Mayor Jones State of the City Address 2022

Full text of the State of the City Address given at Harris Stowe University on April 19, 2022.

April 19, 2022 | 19 min reading time

Good evening, everyone.

Thank you to Harris Stowe-State University President Latonia Collins-Smith, Bennie Gilliam-Williams and the Harris Stowe staff for welcoming us to their campus and making this event possible. Thank you to our team at STL TV helping us stream this event tonight.

I’m glad to see members of the Board of Aldermen, our state legislators, county officials, fellow St. Louis Citywide and regional elected leaders - thank you for coming tonight.

Let’s give another hand to our incredible talent tonight: ROTC Color Guard at Clyde C. Miller School for the presentation of the colors; Kennedy Moore for gracing us with their beautiful voice during the National Anthem, and Phil Woodmore and The Phil Woodmore Singers Kidz.

I appreciate my Pastor, Bishop Michael Jones and my good friend and former workout partner Rev. Anthony Riley for reminding us of the higher power with us always. And thank you to the legendary Tammie Holland, I’m touched by your kind words - you’re a tough act to follow. But I’ll try my best!

And to the residents of St. Louis who are joining us, in-person or virtually - I’m honored that you chose to spend your evening with me tonight. This is for you. As far as I’m aware, a Mayor hasn’t delivered a State of the City address outside of city hall in decades. But it’s only fitting that we’re here tonight, in the community, keeping our word that your government should be open and transparent.

When I think about how St. Louis has changed throughout the past 100 years, I think about my grandparents on my mother’s side - Eddie and Daisy Whitfield.

Now, to be clear, I never knew them; they were both gone before I was even a twinkle in my mom’s eye. But I think of them often, and how hard they worked to lay the foundation for future generations of my family. They moved to St. Louis from the Jim Crow South, like most families looking for a better life. Eddie was a butcher, and Daisy stayed home with their 13 children, and my mom was the youngest of the bunch. In the mid-1950s, they moved from a row house in Jeff Vanderlou to a 3-story home in Wells-Goodfellow. That home became the center of my family’s universe, we affectionately called it “The Big House.”

I remember seeing a photo of my mom as a little girl with the white family that used to live next door. Back then, most of their neighbors were white. Then, one by one, they left the neighborhood. Soon, all the white families left, and slowly, the neighborhood deteriorated. But The Big House stayed standing, and my family stayed as well.

After my grandparents died, my aunts and uncles lived in The Big House and raised their families. The Big House brought all of us together for holiday gatherings and family reunions. My parents got married in the living room in 1969. And there was a park across the street where my cousins and I played football, basketball, tag, and skinned our knees and elbows on the playground, all while dodging the Hodiamont bus as it roared up and down the street every 30 to 45 minutes.

Times were so simple then. We played outside for hours until the street lights came on. We didn’t have a care in the world. Nor did we know that we were poor. But we were rich, with love. Our aunts, uncles, and cousins came together to take care of one another. I knew that whatever happened, I had a family - and a community - who would support us if things ever went south.

My family eventually moved to mixed-income housing in Laclede Town - which later became the campus of Harris Stowe-State University, where I stand today. Several years later, my parents were able to buy our first home in Walnut Park. I didn’t get to this point by myself. My success was built on a stable, resilient network of family, neighbors, and community.

But we know that’s not the way things are anymore. In the summer of 2010, The Big House was destroyed by a fire after it was hit by lightning. Most of our neighbors - that supportive network - have left as well. My mother and all her siblings have since passed away. Parents worry when their kids are out too late, and the sense of community that once held us together, even in difficult times, has faded. The St. Louis I knew - and so many of us knew - has changed.

And I won’t lie - that change hurts. I miss the Big House, and I’m not alone. Too many of our families have seen their neighborhoods fade like my grandparents’ old photographs. The legacies and memories we cherished from homes passed from generation to generation have been left to crumble. We cannot rewrite the past. But we can have hard conversations about how we align our priorities so we can become a city where everyone can succeed, across racial lines. We can change course so that our city, our communities, and our neighborhoods grow and thrive again, North AND South of Delmar. .

With unprecedented resources flowing into our city - $500 million through the American Rescue Plan, federal grants from Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, and the NFL settlement - I truly believe that St. Louis is on the precipice of change, and that our brightest days lie ahead if we invest these resources wisely to make a long-term impact for generations to come.

