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Lambert Airport Privatization Takes Center Stage At Board Of Aldermen President Forum

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, left, Alderwoman Megan Green and St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed take part in a St. Louis Press Club forum on Feb. 22, 2019.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, left, Alderwoman Megan Green and St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed take part in a St. Louis Press Club forum on Feb. 22, 2019.

A bid to have a private company run St. Louis Lambert International Airport was a point of contention among candidates for aldermanic president during a forum Friday.

The winner of the March 5 Democratic primary may decide whether that process goes forward — or whether it sputters out at the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

Currently, St. Louis is studying whether to have a private company operate Lambert. Proponents of the idea say it could mean a large cash payment that might be infused into the city’s economically distressed areas. Among other things, critics are leery of having a profit-making entity run a public asset. Any private lease agreement for the airport would need approval from city government, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines operating out of Lambert.

During the St. Louis Press Club forum, Alderwoman Megan Green said she would vote against an airport privatization plan on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. That would likely kill any proposal at the three-person board, since Comptroller Darlene Green is a critic of the process.

“What privatization does, is it takes a public asset, and rather than having the reason for it being operating in the public interest, it then transfers the reason for it to exist to creating corporate profits,” said Green, D-15th Ward. “So when you change that motive, you change accountability. You take an asset that is no longer accountable to the public and is now accountable to shareholders who want to make money.”

Neither state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, nor incumbent Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed were willing to make a similar pledge. Reed said, "I don't think you automatically say no to something that hasn't been seen and hasn't been quantified." 

“That is as irresponsible as you can be,” Reed said. “In this role as president of the Board of Aldermen, you have to make very difficult decisions. And when we look at this airport thing, we have no idea what it’s going to be. Once it comes back to us, then we will know what it is. And we will have something to put out to the voters for a vote.”

Nasheed said: “I don’t think we say no for the sake of saying no.”

“I’ve been serving on the state level for 12 years now under the control of the Republican House, Senate and governor’s mansion,” Nasheed said. “And I can tell you, they have brought forth some bad legislation. But what we have to do is sit down at the table, look at the legislation and see how we can find a common cause and compromise.”

“If it was me at the Board of E&A, if you want to lease my airport for 40 years, well you give me $3 billion or $4 billion if it’s going to make you that much money,” she added during the forum.

Agreement on city-county merger opposition

One issue that all three candidates agreed on was their opposition to Better Together’s proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. That proposal would eliminate the Board of Aldermen — and, in turn, the office Reed, Nasheed and Green are seeking.

All three candidates don’t like how statewide voters, as opposed to only residents of the city and the county, would vote on the proposal.

Reed, Nasheed and Green explain parts of the Better Together proposal they like — and are asked whether they support the proposal without any changes.

“It could essentially fail here in our region, and we would still have to do it,” Reed said. “And I think that’s problematic.”

Better Together’s proposal would consolidate police departments in St. Louis and St. Louis County. While Green said that part of the plan has the potential to be beneficial, she added “simply consolidating our police departments and consolidating standards does not necessarily address all of the issues we have with policing in our region.”

“If we have police officers now that live in Ballwin and are policing North City, there could potentially be a very big disconnect between police and community,” Green said. “Those issues will have to get worked out in terms of assignment based upon where officers live to where they’re patrolling.”

Nasheed said “we shouldn’t allow for the city and the county to be dictated by outstate in terms of if we’re going to consolidate or not.” She also didn’t like that St. Louis County Executive will become the first metro mayor of the united jurisdiction if statewide voters approve Better Together’s plan.

“I don’t think we should be allowed to have a person to be our mayor in the city of St. Louis that we never voted for,” Nasheed said.

The March 5 primary also features former Alderman Jimmie Matthews. The winner will face Green Party nominee Jerome Bauer. No Republican filed for the office.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.