Tishaura Jones became the first Black woman to be elected mayor of St. Louis on Tuesday and later this month will begin leading a city confronting a high homicide rate, disturbances at the city jail and challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms. Jones, the city’s treasurer, received about 52 percent of the vote over her opponent, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who had nearly 48 percent, according to unofficial results posted to the city’s website. Ms. Jones will be sworn in on April 20.
“Making history as the first Black woman mayor is not lost on me at this moment,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’m also looking at how little girls will look at this moment going forward and will see that they can be anything and that they have a mayor that looks like them.”
Ms. Jones, a Democrat, said she decided to run for mayor in part because of her experience raising a 13-year-old son in north St. Louis. A gun was pulled on him once as he crossed the street to his grandfather’s house, she said, adding that, like many Black parents, she has had “the talk” with him about how to handle himself in an encounter with the police.
“I lead with the lens of raising a Black child in this city,” she said, adding, “I want children to feel safe.”
This was the first mayoral election under the city’s new election-law overhaul, known as Proposition D. It requires candidates to run without partisan labels, and the two candidates with the most votes in a primary in March face each other in a general runoff election the next month.
Ms. Jones said she wants to improve city services, particularly for people who live north of Delmar Boulevard, which divides the city along racial and socioeconomic lines. She said that divide had contributed to bad outcomes in health, education and income for people who live north of Delmar, a majority of whom are Black.
“You can instantly see the difference in investment on separate sides of the street,” she said. “It should not matter where you live, you still should be receiving the same services.”
In her victory speech on Tuesday night, Ms. Jones pledged that she would not hesitate to confront racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia or religious intolerance, adding, “I will not stay silent when I spot any injustice.”
Among her biggest challenges, she said in the interview, will be having tough conversations with progressive white residents about what it means to be an ally for Black people, and getting them to to listen when Black people talk about racism, which was a driving topic in the mayoral race.
“Our biggest challenge is that we don’t want to tell the truth,” Ms. Jones said, “and the truth can sometimes be ugly.”
Ms. Jones, a graduate of Hampton University, the Saint Louis University School of Public Health and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has spent the last 20 years as a public servant. In 2002, she was appointed as Democratic committeewoman for the city’s Eighth Ward. She served two terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, and she has been the city’s treasurer since 2013, according to her campaign website. She ran unsuccessfully for mayor of St. Louis in 2017.
Ms. Jones will replace Lyda Krewson, the first woman to serve as the city’s mayor, who said last fall that she would not seek a second term in office.
Ms. Krewson congratulated Ms. Jones on Twitter. “I am rooting for your success,” she said. “My administration and I are prepared to make this as smooth a transition as possible.”
The city’s jail has also seen a growing number of disturbances in recent months, and on Sunday, inmates broke windows, set a fire and threw items onto the street below. A similar episode took place in February.
Ms. Jones said she believes in a policing model that leads with prevention rather than arrests and incarceration, including using social workers for some calls.
In a conversation with her son, she said, he asked about the duties of the mayor and how the mayor can help the Police Department function. “Well, good, that means I’ll be safe,” she recalled him telling her.
“It struck me like a ton of bricks,” she said. “He shouldn’t have to feel that way. It’s just led me to want to transform and reimagine public safety.”
Ms. Jones also campaigned on improving the city’s response to the pandemic and pursuing policies to improve its public health infrastructure. Mobile and stationary vaccination clinics would also be established under her lead, she said. St. Louis has about 36 positive cases per day on average, and about 14 percent of all St. Louis residents have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database
As the city is promised more than $500 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, Ms. Jones also pledged relief for small businesses and those in need of rental and mortgage assistance.
“It’s time for St. Louis to thrive,” Ms. Jones said in her speech. “It’s time to bring a breath of fresh air to our neighborhoods.”