Mayor Jones State of the City Address 2024

The State of the City Address given at the Sun Theater on May 14, 2024

May 14, 2024 | 21 min reading time

Good evening St. Louis, thank you for joining me tonight.

Thank you Grand Center Arts Academy for hosting us this evening, and to Dr. Candice Carter-Oliver for your warm welcome and gracious remarks. Thank you to the Grand Center Dancers for your moving performance, and to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for the presentation of the colors.

Rev. Lauren Bennett, I’m grateful for your insightful invocation. Thank you for helping us to center our reason for being here today.

And thank you Fatimah for that introduction. Thank you for your tireless efforts to bring your vision of Hyde park from a dream to a not too distant reality. I look forward to cutting the ribbon with you!

I want to take a moment to recognize the elected leaders from across the region in the room – President Megan Green and members of the board of aldermen, Comptroller Darlene Green, Treasurer Adam Layne, Circuit Attorney Gabe Gore, Collector of Revenue Greg Daly, and License Collector Mavis Thompson.

Thank you to my staff and cabinet members. Please stand.

Most of all, I want to thank the people of St. Louis for tuning in. I know there’s a million other things you could be doing with your Tuesday night, or whenever you’re watching this in the future, but you’re making the right choice.

Today, the City of St. Louis is safer, stronger, and healthier than we were last year. And next year, we’ll be safer, stronger, and healthier than we are today.

Tonight we’re gathered in the Sun Theater in beautiful Grand Center, the central part of an arts district that breathes creative life into the city.

Ten years ago, this theater sat empty. Like other buildings in St. Louis, the Sun Theater had been neglected and abandoned for decades. The roof was barely here. The walls were water damaged and crumbling. I even heard a rumor that it was once scheduled for demolition.

That was ten years ago. Do you remember what you were doing ten years ago? At that time, I was in my second year serving as your Treasurer. I had big dreams then, like modernizing the office, opening the office of financial empowerment, and starting the college kids children’s savings program - and under the leadership of Treasurer Adam Layne, it has grown to over $2 million saved for 24,000 St. Louis children. And our oldest cohort is in the 8th grade!

As I worked with my team to deliver on my campaign promises, I saw that too many parts of our city were just like the old crumbling walls and missing roof of this theater - forgotten, abandoned, neglected.

And over the last three years, my administration has worked tirelessly to face these challenges head on and begin the work of making changes that you can see and feel… so we can build a safer, stronger, and healthier St. Louis.

In my own life, I’ve been both the victim and perpetrator of the same kind of neglect.

In June 2022, during a routine visit, my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic, a serious health condition affecting one-third of our country. Prediabetics have abnormally high blood sugar, setting the stage for type 2 diabetes. It can come from eating and drinking the wrong things – too many cakes, pies and cookies, too many sugary beverages, too much pasta and other carbs and not enough exercise. I developed some bad habits to deal with the stresses of being a mom, a mayor, and a strong black woman, literally carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and began neglecting my health. Prediabetes was the consequence of that neglect.

Prediabetes isn’t new or unique, but I was unique because I KNEW about my diagnosis. According to the CDC, 80% of Americans with prediabetes don’t know they have it and are the most likely to become diabetic.

My doctor wanted to put me on Metformin, a common drug used to treat diabetes, but I told her, “Give me a year to fix this.” I set a course to make myself healthier and today my Hemoglobin A1C is back to normal, I am no longer prediabetic, and I’m making lifestyle changes to stay that way!

Last year, I stood before you feeling like a busted can of biscuits. Today, I’m feeling much better!

I’m working out, eating healthier, and drinking plenty of water. Has it been easy? No! But is it absolutely necessary? Yes! I can’t be the best version of myself for my son, my family, or you, if I’m not healthy.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been vulnerable with you about my personal health journey. In 2020, I talked about my surgery to remove fibroid tumors. I’m sharing these things with you to remind you that I’m human and because many of you might be dealing with similar issues. No matter what ails you, the truth is simple… taking charge of your health requires you to make big changes. And you can’t just go back to your old ways. You have to keep working at it. That change…has to be sustainable.

Our beautiful city is like the human body. She is a living, breathing being…and…. she has some health issues that need to be addressed. Taking charge of our city’s health will require all of us to make some big changes and that change…has to be sustainable.

Her major roads, or arteries, are a part of her infrastructure. Arteries are the necessary veins that pump blood through the system, or in this case, sending people and commerce flowing through the city.

