Mayor Jones State of the City Address 2023

Full text of the State of the City Address given at Saint Louis University on April 25, 2023

April 25, 2023 | 22 min reading time

Good evening, and thank you for joining me tonight…

Thank you Saint Louis University for hosting us, and Provost Dr. Michael Lewis for the warm welcome and thoughtful reflection - I believe all of us in the room today are hopeful, and committed to the future of our city. 

Thank you to the McKinley Classical Leadership Academy for lending their incredible talent to tonight’s proceedings, and to Grand Center Arts Academy students for sharing your art with us this evening.

Thank you to American Legion Post #77, for the presentation of the colors.

And I am grateful to Pastor Booker and Koran Bolden for your powerful words - you’re tough acts to follow!

I want to recognize my fellow City elected leaders joining us today: President Megan Green, all our new and returning members of the Board of Aldermen, Comptroller Darlene Green, Treasurer Adam Layne, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, Collector of Revenue Greg Daly, and License Collector Mavis Thompson,

To the leaders joining us from outside the City - St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, Madison County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler, and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

I also want to give a shoutout to Washington University Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, Regional Business Council Chair Kathy Osborn, Bi-State Development CEO Taulby Roach, and East-West Gateway Executive Director Jim Wild for being here tonight.

But I’m most appreciative of the everyday St. Louisans watching along here and at home – thank you for spending your evening with me tonight. City government may not always seem like the MOST exciting way to spend your Tuesday night, but your engagement is critical and valuable.

On October 12, 1964, two days before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke for about 45 minutes to an integrated audience, in this very room, at what was then the West Pine Gym.

As a child, I generally knew who Dr. King was, but I was drawn to learn more about him when I found out that he and my dad shared a birthday! I was like most kids, I thought my dad was a superhero, but it meant more when I discovered he shared a birthday with one of the most prolific leaders of the civil rights movement.

As I delved deeper into Dr. King’s leadership, I discovered that his work towards the end of his life expanded from civil rights to silver rights…or economic justice. As I prepared for tonight’s event, I revisited Dr. King’s speech from that night - My mind was blown at how the conditions Dr. King described had not changed much since then, more than FIFTY years ago.

Dr. King used the specific phrase “economic justice” throughout this particular speech. He talked about how we still have a long way to go before economic justice is a reality. He noted as long as there is poverty, the temptation for crime deepens. That social isolation, economic deprivation, poverty and ignorance breed crime and the conditions for it, no matter what color you are.

We all know that Dr. King was a scholar, and he even recognized that poverty is the parent of crime. He said, “There’s nothing new about poverty, what is new however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

Last year, I spoke about my family’s home - the Big House - and how it influenced my upbringing. I’ve had many different experiences here in St. Louis, and EACH one of them taught me a critical lesson, forming the lived experience as the FIRST Black woman mayor I carry into City Hall with me every single day.

My professional journey started the same way it does for many young people here in St. Louis. At 16, my first job was an usher at the Muny, guiding theater patrons to their seats and enjoying Broadway renditions such as Porgy and Bess, Annie, or Grease. It was here that I developed a deep appreciation for St. Louis’ incredible arts and culture scene.

After graduating from Affton High School, I headed east to Hampton University and imagined a career in investment banking, somewhere on Wall Street. While I eventually ended up returning back home, it took several fits and starts to find a job that I really liked.

When I was on this journey of self discovery in my mid-twenties, I stumbled upon a job as a reservations and sales agent at TWA – a good union job, and I was a proud member of Machinists Local 949.

I started off on the 2nd shift because my seniority was so low. The shift ran from 4 - 11 p.m. without weekends or holidays off. Most days, I would clock in, find a workstation near my work-buddies, plug in my headset, answer the phone, and say:

“Thank you for calling reservations. Tishaura speaking. How can I help you?”

I never knew what was going to greet me on the other end…sometimes, I’d be met with all sorts of frustrations. Other times, callers had questions about lost luggage, delayed flights, missed connections… My job was to be the calm, steady voice guiding lost customers to their next destination, calls from 5 to 45 minutes at a time.