It’s going to take all of us - in and outside of City government - to bring that to fruition and make a break from the past. If we want to succeed, if we really want to put St. Louis back on the map, we need to celebrate what makes our city so special - while embracing the change and opportunity heading our way. We need to recognize that our city cannot succeed - together - if more than half of it is allowed to fail.

We can’t keep chasing the past, trying to turn back the clock to some imaginary, rose-colored history that never truly existed for many St. Louisans. We must dispel the notion that the so-called golden era of St. Louis truly lifted all boats in the tide. Our city may have been growing, but the benefits were not shared equally. The Black women leaders of the Funsten Nut Strike in the 1930s, the striking SEIU Healthcare workers I stood with last year, the Starbucks workers coming together for their union - they’re all fighting for the same thing: the hope that their families can enjoy a better, more comfortable life than they did. And no matter what side of Delmar you live on, that’s a dream that unites ALL of us.

So when I think of the incredible opportunity for change in our city, I think of my son, Aden. I want St. Louis to be a place where Aden can be safe, build a good life, get a good education, and settle down someday. But right now he doesn’t care about all that - he’s 14, loves basketball, and he thinks leading a city is the lamest thing ever.

He also thinks it’s pretty embarrassing that I check up on him so often. The first time he rode his bike to see his friends in Clayton, I followed right along behind him - in my car. Even now, I make sure he stays on the phone with me or my dad when he’s riding to see his friends.

I want him to have the freedom to live his dreams and pursue any opportunity in front of him. I want him to be safe when he rides his bike to see his friends - like I was, riding down Skinker with my cousins to buy hot dogs in the Loop or walking down West Florissant to pick up books at the library in Walnut Park. And I want him to feel safe around law enforcement - like so many Black parents, I’ve had the talk with him about what to do if he’s ever stopped by police.

I may be the mayor, but I’m a mom first. On my mind are the same questions facing every parent - with childcare so expensive, how will we pay our rent or mortgage this month? What will it take to make our community a safer place to live? What opportunities are there in my neighborhood for my son to play, get a good education, and thrive? But these questions aren’t the only things that keep me up at night.

Last year, during a visit to Dutchtown, gunshots rang out during a press conference with Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Alderman Shane Cohn, and Cure Violence interrupters. And I didn’t flinch – because I’m all too familiar with the sound of gunshots at night - as are too many families in our city, because our streets and neighborhoods are flooded with guns.

Gun violence touches lives across our city, but the Missouri legislature makes the job of keeping our city safe more difficult with each passing year. Since 2007, when requiring a permit to purchase a gun was repealed, gun-related homicides in Missouri have spiked by up to 47 percent. Firearm suicides have increased more than 23 percent.

So as a city, our hands are tied in many ways. And I have to ask - has the status quo worked for St. Louis? Has locking people up after locking them out of opportunities made our city a safer place for families? Have the gunshots at night stopped yet?

No. St. Louis for many folks hasn’t felt safe in a long, long time. The status quo has failed our city and filled our jails. Reimagining public safety for our new era isn’t just a moral necessity - it’s a practical one.

The eyes of the world are on St. Louis. Under Dr. Dan Isom’s leadership and through a data-driven, smart-on-crime approach, our city bucked a national trend of rising homicides between 2020 and 2021. While homicides may have fallen by 25% last year, a single life lost to gun violence is one too many. It is not enough to just lower rates of violence - as a Co-Chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, I’m constantly looking for local and national solutions to stem the flow of guns in our communities.

We continue working to reduce the burden on our officers so they can focus on violent crime while reducing contact with our incarceration system for non-violent offenders, which tears families apart while making it more likely people will end up back in jail. A revolving door incarceration system benefits no one.

Through the American Rescue Plan, we are expanding our community violence intervention programs, earning a spot among 15 cities nationwide on President Biden’s Community Violence Intervention Initiative. From domestic violence intervention to addiction treatment to the expansion of violence interrupters, we are looking to use a public health lens to treat root causes of crime in our neighborhoods.

The Recreation Division used ARPA funds to set up a new basketball league for hundreds of our youth, giving them safe places to make friends, learn and grow. We’re investing heavily in youth summer jobs and victim services, to interrupt cycles of violence before they escalate and spread.

