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Donors or demonstrators, who has Mayor Krewson’s Ear?

september 2017 :: the st. louis american’s political eye :: [link]

In the pivotal moment following the acquittal of former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Jason Stockley, if Mayor Krewson won’t listen to her constituents in townhalls, who is she listening to? Perhaps it’s her donors. After all, the protests financially impact many of them.

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On Tuesday, September 19, Mayor Lyda Krewson postponed her three remaining townhalls across the city. This followed four days of protests met with aggressive police force after the acquittal of former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Officer Jason Stockley. She wrote, “[Townhalls] are happening in the streets and in my inbox and on social media right now. We are listening.” Despite her assurances otherwise, many residents interpreted this as their mayor dodging venues meant to hold her accountable to their serious concerns and pain.

So, in this pivotal moment, if Mayor Krewson won’t listen to her constituents in townhalls, who is she listening to? Perhaps it’s her donors. After all, the protests financially impact many of them.

For example, both St. Louis Union Station and its parent company Lodging Hospitality Management, which operates hotels and restaurants, made significant donations to Krewson during her campaign. LHM’s leadership team spoke to the Post Dispatch about significant lost revenue from downtown concerts cancelled in response to the protests around the verdict. Bob O’Loughlin, Chairman and CEO of LHM, also told the Business Journal, “The most important thing is to mobilize the city, county and state to work to carry on with these events and provide safety for people going to them.” Here, it is worth also noting that O’Loughlin sits on the board of the St. Louis Police Foundation along with a handful of other Krewson donors.

The interactive graphic below visualizes donors who gave $1,000 or more to Mayor Krewson’s campaign since January 2016 according to Missouri Ethics Commission public filings. Larger dots signify contributions at or above $5,000. (St. Louis Action Council released a prior version of this graphic with the top five mayoral candidates at the Saint Louis University Mayoral Debate in January of this year.)

Krewson’s mayoral campaign had a larger and more affluent donor base than the other mayoral candidates, including her top competitor, Tishaura O. Jones, who came in a close second. Krewsons donors include a vast network of local developers, construction unions and real estate professionals in addition to the legal and law enforcement communities, PR firms, and finance and business executives.

Certainly Krewson cultivated this donor pool through her policy agenda as an alderwoman. Many of these donors benefitted from Krewson’s 20 years in City Hall, during which she focused investment and public resources in the city’s Central Corridor, where many of the verdict protests are taking place. Consequently, her donors’ investments hinge on a quiet return to business-as-usual.

While political donations are not proof of quid-pro-quos, they provide donors with increased access to the elected official and the public with a lens to analyze their values and priorities. Wally Siewert, director of the Center for Ethics in Public Life at the University of Missouri–St. Louis told St. Louis Magazine last December, “Politicians primarily get their money from people who already agree with their positions.” So, considering this, what are the positions around which Krewson’s donors have aligned?

Krewson’s political career, marked by her support of police and segregated development, led to city-subsidized development in well-to-do areas such as the Central West End, where the population of black residents declined during her term. Her time in office criminalized panhandling and increased surveillance. As her administration now works to privatize city services, increase regressive taxes, and raise pay for cops, her constituents face rising rents and wage cuts. These are the policies, as Siewart notes, that Krewson’s donors endorse with their dollars.

Following the verdict, Krewson directed conversation away from the call to end police violence against citizens to prosecuting property destruction in the Central Corridor. Considering her development-heavy donor base, does Krewson value the people in the streets or the buildings that line them?

This emphasis played into police narratives justifying crackdowns on demonstrators, press, and bystanders. In her first statement, the day after an occupying police force trapped and tear gassed a crowd in her own neighborhood, Krewson said, “Law enforcement, each of you has my full support.”

And they have supported her as well. During her campaign, Krewson accepted an endorsement and donation from the St. Louis Police Officer’s Association, the white police officer’s union which provided bail for Stockley last year. Her donor list includes the founder and board members of the St. Louis Police Foundation, which privately funds the city and county police departments through donations of weapons, surveillance technology and trainings.

Krewson’s career as alderwoman and now mayor has often been characterized by valuing property over lives of black people. Her donors’ interests align with this continued prioritization, further ensuring the streets are controlled by militarized police who kill with apparent impunity.

Amidst continued physical violence against black people, Krewson’s donors’ react to protests with varied emphasis. From condemnation of property destruction to calls on Krewson to fire acting Police Commissioner O’Toole, donors are only now speaking out, faced with a disruption to their bottom lines. The money behind Krewson's new administration raises questions for the public about how much these voices shape her response to police brutality.

When asked about campaign finance during her run for mayor, Krewson wrote, "We all have a duty to make sure our elected officials represent the interests of the people. I will be a mayor for all St. Louisans, not beholden to corporate interests.”

After a week of protests, Krewson’s statement on Friday named the Ferguson Commission Report as the “path forward,” calling on business and philanthropic leaders to engage in its implementation. But, as protests continue to disrupt the economic order of the city, a question remains: How will she balance donors’ investment in a racist system against her constituents’ push for an equitable region?