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‘Moms Are Tough’: Lisa Clancy On Fighting For Mask Mandates

St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy is sworn into office on Tuesday afternoon. Jan. 1, 2019.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy is sworn in in 2019.

For St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, masks are something every Democrat, at least, should be able to get behind.

“We stand for science. We stand for ‘public health masking, along with vaccines, are based in science and evidence,’” she said on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Her fellow Democrats, though, haven’t always agreed. On July 28, two of the four Democrats on the seven-person county council joined the Republican minority in voting to repeal County Executive Sam Page’s mask orders. The two women cited procedural concerns about Page overstepping.

But when Clancy brought new legislation on Aug. 10 to restart the mandates without executive edict, she came up short.

In a rare move, Council Chairwoman Rita Heard Days declined Clancy’s request for a roll call vote. And so while it’s not clear whether both Days and Councilwoman Shalonda Webb voted “no” on Clancy’s bill on Aug. 10, Clancy acknowledged that she simply didn’t have the votes.

Asked to explain why the effort failed, she said, “I think that there's a lot of political beef and scores to settle, and it's really, really unfortunate because that's getting in the way, I think, of that good judgment that I know that my colleagues have on the council.”

She continued: “Lives and livelihoods are at stake because of that political beef. That is blinding some of my colleagues. I am especially disappointed in my Democratic colleagues who have not voted in a way that I think actually is aligned with the principles of Democratic values and beliefs.”

'I Have Some Regrets'
Lisa Clancy discusses the "political beef" that doomed a mask mandate in St. Louis County and being a mom in public office

The “political beef” dates, in part, to Clancy’s run for reelection as chair of the council. She and her allies sought to hold the vote before Webb could be sworn in, which ensured Clancy had the votes. When the newly elected board (including Webb) swiftly reversed that vote to make Days chair, the county counselor sued to block Days’ ascendancy — only to lose in court and see Days installed as chair after all. A full week later, Days confirmed, she and Page still hadn’t talked.

Clancy acknowledged her role in the fracas.

“I spent a lot of time reflecting on that,” she said, “and I think that there were some things that I miscalculated about that. And I have some regrets. And I've learned, and I have shared just as much with my fellow councilwomen about that situation. And I understand why that was hard for a lot of people. But we’ve got to move past that, especially again when the duty in front of us is to protect people in the face of coronavirus and this dangerous delta variant.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Clancy drew vitriol from members of the public, including more than a few conspiracy theorists and even a woman who upbraided her for caring for her newborn during the meeting.

Clancy gave birth two months ago. As she joins meetings virtually on her “maternity leave,” she will occasionally tilt her camera so her son can breastfeed without being on camera. That seemed to draw the woman’s ire.

“As a single parent, I also nursed my child,” the woman, who gave her name as Justina Case, said to the on-screen Clancy as a full-capacity crowd watched in the chambers. “And I had to put my milk aside so that other people could feed him when I couldn't. This is your job, that you begged your people to vote you in for — which means you need to pay attention. You need to find a babysitter. And if [the] father of your children cannot be said parent, then you need to find one of your constituents that love you to be your babysitter.”

On St. Louis on the Air, Clancy said she wasn’t angered by the public callout.

“Moms are tough. As you know what? I can take that heat,” she said.

Even so, she added: “It makes me really sad, I think for a couple of reasons. One, it sounds like that this mother didn't get the support she needed from her community and from her village and from her workplace when she needed it the most, when she was a single mother. And that goes back to part of why I'm in this position. Moms still aren't treated in our society — working moms, especially — as they should be.

“And the other piece that strikes me too, is that when you hear things like this, it makes you wonder: Is this part of why there aren't more moms, more women, in public office? I think that that's something that's concerning across party lines.”

Clancy addressed requests from pro-mask listeners who don’t feel ready to come to crowded chambers, where few members of the public wear masks and want virtual testimony at meetings.

“Our chambers are not safe. Right now they have the ingredients for a superspreader event,” she said. “I think it's just a matter of time, unfortunately. So keep emailing us, keep calling us. But in the meantime, we need to make our chamber safer right now. We need to require masks in our chambers along with everywhere else. We need to put some health protocols in place so that people feel comfortable right now coming in talking to us, and we can get a more diverse perspective on these issues.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
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