We want to expand our successful 911 call diversion program while consolidating our bottle-neck dispatch systems to make sure St. Louisans know a voice will be on the other line when they dial in their darkest moments. Last August, I dropped by one of our two 911 dispatch centers to hear from supervisors about the issues they’re facing. I listened alongside one of our dispatchers - Kellie - as she handled and directed calls. Her difficult work - and the grace with which she handled it - was inspiring.

Our 911 response time has fallen short of national standards for far too many years, and my administration refuses to leave this unaddressed. We are upgrading our technology and reimagining our call flow to align with best practices and get us on the right path, and our work in the short term has already improved wait times.

To strengthen our urban core, we brought together community, business, and public safety leadership to coordinate resources and make Downtown not just a safer but also a more vibrant place - and the conventions, sports events, and conferences that continue to flock to downtown St. Louis bring in dollars that touch EVERY neighborhood.

We’ve closed the building commonly known as the Workhouse and zeroed out its budget, utilizing only a small portion of MSI for overflow. When upgrades on the CJC are complete, we will close that portion down and work with the community to develop a plan for that space.

My administration was proud to work with Alderman Bret Narayan to repeal St. Louis’ outdated, discriminatory marijuana possession laws, and bring them in harmony with the state constitution. We shouldn’t be locking people up for a little bit of weed while billionaires are out making bank.

I want to look forward 10, 20 years from now, and see a St. Louis that is safer for our babies, where they can walk to a friend’s house without fear, danger, or trauma. Last year, I spoke about losing my cousin to gun violence - I understand first-hand how this violence, these tragedies, are still real after the TV cameras leave and the 10pm newscast is over. Trauma echoes across neighborhoods, across schools, and across generations.

As a mother, the gun violence stealing our young people from us is heartbreaking. We have to go beyond just gun locks to discourage our kids from treating guns like toys - and my administration is committed to working alongside partners like our schools to develop educational programs to remind our parents to lock up the guns they have and remind our babies to put the guns down.

Public safety must go beyond policing and enforcement - it requires a holistic, public health approach that addresses the root causes of crime - and poverty is the father of crime. For decades, the status quo has disinvested from once-vibrant neighborhoods like The Ville, Wells-Goodfellow, Walnut Park, Penrose and many others. And that’s not just on the North Side - South City neighborhoods like Dutchtown, Marine Villa, and Mount Pleasant have been left behind too.

And it will take a new approach to drive this holistic work. That’s why I’m proposing the creation of a new office, the Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention - to marshall ALL of the community, alternative response, and enforcement resources at our disposal to improve public safety - and improve the relationship between police and our communities.

I’ve said it before - St. Louis is not a poor city, we are a cheap city. And now with the resources at our disposal, we are trying new and innovative ways to invest directly into families and communities.

I was proud to partner with Collector Gregg Daly, Alderwoman Shameem Clark-Hubbard, and the entire Real Estate Tax Assistance Fund coalition to help families keep their homes - a dozen just in the latest tax sale. Our new partnership with St. Louis County will streamline our rental assistance efforts and help deliver support to families who need it most.

My administration has embraced its role as an active partner in development, with our overarching principle - public incentives MUST produce public goods that benefit the community. That’s why we’ve renegotiated past deals to ensure public goods like affordable housing in major projects like the Butler Brothers, the City Foundry, and The Edwin.

My office’s expectations for developers are very clear: you must meet the “but for” test; you must include workforce or affordable housing; abatement schedules will be on a declining scale; and we must have strong reporting and clawback provisions. The city’s lost tax revenue is considered an investment in your project. That makes us equal partners in its success.

Meanwhile, we’re bringing good-paying jobs and opportunities, with companies like DeliStar and Proctor and Gamble, to the City to partner with our schools. We’re supporting our small businesses with an equitable Small Business Grant Fund.

Bringing together agencies and key partners like SLATE, the International Institute, SLPS, and MetroTransit has helped us distribute hundreds of transit passes through the expanded Gateway Go Youth Transit program. This free public transit pass helps young people stay connected to school, their jobs, and other opportunities not just through the summer, but year-round.

The $500 Direct Cash Assistance Program has helped thousands of St. Louis families put food on the table and pay the bills. We saw how President Biden's expanded Child Tax Credit lifted tens of millions out of poverty and helped families re-enter the workforce. We know how putting money directly into the pockets of families strengthens communities across St. Louis, reduces poverty, and in turn makes us safer.