I worked there for a couple of years, before moving onto my next adventure. But of all the jobs I’ve done up until now, it’s the stint with TWA that’s taught me the most important skill I take into the mayor’s office every day – the ability to calmly, and respectfully, listen to every concern, worry, and problem.

I want to emphasize that no matter your place in St. Louis, I see you. I hear you. And together, we are going to get to our destination – a city that works for you, no matter the color of your skin, who you love, or how you worship. And we are working every single day to find solutions.

At our traffic violence town halls and visits to neighborhood meetings, I heard how St. Louisans feel afraid to bike, drive, or walk on our streets due to reckless driving. I’m struggling with how to teach Aden how to drive. As we invest over $50 million in street engineering and maintenance, I’m ready to work with the Board of Aldermen to increase our traffic enforcement with red light cameras – in a data-driven way that passes constitutional muster.

Over the past two years, we have heard from community leaders about addressing the needs of our unhoused neighbors. Working with our partners in the unhoused community, we have opened a low-barrier safe haven shelter, purchased an additional 50 tiny homes, required shelters with city contracts to operate 24/7 during the winter, and we are gathering data to drive a true regional approach, which will include permanent housing and wrap around services for our unhoused. I also hear those who say, despite all these steps, the city can and must do better.

At churches across the City, I hear families praying for their loved ones and asking God to make our city safer for their babies. It’s rare that I wake up and don’t recognize the name of someone we lost to violence. Like yesterday, when my father called and told me that our cousin Al was killed by gun violence the night before. Please keep my family in Chicago in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate this tragedy. And for those who think that Black elected officials don’t talk enough about crime, we LIVE it EVERY DAY!!

St. Louis, we’ve worked hard in the past year to move some major pieces into place to make transformative change in our city, change that residents will see and feel in the years to come. But the kind of long-term, transformative change we’re working on doesn’t happen overnight…because St. Louis didn’t get like this overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and while I’m Black Girl Magic, it doesn’t come with a wand or a cape, even though I’m wearing one tonight. The changes we desire…a safer, stronger St. Louis…won’t happen in one year… or one term.

So let’s check in on the progress we’ve made in since last April when I spoke at Harris-Stowe State University:

I pledged to create the city’s first-ever Office of Violence Prevention, to marshal all of our public safety resources and youth programs under one umbrella, instead of in a constellation across city departments. We coupled this with a monumental investment to create better opportunities for our young people. I’m proud to report that the office is not only up and running, but is a permanent division under the department of public safety. OVP, led by Wil Pinkney, is 9-staff strong and already making a difference in our communities.

Two weekends ago, OVP partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives to stand up their FIRST gun safety and education event in Gravois Park featuring food trucks, DJs… and free gun locks, because irresponsible gun ownership is killing our youth in record numbers. In partnership with Recreation and SLATE, the City is standing up new sports leagues while connecting our youth with better opportunities - enrolling more than 500 in summer and year-round jobs.

We partnered with St. Louis Public Schools to stand up seven camps around the city that served more than 300 children last summer, with plans to open more sites for more kids this summer.

I pledged to invest in our city’s workforce for the first time in years to make us more competitive in hiring and retention. And in collaboration with the Board of Aldermen, we passed a budget guaranteeing raises and a $2,000 retention incentive for City employees.

And through the upheaval at the Board of Aldermen, we passed major bills to help support working families, expand access to healthcare, improve and calm our streets, and direct more than $250 million to neglected neighborhoods. These investments help address the root causes of crime, and build a sense of community and opportunity that ultimately makes neighborhoods safer for everyone, North and South of Delmar. That work was hard and complex, and it lays the foundation for a brighter future for our children and our children’s children. THAT is economic justice.

Passing this kind of landmark legislation requires collaboration. I can work with anyone if it means delivering for St. Louis, and the ability to work with THREE different Board Presidents in the span of 6 months - is a skilI I learned in Jefferson City as a State Representative. I learned to work with republicans on the things we agree on and if we disagreed, we did so without becoming disagreeable and nasty with each other. Were we on the opposite side in elections? Of course! But afterwards, we understood that when we returned to Jefferson City, we had to continue the work of the people.