We know these arterial streets in a different way. Our major roadways have become dangerous and that can make routine commutes difficult and sometimes frightening.

My son turned 16 last year and last week, he got his driver’s license. I know the nervousness that comes with letting him go out on his own. Currently. he’s only allowed to drive to school and back and to get something to eat within a 1-2 mile radius of our house.

Our goal is to make it easier and less nerve wracking for everyone to drive on our streets – especially our young people.

First, we’ve taken the historic American Rescue Plan funds from the Biden-Harris administration and are putting them to work on paving, lighting, and traffic calming measures on our roadways. That means your trips down Kingshighway, Union, Grand and Goodfellow will be smoother and well lit along the entire route. Construction starts early next year and I want to thank BPS President Rich Bradley and Streets Director Betherny Williams for their continued work in improving our roads.

On top of these investments, the Automated Camera Enforcement Act will help make our streets safer by holding reckless drivers accountable. We have been working diligently to make sure these technologies will be used to reduce traffic violence, not target already vulnerable populations.

I know these smart technologies need oversight. Before the Automated Camera Enforcement Act became law, I signed an executive order ensuring that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, or SLMPD, is completely transparent about how they use it and how that affects you.

Earlier today, SLMPD published its first transparency report, giving us insight AND oversight into how these types of technologies are used and the safeguards that are in place to uphold your rights.

In addition, we’re holding bad drivers accountable. SLMPD wrote over 32,600 citations in 2023, and the addition of cameras will help bolster their efforts, but enforcement is just one of the ways we are working toward a safer St. Louis.

We’ve also received funding from the Missouri Department of Transportation to help more young St. Louisans get driver’s education - resulting in a whole new generation of safer, smarter drivers. I thought about my son the day we were awarded those funds. I thought about all the mothers who will worry just a little less when their babies get behind the wheel. And maybe save a buck or two on insurance!

We aren’t just making it safer to get around in your car. Everyone deserves to feel safe when getting around St. Louis, whether they’re driving, biking, walking or riding public transit.

In 2017, St. Louis voters approved a sales tax increase to help fund the Metrolink expansion, and as result, we’ve set aside $90 million dollars for a new light rail line called the Greenline. This week, we formally begin the project development phase, which we expect will finish construction in 2031.

The Green Line, which will also connect to the Red and Blue lines, will give more St. Louisans the ability to move around the city - for jobs, education and entertainment - reducing the need for a car.

And this summer, construction begins on the next section of the Brickline Greenway. Once completed, the Brickline will run from the Arch to Forest Park, with connections from Tower Grove Park to Fairground Park and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Through careful planning and intentionality, we are changing and expanding the ways you can safely get around St. Louis.

The safety of everyone who lives, works, or visits St. Louis is my number one priority, full stop. The health and vibrancy of our City depend on our ability to work, play, explore, and get around without fear.

We must address crime at the root cause, holistically, and sustainably. That focus has paid off so far, and our crime stats are down and moving in the right direction, but we have still more work to do so everyone can feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Last month’s Cabinet in Community was held at Better Family Life on Page, just blocks from my home. Several people told us how common it was for them to hear the sounds of gunshots, and how uncommon it was to get a quick response from law enforcement when they called 9-1-1. I know how they feel. It’s my neighborhood too and my family and I hear gunshots just like they do.

They told us that although they heard that crime was down in St. Louis, they couldn’t SEE it in their daily lives.

Like the woman who lost her son to gun violence in June of 2022 and started an advocacy group to help mothers dealing with grief.

So I get it. Yes, crime rates are down in our city. But they’re not where we want them to be. One family affected by gun violence is one too many.

Last year, St. Louis experienced its lowest homicide rate in a decade and the largest year over year reduction in crime in 90 years. We have reduced juvenile shootings by 50%, and we’ve seen a 36% reduction in car thefts over the last year. I’m thankful to Chief Robert Tracy and the SLMPD for helping us accomplish these milestones.

And we can do even more.

We are taking a regional approach to crime focused on three pillars, which require equal emphasis - prevention, intervention, and enforcement.

I created the Office of Violence Prevention in 2022 to leverage all tools across city government - enforcement, community violence intervention groups, public health - to help keep communities safe. Under the leadership of Wil Pinkney, the OVP has established partnerships with more than 30 community organizations focused on crime prevention and intervention and has served more than 3,000 residents over the last two years.

