A historic day at St. Louis City Hall marking the official transition to a 14-member Board of Aldermen was overshadowed Tuesday by comments that quickly turned personal and nasty.
Four new aldermen, including the first Latina to serve, Daniela Velázquez, took their oaths of office alongside 10 returning lawmakers with promises of cooperation to serve the residents of the city.
“I plan to serve the way I ran my campaign,” said 10th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, the new majority floor leader, “through a position of peace, through a position of inclusion, through a position of transparency and collective cooperative work with the people who supported me.”
Board President Megan Green said in her inaugural remarks: "The disparities in our community have been centuries in the making, and change won’t happen overnight. We need to work together with common purpose, a shared conviction and an unyielding urgency.”
But she also alluded to potential conflicts.
“Our city is counting on you to model productive disagreement and compromise,” Green said.
Those disagreements among members exploded even before aldermen began conducting the official business of the city.
Green gave all 14 aldermen a chance to say a few words during a portion of the agenda reserved for lawmakers to introduce special guests. She and Mayor Tishaura Jones had both backed a challenger to 12th Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus. Tyus took that challenge personally and made her views known.
“I’m not scared of the first Black female mayor or the first white [female] president of the Board of Aldermen,” she said. “If you do not respect north St. Louis, if you come for me, I’m coming for you.”
She called Green a “tyrant” and a “dictator.” When Green interrupted, Tyus exploded.
“You are being a white Becky. Sit down,” she yelled. Green at one point threatened to have Tyus removed unless she could be civil.
Tyus was also sharply critical of new rules that emphasized internal democracy over seniority for board leadership positions. Previously, the roles of vice president, floor leader and assistant floor leader, and the selection of committee chairs, were based on seniority. Tyus is third on the list.
But under the new rules, those three positions are elected by their colleagues; they then work with the board president to choose committee chairs. “It’s a bunch of racist bull,” Tyus said. “Now that you have served your time, we’re going to change it, and leadership is going to decide. This is how you disenfranchise a bunch of people.”
Laura Keys, the alderwoman of the 11th Ward, was angry that conversations about who wanted to be in leadership took place before she was even sworn in.
“Either I’m part of the group, or I’m not,” she said. “If I’m part of the 14, I need to be in the loop. I fail to see the transparency here."
A multipronged agenda
Green ran for a full term unopposed, and eight candidates she endorsed won their races. Along with Jones, more progressive lawmakers have significant power to advance Green’s agenda.
She pledged to make 2023 “the year of the tenant,” with a focus on affordable housing and counsel for those facing eviction.
“If developers want a deal, they need to ensure that low- and moderate-income St. Louisans have access to housing that they can afford,” Green said.
Green also wants to tackle the rising costs of early childhood education and revamp liquor licensing, zoning codes and the minority contracting process.