But folks, what’s going on in Jefferson City right now, is definitely NOT the work of the people. And it’s not FOR the people… nor is it for our babies.

To Jefferson City, a 12 year-old receiving gender-affirming healthcare is a bigger threat than a 12 year-old with an assault rifle.

To Jefferson City, a woman cannot be allowed to make her own healthcare choices.

To Jefferson City, diversity is dangerous, history must be buried, and our centers of learning - our beloved libraries and schools - cannot be trusted.

I’ll say this - If Ruby Bridges was strong enough to endure racism, our children are strong enough to learn about it.

What’s a bigger threat to our children - weapons of war on our streets, or history teachers, hardworking librarians and drag queens? Here, in St. Louis, we reject these attempts to divide us, because we know our differences make us a better, stronger city.

I’ve heard the fear and frustration of families who feel these ugly attacks on trans kids and the entire LGBTQIA+ community will force them to leave our state and the city they love.

So let’s be clear tonight.

In St. Louis, we support a woman’s right to choose, the right to bodily autonomy, and access to safe and legal abortion. 

In St. Louis, we will fight to protect our trans youth AND adults from hateful, bigoted attacks on their right to live their authentic lives.

In St. Louis, we demand a safer future with common sense gun regulations like universal background checks and red flag laws, made all the more urgent by last year’s act of senseless violence at Central Visual and Performing Arts - a tragedy we still mourn six months later.

We have been vocal about what we need to improve public safety, and a state takeover of SLMPD isn’t it. We have 99 problems and the state stepping in and taking over our criminal justice system ain’t one.

And if these far right-wing Republicans don’t want to see the vibrancy and diversity of St. Louis, they can stay home - and watch the Cardinals game on TV.

For people who don’t live here, they sure do have a lot to say about how St. Louis should run our police department!! Instead of giving our new police chief the opportunity to implement proven crime strategies, they want to push politics into public safety with a Civil War-era state takeover of SLMPD.

Think about your job now. Do you like your boss? Now imagine having FIVE bosses as St. Louis’ police chief, all telling you what to do all at once - imagine how that pushed politics into public safety. THAT is what a state takeover of police would mean - a police department more accountable to unelected bureaucrats than the communities they patrol.

State control of police was a hot mess in the 1800s, when it was implemented by a Confederate governor. It was a hot mess when Jefferson City-approved bureaucrats on the police board called in favors for friends and family. It’s a hot mess today in Kansas City, which just experienced its most violent years on record DESPITE the state STILL controlling KC’s police force.

We just hired our FIRST external police chief in our city’s history. I know Chief Robert Tracy is bringing fresh eyes to the department while serving as a key partner to reimagine public safety in our city. And like me, he’s listening to what residents want and need, attending more than 75 community events in his first 100 days.

Chief Tracy’s latest numbers are showing positive trends. Compared to this time in 2022, violent crime is trending down. Property crime has been down for more than a month compared to this time last year. All property crime is down except for car thefts, and we’re taking Kia and Hyundai to court to hold them accountable for the public safety hazard THEIR vehicles have created on our streets.

Without local control of our police department, we cannot reimagine public safety in our city - which is why the recent union contract, overwhelmingly approved by the membership, promotes and affirms St. Louis’ local control of our police department while guaranteeing good raises.

In partnership with the Board of Aldermen, we made a historic investment in a Public Safety Access Point - in other words, an improved 911 and dispatch center - a one-stop shop for all our dispatch and response services, instead of three separate locations - Fire, police, and EMS.

Our consolidation work of these three types of dispatchers and their separate locations is moving forward. As we cross-train them and invest in updated technology, EMS and police dispatch are already working in the same location downtown.

At TWA, I helped navigate some frustrating moments for customers. I understand the importance of hearing a calming voice on the other end of the line. However, I never dealt with ANYTHING as stressful as our dispatchers do every day. Hats off to our dispatchers while we will continue our progress in fixing our 911 system and untangling many decades-worth of knots.

Just like we are taking a new, innovative approach to reimagine public safety and change old systems, we CAN and MUST modernize city government to improve services. I am working every single day to streamline how our city operates.

