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Lewis Reed resigns as St. Louis Board of Aldermen president, days after bribery indictment

St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis exits the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis speaks to reporters after leaving the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse on Thursday in downtown St. Louis.

Facing calls for his resignation from some of his colleagues after being indicted on federal corruption charges, St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed resigned Tuesday.

The move marks an end to his more than 20 years in public office that included tenure as an alderman and the leader of its board.

Reed was indicted last week on federal bribery charges, along with then-Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad. Among other things, Reed is accused of taking bribes in exchange for pushing through tax abatements.

He initially said he would not step down but ultimately turned over some duties last week, including presiding over Board of Aldermen meetings, to 10th Ward Alderman Joe Vollmer. On Tuesday, Reed released a statement saying he’s “heartbroken and saddened to have to make the difficult decision to step down and end my time as President of the Board of Aldermen.”

“The President of the Board of Aldermen is a unique position with both legislative and executive duties,” Reed wrote. “With this being such a pivotal time for our City, I wanted to ensure to have the necessary discussions over the past few days to add whatever insight and experience I could to make the transition of my office as smooth as possible. It is essential to assure the citizens have access and the best service available in such a pivotal role. I cannot fulfill these duties as I take the time to focus on my family and my current legal challenges.”

“This was a very difficult decision, but this is what I need to do for my family and to ensure a fully functional city government that our citizens deserve,” he added.

The resignation takes effect immediately. Vollmer, the senior member of the board, will step into the role of Board of Aldermen president until a November special election.

End of an era

Until Tuesday, Reed was the longest-serving member of the board. He was first elected to represent the 6th Ward in 1999 and later successfully challenged then-Aldermanic President Jim Shrewsbury in 2007.

Reed proved particularly adept at building consensus around redistricting ward maps — nearly unanimously passing redistricting plans in 2011 and 2021. He also was a key supporter of the Cure Violence program, aimed at de-escalating violent crime before it begins.

Lewis Reed, St. Louis Board of Alderman president, poses for a portrait at his desk
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Until Tuesday, Reed was the longest-serving member on the Board of Aldermen. He stood for a portrait in board chambers on April 18, the final day of session at City Hall.

He also supported initiatives that were not adopted. In 2015, he backed a plan to build a professional football stadium on the city’s riverfront — a move that brought fierce opposition from some left-of-center members of the Board of Aldermen. He was amenable to finding a private operator to run St. Louis Lambert International Airport, a proposal that died after it encountered a wave of criticism.

Reed sought the mayor’s office three times, coming up short in 2013, 2017 and 2021. He had more success running for reelection to his citywide board president post, winning additional terms in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

Mayor Tishaura Jones, who ran against Reed in 2017 and 2021, said in a statement, “By resigning in the face of disturbing federal corruption charges, Lewis Reed did the right thing for our city.”

“The shocking indictment represents a betrayal of everyday St. Louisans who Reed claimed to serve for his two decades at the Board,” Jones said. “It’s no secret Lewis Reed and I have been at odds for years, but I remain disappointed it came to this. The troubling charges brought by the U.S. Attorney pull back the curtain to highlight how those elected may exploit our city for their own benefit and profit; this has been an incredibly dispiriting, but necessary, moment of reflection for our city.”

St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said in a statement: “We are grateful that Mr. Reed has decided to do the right thing; and with his resignation, the city can now move forward."

On Twitter, Alderman Bill Stephens of the 12th Ward said he “feared a mad grab for power” on the board and urged his colleagues to keep the city’s interests at heart.

Alderman Brandon Bosley of the 3rd Ward initially reacted with an expletive after a reporter informed him of Reed’s decision to step down.

“I’m shocked,” he said. “I never thought a day like this would come.”

Bosley said that he knew Reed’s decision was best for the city, but that the loss of institutional knowledge would be difficult to overcome as the city navigates allocating the remaining $250 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds, as well as its share of the $790 million payout from a settlement over the departure of the St. Louis Rams.

“We have a lot of great things coming to the city right now, and a lot of people that had the experience that's needed to help navigate these new horizons that we’re working on, a lot of that knowledge isn’t going to be there,” Bosley said.

In addition to Reed, the corruption scandal also led to the resignation of former 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who was elected at the same time as Vollmer.

While some opponents of Reed reacted with joy on social media, the response from former colleagues with whom he had clashed was more muted.

“In some respects, I am grateful to see the decision made today, but I wouldn’t classify this as joyous,” said Shane Cohn, the alderman of the 25th Ward. “It’s been an embarrassment.”

But Cohn added he was excited about the chance for divisions on the board to heal.

“There’s factions and practices that have been undertaken the last several years that aren’t necessarily beneficial to the city,” he said. “I think this provides a fresh perspective.”

