an effort to build a riverfront stadium. Villa developed a penchant for delivering zany one-liners – and wowed the political world with his bright sport coats.

Villa will be up for re-election next year. He says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll seek another four years in the Board of Aldermen.

Villa is renowned for rocking awesome sport coats everywhere he goes.
Credit File photos by Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann
Villa is renowned for rocking awesome sport coats everywhere he goes.

Here’s what Villa had to say during the show:

  • Villa said he was surprised that Slay decided not run for another term. He said Slay's ability to raise lots and lots of money likely would have provided some pause to potential challengers. "It's a personal thing," he said. "I think there comes a point when maybe he just got tired of it all. And I'm not close of enough friend of the mayor's. I don't have any inside information to why he made that decision. He certainly seems more at peace."
  • While there are many possible candidates for mayor, Villa said that Slay's successor should not be afraid to shake up St. Louis' city government. "In my opinion, we certainly don't need a caretaker," he said. "We need someone who is going to go in with a box of hand grenades and start to blow up some institutional thinking."
  • Villa expects next year's race to replace Slay will get testy. "Most of the time, elections are contentious," he said. "Just look what's going on at the national level as we speak. It's an integral part of the recipe for winning elections."
  • Villa said it's tough for St. Louis state lawmakers to make much headway in a legislature that's dominated by conservative Republicans. "It's difficult to get your fair share for the city of St. Louis out of Jefferson City," Villa said. "What we stood for up there was football stadiums and bad schools and crime rate. And we're more than that."
  • And when asked why he's managed to outshine in his colleagues in the fashion arena, Villa replied: "Lack of competition would be subtle answer." 

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Music: “Ain’t Gonna Hobo No More” by Johnny Cash  

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.