My first brush with City government technology was serving as the Treasurer. TWA went bankrupt a little over 20 years ago, but I can tell you first-hand that in many places in City government, we’re still using 90’s-era technology - green screens and mainframes.

When I was Treasurer, I was the city’s chief cash management and investment officer for the city and was also responsible for the last mile of payroll for all city employees twice a month. The MOST important function of an organization, paying its employees – should be relatively simple right?

WRONG. In order to make payroll, we had to search the internet for floppy disks and THEN use the ONE computer we had that could still accept a disk. God forbid that computer would ever crash!

Now, as mayor, my thoughts return often to the payroll floppy disks, and how it so perfectly represents the state of so many parts of city government and services – employees working the best they can with old tools. It’s just one or a few people standing between success and failure – from our obsolete refuse collection methods to upgrading our 911 dispatch, to being locked out of our beloved CSB Twitter account, there is still a lot of work to do to bring city operations into the 21st Century.

As Treasurer, I did the hard work to make things simpler and cut red tape - moving all employees to direct deposit, upgrading the parking system to accept all forms of payment, launching a new mobile parking app, and cutting down the steps needed to get a marathon or parade permit - instead of going back and forth between departments and buildings.

Did you know, to get a marathon or parade permit, you had to first count all the parking spots along the route, then take that information and a check to the Streets Department on Hampton, then take that information and another check to the Treasurer’s Office in City Hall, and then back to Streets? Now after my work, all you need to do is go to the Streets department, with one check!

But in the past few years, the one-two punch of a shrinking workforce and COVID-19 put a strain on our city’s overstretched workforce and our antiquated hiring system.

Let me give you a sense of just how old: THIS [ hold up roster card ] is a roster card. This one dates back to 1916.

These relics, that required the use of typewriters, are how the City’s Department of Personnel tracks someone’s employment history - at least, they were until three weeks ago. NOW, this information is digital, instead of paper - and we will FINALLY retire the typewriters.

I wanted to bring a typewriter and destroy it on stage for you all tonight, but my staff said no - we apparently still need the parts.

Change is hard but we’re making progress in bringing City government out of the dark ages and into the 21st century, which is ESSENTIAL to improve our services and hiring. This month, the City of St. Louis launched a DIGITAL accounting and payroll system, a project in the works since 2020 – with minimal glitches or hiccups. A big thank you to our IT team, Personnel Department, payroll clerks, the Comptroller’s office, and everyone who made that switchover a success so we can leave the floppy disks in the past where they belong.

We're cleaning up our data and service tracking so that we can measure city services. We call this effort LouStat. We want all of our departments to work together, break down silos and communicate effectively with YOU, the residents we all serve.

I hear residents’ frustrations with inconsistent or unreliable refuse collection. Last summer, we faced a dual crisis: broken-down trucks and a shortage of drivers. The City tackled this long-festering problem head-on.

We swiftly brought on an extra shift of mechanics to make much-needed repairs to our fleet, and we were able to get trucks back on the road and operational. The City has also provided weekly updates on social media on our progress.

Still, like every other employer in the country, we’re facing a labor shortage. The City has long-struggled to remain competitive in hiring and retention, and in order to strengthen our Refuse Division, we negotiated a new contract to increase wages for drivers. These changes along with the benefits package will make St. Louis more competitive with similar jobs outside of the City. And like last year, this year’s budget offers an across-the-board 3% raise to City workers at the beginning of FY’24 as well as an additional 1.5% step increase on their anniversary date. That’s a total raise of 9% in the last two years!

Improving City services also means cutting red tape to help us get OUT of our own way and let our entrepreneurs succeed.

Before my time with TWA, my father, his best friend and I pooled our money to open Sugar’s, a restaurant and bar on Euclid and Washington.

We were only open for a year. I thought that politics was a cutthroat business, but let me tell you - running a small business is a WHOLE other beast, especially with the speed humps and barriers St. Louis threw in our way.

While Sugar’s is no longer contributing to St. Louis’ world-class food scene, it taught me just how hard it is to open and successfully operate a restaurant in our city.