This is how we put St. Louis back on the map - by trying new things and learning from each other, joining the ranks of cities across the country who are lifting families out of poverty by… giving them the support they need to do so, and trusting them to know what's best. It’s not that radical.

Last month, our partners followed up with families who received a payment asking a simple question: How did this help you? I’ve heard from a mom who caught COVID-19 at her fast food job, forced to quarantine without PTO; a woman who was able to pay off her bills as she re-entered the workforce; a hotel worker who finally could afford to fix her car.

And I am truly honored to have here with us tonight two recipients of these life-changing payments. Crystal, who used her payment to pay her bills as she cared for her mother, and Fredica, a mother who lost her job, needed help putting food on the table, and is now going back to school to become a social worker. Two resilient women whose first instinct is to care for others: Thank you, Crystal, and Fredrica, for telling your stories and joining us tonight.

Their stories echo thousands of others: Families need food, clothes, new shoes for the kids, gas to get back and forth to work. That simplicity should speak to us as leaders. That’s why my administration is exploring the potential of a Guaranteed Basic Income program for St. Louis families - monthly payments to help struggling families get out of poverty and stay out of poverty.

Cities like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, and more are trying these new and exciting ideas, and I think - why not St. Louis? This could be St. Louis - Pay people what they need to pull themselves up! That goes for City government too.

For the past three months, I've been touring our City departments to hear from employees about what they need to improve city services for our residents, and how we can work together to make their jobs better. To the frontline City employees who have worked through this pandemic - thank you for your service to St. Louis.

But thank-yous don’t pay the bills. From the epidemiologists at our Department of Health to the mechanics at our equipment services division, from our Recreation assistants to our refuse drivers, one issue has come up over and over - competitive pay.

It's no secret that employers across the country are facing a labor shortage. And if we want to improve city services - fill our potholes, trim our trees, empty our trash - we need to not just hire, but also retain, city employees.

I've been a supporter of a $15 living wage since I first ran for this office, and instituted it in my office as Treasurer. The move to $15 for City workers was the right thing to do - but we need to follow up and make more adjustments for the workers who have been here for years.

So in this year’s budget, I am proposing a three-percent raise for City employees, on top of the step increase. I am also proposing $1 million to cover paid family leave for City employees, to keep our benefits competitive and show our working families how much we value their dedication.

Whether it’s helping bring on more utility workers or 911 dispatchers, it’s my hope these steps will help keep St. Louis competitive in hiring. When we restart alleyway recycling collection in May, we must retain the workforce we need to keep it going. While ARPA funds cannot be used to fund salaries, I am also proposing retention incentives to help us retain our workforce as well.

We’re also committed to improving the services we already provide - proposing more funding to help the City trim more trees, clean up more city properties, and continue protecting our communities from COVID-19. While St. Louisans worked together to bring our metrics low enough to have this event tonight, I want to remind people - COVID-19 is not over, and vaccination and boosters remain critical to protecting communities.

But this year, we are thinking beyond just the budget.

The neighborhoods I grew up in - like Walnut Park - have seen better days. Redlining and intentional disinvestment have hollowed out tight-knit neighborhoods and sent thousands of families packing, searching for better opportunities.

But as a City, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of our own to begin reversing these historic wrongs and put St. Louis on a path towards truly equitable growth that grows safe, healthy communities.

Under the leadership of SLDC Executive Director Neal Richardson, the City is partnering with St. Louis Public Schools to open the Northside Economic Empowerment Center in Sumner High School this summer, connecting entrepreneurs and small businesses with the resources they need in their own backyard.

We’re bringing community members into the neighborhood planning process for the 6 neighborhoods surrounding the future NGA West Campus, so the benefits of this incredible project are shared equally and dedicated residents aren’t displaced.

It’s not enough just to construct new buildings; we need to build up people and their communities as well. That's the key to fair, equitable, and sustainable growth for our families and our children.

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, loving community like I did, where you can let your kids play in the park without fear. Every family deserves their own Big House to pass down to their kids to build wealth that spans generations.

That’s why I am proposing a historic $150 million commitment for North St. Louis through our remaining American Rescue Plan funds, to begin bridging the racial wealth gap that splits our city in two. It’s time to put St. Louis on the road to economic justice.