Vollmer's ascent

In an interview Tuesday, Vollmer said he was prepared to assume the role as acting Board of Aldermen president. But he stressed that he’s not planning on running in the special election and will run for another term as alderman in 2023.

“It’s not a job I would ever seek,” Vollmer said. “I am taking this responsibility until Nov. 8. There will be a special election.”

Vollmer conceded the past few days have been a whirlwind. He was actually not next in line to become Board of Aldermen president — Jeffrey Boyd held that distinction. But the responsibility fell to him once Boyd stepped down last week.

Joseph Vollmer (10th Ward) speaks
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Tenth Ward Alderman Joe Vollmer speaks to the Board of Alderman on April 18, the final day of the spring 2022 session.

“I’m still stunned by the fact that these are two men I’ve worked with for almost 20 years,” Vollmer said. “I can’t believe they’re involved in this situation. It’s something I could never, ever imagine. That in itself has been the most stunning part of it. Taking on a job such as this for a short period, I was raised to accept responsibilities as they come. I’ll adapt to it.”

He said his main purpose as acting president is to “restore integrity in the minds of people about the Board of Aldermen.” In addition to being responsible for assigning bills to committees and placing aldermen on committees, Vollmer will sit on the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which makes major financial decisions for the city.

“It’s been devastating to me to see this occur,” Vollmer said. “And to be someone in the general public, I can’t imagine their thoughts.”

Before Reed made his announcement, Alderwomen Annie Rice and Christine Ingrassia, who are part of a different political faction from Vollmer's, expressed confidence Monday that he could do the job as Board of Aldermen president effectively if Reed steps aside.

“He’s a smart guy,” Ingrassia said. “I have no doubt he’ll be able to pick up on what’s supposed to happen quickly. And I think he’s also fair and reasonable, for the most part — and would do a good job temporarily holding that role.”

Added Rice: “Our politics may differ in perspective at times, if not often. But I do think there’s a general respect for him as being able to not tolerate nonsense that can happen with an elected body.”

“I think it may be a good, steady hand if he’s willing to continue serving in that role,” Rice said.

The election in November would be to fill out the rest of Reed’s term — until April 2023. Alderman Joe Vaccaro noted that timeline could affect who runs for that post later this year.

“What’s funny is who in their right mind would run for president of the Board of Aldermen in November, knowing that the term is over in April?” Vaccaro said. “You’d be president of the Board of Alderman for a few months — and most of that time we don’t even meet.”

Push for change

The indictments of Reed, Boyd and Collins-Muhammad sparked discussions about whether there should be wholesale change to how the Board of Aldermen functions.

Before the indictments, Rice filed legislation to set up a charter commission to possibly overhaul how St. Louis’ government operates. That could include the role of certain officials and specific ethics requirements for aldermen.

“It could deal with how we allocate money or how decisions are made,” Rice said. “We have a lot of aldermanic courtesy built into the process of this job. And I think we’re definitely ripe to take a look at that and say, ‘Where do we actually need an alderman’s approval and where does that present an opportunity for corruption?’”

Ingrassia said the indictments should prompt conversations about what exactly aldermen are responsible for in their jobs.

“We even have to approve things as mundane as block parties,” Ingrassia said. “So I think taking the power out of the hands of the aldermen and putting it into more publicly transparent and publicly involved processes is key to engendering trust moving forward.”

One idea that Vaccaro suggested is taking those types of bills out of what’s known as the “perfection consent” calendar, under which aldermen vote on a number of bills at the same time without much debate.

“They’re not debated one-by-one,” Vaccaro said. “It would certainly call attention to every one you’re voting for.”

One of the other possible areas of discussion could be how much an alderman is paid. Currently, aldermen receive $37,000 a year in base pay, while the president of the Board of Aldermen makes around $80,000 a year.

“I don’t know if you can completely tie it to income,” Rice said. “I think that would be a bit narrow-minded, I guess. People who make less money are not more inclined to criminal behavior. … It’s more, I think, a power and corruption and arrogance feeling that they’re not going to get caught.

“I think that we should pay folks more,” she added. “I think we have to be cognizant of what city employees are making as we’re asking folks to step into these roles. These jobs have pretty much always been full-time jobs, but lots of people are doing other jobs alongside them.”

For his part, Vollmer said one of his major goals during his temporary tenure as Board of Aldermen president is to dispel the perception that city government is corrupt. He acknowledged that it will take more than just himself to achieve that objective.

“It’s a much bigger job than just mine,” Vollmer said. “It’s the job of all members of our board. And pretty much any elected official in the City of St. Louis is going to be looked at as suspect because of the actions going on here. All you can do is be yourself and do things the proper way — which is what I tried to do in my 19-plus years in office.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum 

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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