So when our small business owners reached out to my office about delays in our liquor license approvals, and how much easier it is in St. Louis County, I heard them loud and clear.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar, our city’s liquor license process dates back to the 1980s, requiring small businesses to gather signatures in their neighborhood, and then get them verified by the Excise Division. It’s a complicated, onerous, and outdated process - I remember my dad and I going door to door to get the signatures we needed to open our restaurant!

While we work on a legislative fix, my administration has brought in more staff and is working with other city departments to verify signatures, helping clear the backlog of license applications and streamline the approval process.

So… yes, City government can be frustrating. But despite our challenges – I hear stories of hope, and see first-hand how City government can improve lives and strengthen communities, beyond the numbers and statistics. Here’s some of the results I’ve heard from residents programs we stood up with President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.

A few weeks ago, I stopped at Teatopia down on Cherokee for a smoothie. I talked with the owner a bit - he’s from across the river in Illinois - and I heard about how passionate he is about building his business. Teatopia is one of the 800 local businesses that applied and received $5,000 grants from our Small Business Grant Program.

At last week’s Board of Aldermen Inauguration at City Hall, a woman took my hand before the ceremony and thanked us for opening the Northside Economic Empowerment Center at Sumner High School in the Ville. She said she’s going every week to get the assistance and help she needs to start her own business.

Through a partnership with the St. Louis Mental Health Board, the City distributed $2 million in grants to childcare providers across the city to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and keep their doors open. Raising my son on a single paycheck, I know how important quality, affordable childcare is for families like mine. I remember the gut wrenching feeling the first day you drop your baby off at daycare. I cried all the way to work that day.

Earlier this month, I stopped by one of the childcare providers, Constantly Growing down in Benton Park West. I talked with Momma Jackie and her mother, Ms. Ora Lee, who told me that she’s turning 90 soon! Momma Jackie heard the news about the city’s grant opportunity when she was in Connecticut… moving her grandson into Yale. She applied not too long after and these funds helped her keep her business open, to continue caring for our babies.

Surrounded by neighbors, I broke ground with Tabernacle Community Development Corporation on dozens of new affordable, single-family homes on Hebert St. in the Greater Ville.

At Mission St. Louis, one of our Community Violence Intervention partners, I sat down with program leaders and clients to hear directly about how connecting families with resources reduces crime and creates opportunities in our neighborhoods.

All of this, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. So let me just say - Thanks President Joe Biden! Thanks Vice President Kamala Harris! Thanks Congresswoman Cori Bush!

I’ve heard from our partners at the International Institute about the need to make St. Louis a more welcoming place for foreign-born families. Immigrants make up 7 percent of our population, and our growth last year was fueled by the more than 700 refugees the St. Louis region welcomed with open arms over the past two years.

That’s why in this year’s budget, my administration is proposing the creation of an Office of New Americans. Housed in the Mayor’s Office, this new effort will break down barriers that block our new neighbors from engaging with City government, accessing resources, and setting up their businesses and homes in St. Louis for generations to come.

And I’ll continue to listen, as the City offers St. Louisans more opportunities than ever to continue to make your voices heard as we bring our city into a new, more equitable future.

The facility formerly known as the Workhouse stands empty of detainees, and we’re ready to continue our work to reimagine the site. We’re launching a new community visioning process on how St. Louisans want us to use this site in the years to come. This process will engage the community, particularly people who have had direct experience with the Workhouse, to envision what the future of the site could be.

So far, the team has established a steering committee that includes nearby residents, people who have spent time at the Workhouse, and others who are familiar with the buildings and site.

And tonight, we’re bringing YOU into the discussion. Visit to complete the survey to share your thoughts and ideas, or leave a voicemail or text message with your thoughts at (314) 266-8620‬.

AGAIN, that is (314) 266-8620‬.

We want to hear from you.

My guiding principles through this process are simple: Any use of a reimagined workhouse should be forward-thinking, visionary, but practical to address standing needs in our city.

