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Alderwoman Tina Pihl wrestled for an Olympic spot, now she wrestles with improving St. Louis

Tina "Sweet-T" Pihl (17th Ward) addresses Board President Lewis Reed
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Alderwoman Tina "Sweet-T" Pihl speaks during the meeting of the Board of Aldermen on April 18. Because of the coronavirus it was just her second time back in the chambers since she was elected in 2021.

St. Louis Alderwoman Tina Pihl of the 17th Ward talked with St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann about ensuring equitable development in the city, plans to reduce opioid overdoses and what she thinks the Board of Aldermen will need to operate successfully with 14 members instead of 28.

Pihl was elected in 2021 by the slimmest of margins — just 16 votes. She has not yet decided whether she will run for reelection in 2023. Although the ward map adopted in December did not draw her in with any other incumbents, the recently elected alderman of the current 28th Ward, Michael Gras, also lives in what will be the new 9th Ward.

Here’s what Pihl talked about on the show:

  • The 17th Ward is often used as an example of the misuse of development incentives in the city. Pihl says that while the incentives may have been needed at one time, “over the last few years I don't believe it has been needed as much.”
  • Pihl applauds Mayor Tishaura Jones’ pledge to commit $150 million of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act allocation to north St. Louis, but she says the city needs to be asking big questions about the way it is spent. “How are we going to develop the city? What do we want the city to look like in 50 years? You know, who do we want in the city? How is the city going to be better?” she said. 
  • The February overdose deaths of at least seven residents of her ward prompted Pihl to work with other elected officials, and St. Louis University, to develop a harm reduction plan. It starts with a listening session on Saturday in Cortex.
  • Barring an unlikely sequence of events, there will be 14 aldermen elected next year, rather than the current 28. Pihl said the remaining members will need more staff to be able to succeed.

Pihl is a native of Canada, but her family moved to Connecticut when she was in preschool. Her parents, who adopted her when she was 10 months old, are both white. “They were pioneers, in terms of adopting outside their race,” she said. “It has been something that is most influential in my life. I've looked at bridging the divides because of that.”
Pihl played soccer at Yale and was once among the top goalkeepers in the country. She had always dreamed of going to the Olympics, and in the 1990s, women’s soccer was not an Olympic sport. But women’s wrestling was.

“I knew I was a great athlete,” she said. “And so I picked up that sport within two years, and I was a walk-on to the Olympic team at the United States Olympic Training Center.”

She finished fourth at the 2004 trials.

Follow Tina Pihl on Twitter: @TinaSweetTPihl

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.