In 2023, OVP helped divert over 550 9-1-1 calls to behavioral health responders and our Crisis Response Unit helped St. Louisans in over 6,500 cases.

In February, Chief Tracy and I joined the OVP and Show Me Peace for a Peace Walk in the Dutchtown neighborhood. We marched side by side with dozens of community members to stand strong against violence and to honor the lives lost to it. Look for a peace walk coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Another way we prevent crime is by reducing poverty. Mahatma Ghandi reminds us that poverty is the worst form of violence.

That’s why St. Louis has joined more than 20 cities across the country in piloting an innovative, forward-thinking guaranteed basic income program for city schoolchildren and their families.

The GBI program gives 540 families payments of $500 a month for 18 months. The goals are to help strengthen, support and sustain families and communities, which makes them safer AND stronger.

I met with some of the participating families last week. One of the moms told how this program has helped her work fewer hours as an Uber and Delivery driver, so she can spend more time with her beautiful 5-year old daughter.

We also know that a key pillar of crime reduction is intervention, and the reality is that the police are not the answer to every call. Sometimes when you dial 9-1-1, the right response is a mental health worker, a violence interrupter, or another professional, rather than someone with a badge and a gun.

The collaborative work of Chief Tracy, Wil Pinkney and Public Safety Director Charles Coyle, has made historic changes to our alternative emergency response, like Cops and Clinicians and 9-1-1 Diversion programs, which includes Behavioral health clinicians in our 9-1-1 dispatch center.

These programs divert calls to crisis counselors and mental health specialists in order to provide individuals the right response, reducing the need for police and EMS response, and limiting hospitalization and incarceration as a result of a crisis.

Those aren’t the only changes we’ve made to how our city handles 9-1-1 calls. There is nothing more frustrating than calling 9-1-1 and not seeing a response for minutes, even hours.

The City’s fragmented 9-1-1 system has delayed services for decades and is built on bottlenecks that we’ve had to redesign. We’ve worked to consolidate staff and invest in the development of our personnel by cross training our dispatchers. We are moving everyone to a single software platform to prevent duplication and we gave our dispatchers the long overdue raises needed for retention and recruitment.

Last year, we answered just over 50% of calls within the first 10 seconds. The national standard is 90%. Today, I’m proud to report that more than 80% of 9-1-1 calls are answered within 10 seconds.

But those aren’t the only actions we are taking to help make our city safer.

Earlier this year, the East West Gateway Council of Governments approved and will begin implementing the Save Lives Now! Initiative. We set an ambitious goal to reduce homicides and shootings in our region by 20% over the next three years.

Most violent crime is committed by a small percentage of the population. The Save Lives Now! initiative recognizes this reality and engages these individuals with the goal of diverting them through focused deterrence, teaching them there’s a different way through cognitive behavioral therapy and using credible messengers who can earn their trust.

Transforming public safety does not happen overnight. It took a new, holistic approach to public safety to get us to where we are today, and we have to keep pushing. Our future depends on it!

While we are working to make St. Louis safer, we’re also making it stronger through economic development that uplifts families, supports small business, and helps to build local communities.

We’re making our neighborhoods stronger. We’re making our downtown stronger. We’re making our entire city stronger for anyone who visits, works or plants roots in St. Louis.

It’s still true that owning a home is the best way for families to build generational wealth. However, homeownership has never been easily accessible for Black and Brown families, and the rising cost of buying a home makes it even more difficult. Building a stronger St. Louis includes giving families the opportunity to plant roots here and let their family tree grow like my grandparents did when they bought our family’s home in Hamilton Heights over seventy years ago.

Under the leadership of Neal Richardson and the St. Louis Development Corporation, we are making homeownership affordable through the HomeSTL program by providing up to $50,000 in homebuying assistance for St. Louisans buying their first house in the city. And, under the leadership of April Ford Griffin from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Nahuel Fefer from the Community Development Administration we have over 2,000 new affordable housing units in the pipeline.

Raquel, a pre-school teacher, recently bought her first home through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity. She fell in love with a re-habbed home in South City and much of the integrity of the original house was still intact, from the hand carved pocket doors, to the staircase banister, to the exposed brick wall in the front foyer. Raquel was brought to tears as she thought about how much her 5 year old daughter will love this house or how her retired father will find a renewed purpose in helping to grow a garden in the backyard. She can now focus on completing her degree in education, knowing that she is building generational wealth for her family.

No matter if you buy your home tomorrow, or bought it seventy years ago, we want you to stay here. We want your children and your grandchildren to stay here.