Another place where we need your feedback is spending the Rams settlement money. This summer, I’m ready to work with the Board of Aldermen to roll out a feedback process to make sure any plan to use these funds is careful and deliberate. As we work together on a plan, our investment will continue to grow and gain interest. What I said a year ago still stands: There is no need to break the political piggy bank.

Just like we can’t bring back TWA, we can’t go back to the so-called golden era of St. Louis. Leaving the past behind hurts, but we also need to recognize that the St. Louis of the past didn’t work for everyone. It never worked for people who looked like me. And in many cases… it still doesn’t.

So we have to embrace a new vision and a new way of doing things. Collaboration instead of conflict and casting blame. Upstream vs. Downstream. Working to both attract new residents, while valuing those who already love our city and want to make it the best it can be.

We have not just the opportunity, but the responsibility, to build a St. Louis that recognizes our diversity and adapts to the current post pandemic reality.

At the ballot box twice in six months, St. Louisans broke with the past and forged a new direction. With the election of President Megan Green and several forward-thinking aldermen, they showed their commitment to taking our city in a new direction. For the first time I can remember, our Board President, our Comptroller, and the Mayor are not in conflict, but in collaboration to make our city a safer, stronger place - no matter your zip code.

I look forward to building on that spirit of cooperation and open communication in the months and years ahead.

And St. Louis, I’m excited. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs - as a travel agent, an algebra tutor, a state legislator, a realtor, a small business owner, a health administrator - but this one, right here, is my absolute favorite.

You see, I bring each one of my lived experiences with me into City Hall every single morning. The paintings on the walls in my office, in the chambers, on the ceiling…they all remind me our city was built before Black leadership was even imaginable.

But in the past two years I have also carried every single problem, every single concern, big or small, that I have heard from St. Louisans to City Hall with me each day as well.

The complaints about reckless driving, potholes, trash and vacant buildings from neighbors at community meetings…

The deep knowledge imparted from our city employees, who have welcomed me into their departments and shared their time and expertise with me over the past two years…

The wisdom shared from our elders at our Senior centers, and their prayers for me to be safe and successful…

And most heartbreaking, the pleas from our babies at our recreation centers to get guns off our streets and out of their schools… 

I bring it all with me into Room 200.

No matter the stage of life you find yourself - whether you’re born, raised and went to high school here, moving here for college, raising a family, building a startup, or building a new life here after moving from across the country or across the world - you have a home here in St. Louis, and our city is better off because you’re here.

Our city has its problems - old and new - but I know we can tackle them, together.

My final point is a challenge…a call to action for everyone here and everyone who will see and hear this message…

Meet me upstream.

First responders are responding to crime downstream, AFTER it happens, or in progress - as we were reminded by the heroic response of our police and fellow first responders last October. But what are we doing upstream? What investments are we making in preventing crime from happening? Poverty is the parent of crime. When people are deprived of the basic human rights, freedom and justice, and lack of basic necessities, crime takes root in our communities. Stemming the tide of crime is directly related to eradicating poverty.

Who’s willing to meet me upstream? With apprenticeships and paid internships?

Who’s willing to meet me upstream? With paid workforce development programs that pay people while they train or skill up to get better paying jobs? 

Who’s willing to meet me upstream?

With a regional approach to address the root causes of crime. Our problems do not end at Skinker Blvd, the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers, and neither do the solutions…

We can do this! We can wrap our arms around our communities and provide opportunities for everyone to thrive. A thriving community is a healthy community with less crime - like the one I grew up in, where you could play outside until the street lights came on. That is the future EVERY child in St. Louis deserves.

We CAN reduce crime by reversing poverty. And in order to build faith in our government, to build faith that we can solve the big problems, we need to tackle the everyday problems we see and feel in our neighborhoods.

Meet! Me! Up! Stream!

As I walk into City Hall with you in my thoughts - I want you to leave here tonight with Dr. King’s words echoing in yours, just as his voice bounced off the walls of this historic building:

It’s one of my favorite but lesser-known quotes: He said: “We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

Let’s steer that boat upstream…to stem the tide…

Thank you for coming… May God bless you and all of your families. And may God bless the city of St. Louis, MO. Good night.


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