This is just a start, but with the resources St. Louis has at our disposal, we have the opportunity to create change St. Louisans can both see AND feel on their streets.

This change looks like fewer boarded-up and crumbling buildings on our blocks. We must stabilize and renovate vacant buildings to make them neighborhood assets, instead of deadly risks to residents and our firefighters - as we were so tragically reminded of last year with the death of Firefighter Benjamin Polson in the line of duty.

It looks like thriving new small businesses on neighborhood main streets, creating good-paying jobs for our young people. It looks like more affordable and market rate housing going up in our neighborhoods to promote homeownership and help transition our unhoused neighbors into permanent housing, taking the burden off our providers. My administration has already committed more than $50 million towards housing issues, and we’re ready to do more so more families come and our seniors can stay.

Imagine a grocery store with healthy food options just down the block, affordable child care on the way to work, stable housing for families. It’s these kinds of things that I had growing up that built the connections we needed to feel like a safe, strong, and healthy community. That is what economic justice feels like for St. Louis families.

Together, we can work to eliminate the racial wealth gap, eradicate the digital divide, and grow our population again, and in the long-term - expanding our tax base. My vision to achieve these goals focuses on three pillars:

Economic empowerment, through supporting and nurturing small businesses, and partnering with our educational partners to develop our workforce, at every age;

Reforming development incentives while leveraging real estate development efforts and business retention, expansion, and attraction to drive equitable, inclusive economic growth.

And Neighborhood transformation, through community-driven planning and development, turning our city’s vacant land from a liability into an asset and building housing as diverse as our city.

Through an economic justice action plan, we can build strong neighborhoods while preventing those who stayed dedicated to them from being forced out. I recognize that this is just the first step towards addressing a massive financial need - because reversing decades of intentional neglect cannot be the burden of government alone. It will take every single one of us - community, labor, faith, business, our philanthropic partners, our universities - to leverage this $150 million investment and magnify its impact long after the American Rescue Plan funds run out in 2026.

From the beginning, input from the community has guided our plan to use federal dollars. My dedication to community involvement continues into this next step - through roundtables, town halls, and our survey - for these funds, and I look forward to working alongside community leaders and the Board of Aldermen to inform this critically important work.

And while I LEGALLY cannot discuss NFL settlement negotiations due to mediation, let me be absolutely clear tonight - Any funds the City procures through this historic settlement must be invested responsibly with an eye towards our children and grandchildren - not the next election cycle. We CANNOT take a hammer to the political piggy bank, or our future generations will end up paying the price.

St. Louis… in my 50 years, I’ve seen this city change, not always for the better. But we can come together and seize the opportunities in front of us to lay the foundation for a prosperous future for our babies, because I believe our city’s best days are STILL yet to come.

And I have to admit - one year feels good!

I am in no way saying that everything is perfect, or that this work will be easy. But Black Girl Magic doesn’t come with a wand. We can’t fix decades of old problems overnight or even in one year. We’re still testing out which levers to pull, and I recognize on many issues, there’s still room for us to learn and improve our government. But I am always ready to learn, and I am ready to work with ANYONE if it means delivering for my city.

From Baden to Boulevard Heights, from Dogtown to Downtown to Dutchtown, whether you voted for me or not, or you didn’t vote at all - I am proud to be your mayor. I enter Room 200, a leader, for 79 unique, distinct neighborhoods, every single day working to make St. Louis a safer, more prosperous place - no matter the color of your skin, where you live, or any identity you hold.

I hold no illusions about the scale of the challenges St. Louis faces - growing up, I saw my family and my neighbors struggle with a kaleidoscope of problems, many we're still facing today. But I also know St. Louis - where Dred and Harriet Scott first demanded their freedom, the Silicon Prairie, the only City ever to take on the NFL and win, the Gateway to the West, the place that launched an international movement for Black Lives - can and will rise to face these challenges, righteously and honestly. If we do so, together, we will make St. Louis the best it has ever been.

I’d like to end on the words of my dear friend, my forever Jr, whose words should guide all of us in this room as public servants:

Is it true?

Is it good?

Is it kind?

Is it useful?

Is it necessary?

If not, then feel free to keep it to yourself. We’ve got a whole lot of work to do for St. Louis.

Thank you, God bless you and your families, and God bless the City of St. Louis.



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