That’s why the City of St. Louis recently implemented the Senior Property Tax Freeze, and I’m proud to say that more than 4,000 senior St. Louisans have frozen their property taxes, making it easier for them to stay in their homes as their neighborhoods improve. Thank you to City Assessor Michael Dauphin for your work on bringing this crucial support for our seniors!

I talked earlier about neglect. You know what I’m talking about - overgrown grass, broken windows, buildings falling apart.

St. Louis deserves better than dilapidated homes and entire neighborhoods left to fail by absent property owners and developers.

Using ARPA funds and other sources, we are tearing down 1,000 abandoned houses that have been eyesores for years.

We’ve also invested ARPA funds to stabilize privately owned buildings and bill the owners for our work. We’ve stabilized over 60 so far, and there are many more to come.

But that’s not enough. St. Louis deserves better.

$2.5 million of ARPA funds are being allocated to renovate homes near St. Louis Public Schools. With safer streets and renovated neighborhoods, kids in St. Louis will have the opportunity to safely walk to school, like I did when we lived in Walnut Park.

We’re also providing tools to help homeowners stay in their homes and get help with repairs. The Healthy Home Repair Program received $15 million in ARPA funding, and we more than doubled the number of houses we served this year from 155 to 317.

This is generational work. It took generations to get here and building vibrant neighborhoods all over St. Louis will take time.

Our city is like the human body, the roads are her major veins that keep people and commerce flowing, and small businesses are the heart - they keep her blood pumping.

In April last year, the City of St. Louis and SLDC launched the STL Small Business Grant Fund to assist small businesses that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. To date, that program has distributed over 900 grants at $5,000 each.

We also launched two new programs for small businesses and nonprofits on 314-Day, ScaleUpSTL, and MobilizeSTL. ScaleUpSTL will help small businesses and nonprofits get access to capital if they can’t get traditional financing. And Mobilize STL will help contractors and vendors on major construction projects get bridge financing.

We’re not only supporting existing, local businesses, but we’re also building an ecosystem to help St. Louisans start new local businesses.

You saw it earlier, before the speech, on the big screen. The old Killark Electric Plant at MLK & Vandeventer will soon have a new name – The Monarch on MLK.

Once redeveloped, the Monarch’s 15-acre site will transform into a world-class, transit-accessible workforce development hub designed to prepare St. Louis residents for high-paying, in-demand careers. It will also be the permanent home of the city’s Land Reutilization Authority, the Office of Violence Prevention, St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment and the Northside Economic Empowerment Center.

Powered by SLDC, the campus will become a hub for the community and an economic engine for our city.

The Monarch is a symbol of transformation, hope and rebirth, a symbol of the changes you can see and feel in North St. Louis, and it will help weave together St. Louis’ ancestral roots with inclusive opportunities for generations to come as we continue to become a global destination for industry and innovation.

We are supporting businesses on the front end, and then getting out of their way.

A few weeks ago, I signed a bill making it easier for restaurants to get their liquor license.

We had the signing ceremony at Beyond Sweet - a new restaurant on Delmar Blvd. owned by my friend Dallas Holland. She opened three months ago, and talked about wearing herself out for hours knocking on hundreds of doors in the neighborhood when her restaurant opened just to get her liquor license. She could have spent that time promoting her business, training her staff, developing her menu, and all of the other difficult work that goes into opening a new restaurant.

She had to spend months telling her neighbors that she was a responsible business owner - rather than just showing them.

Now, under our new system, most restaurants will be able to get their liquor license much quicker without sacrificing the integrity of their community. This new law allows newly opened restaurants to get a 90-day temporary liquor license for that essential time after a restaurant opens, when their success - and the jobs of their new employees - hangs in the balance.

We are creating jobs locally while building our international footprint. St. Louis Lambert International Airport is on the brink of embarking on the largest public project in our city’s history, a $3 billion dollar Consolidated Terminal that will transform our airport to meet the demands of the present and the future.

St. Louis is a world class city, and we deserve a world class airport. And thanks to Airport Director Rhonda Hamm Niebrugge, we hope to have one by 2032.

When I talk about a Stronger St. Louis, I talk about ARPA funds. This historic investment from the Biden-Harris administration has helped us to re-imagine the future of St. Louis and begin to make that new future a reality.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that when I mention the almost half a billion dollars we received from ARPA, the question I’m asked the most is “What are you doing with that ARPA money and why haven’t I seen any of it!” I understand! It’s your right to know!

You see the signs around the theater? Scan the QR code and it will take you to our new website, Stronger STL. It gives you information about how to apply for ARPA funded programs like HomeSTL or MobilizeSTL, and you can find our transparency portal so you can see where the money is going!

Like I said, our city is like the human body. And her limbs are a healthy workforce.

Earlier this year, I announced a hiring freeze on new non-essential jobs. This was a difficult but necessary decision to financially protect our city. And it’s not the only difficult decision I had to make to protect our city’s financial health. We also had to add a $23 million contingency into the budget to offset the potential impact of attacks on our earnings tax.

If Jefferson City doesn’t pass any laws decreasing our earnings tax by the time session ends, I’m happy to say that we will lift the hiring freeze on Monday, May 20.

Our city hiring has been plagued by slow and inefficient technology for decades. Do you remember last year, when I held up the paper cards still used by our personnel department?

Last week, under the leadership of Director of Personnel Sonya Jenkins Gray and our Bloomberg/Harvard fellow Krizia Lopez, the City launched a new hiring website, powered by new software that will make it faster and easier to apply and get hired by the City.

Our city is like the human body, and her mental health is just as important as her physical health.

The Behavioral Health Bureau, launched by Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo-Davis, has led to over 275 linkage-to-care calls in the community, over 2,500 doses of Narcan distributed, participation in over 140 outreach events, crisis response training for city employees, and the awarding of over $1.6 million to organizations doing this critical work in the community.

Today, they are taking an average of 20-25 calls weekly from residents seeking help with mental health and substance abuse.

Less than a year ago, one of those calls was from Craig, who lost his job and apartment as a result of drug abuse. During one of our outreach events at a local encampment, Craig was given the phone number of our Behavioral Health Bureau, and he called for help.

Through our Linkage to Care work, Craig was connected to Midtown Salvation Army for substance use disorder treatment. After treatment, he moved to the Living in Victory sober living housing to continue his care.

Thanks to the BHB and our partners, Craig is living a clean and sober life.

Investing in a healthy future means investing in our youth. As a mother, I’m always thinking about how the decisions I make today will affect my son and children like him in the future.

St. Louis youth have a unique perspective that they can offer when we’re making decisions about their future.

Which is why it’s my pleasure to introduce some of my guests tonight. The Mayor’s Youth Cabinet. Please stand.

These are the young leaders in St. Louis who are helping my administration keep them in mind when we make big decisions about the future of our city. Our children deserve a safer, stronger, healthier St. Louis.

We’ve got three days until the end of the legislative session in Jefferson City, and that can’t come soon enough.

Kansas City and St. Louis provide more than two-thirds of the general revenue of this state. Your tax dollars pay for infrastructure in rural Missouri. But, if you’ve seen anything coming out of Jeff City lately, you would be mad as hell.

They’re trying to take over our police department and put it back under the control of a corrupt, Confederate-era state board that would have our chief answering to five different bosses. We’ve seen that before and our answer will always be the same, NO.

They’re also trying to hurt our city financially by reducing or outright eliminating our earnings tax. We’ve seen that before. Our answer to that is also, NO.

The earnings tax pays for things like our police and fire departments, our parks, and our streets. And anyone who says people are leaving the city or won’t come here because of our 1% tax, I call BS!

They’re trying to block the ballot and restrict access to abortion. We’ve seen that before and the people say NO. We know abortion is healthcare...period. I’m proud of the Missourians that signed the petition to put abortion on the ballot and to put Missourians back in charge of their bodies. I know I’ll be voting “yes” when that amendment is on the ballot later this year.

And, just like far too many years before, Jefferson City Republicans are going after our LGBTQ+ community. We’ve seen that before. Year after year after year. Our answer remains NO.

Last month, I got an email from a grandmother in Canada who was bringing her transgender grandchild to see Stevie Nicks in concert. She heard about the attacks on transgender children in Missouri, and she was afraid for their shared safety.

As a mother and a mayor, it’s devastating to think that any child would feel unsafe being in our city simply because of their identity.

I replied to that grandmother with a clear message - you and your beautiful granddaughter are welcome in St. Louis.

We will continue to fight to protect our trans community in the face of bigotry coming from Jefferson City.

St. Louis is stronger, safer, and healthier than we were last year. But it would be irresponsible for me to stand before you today and claim total victory. I’ve been in this office for three years. Many of the challenges our city faces go back decades, even centuries. They can’t be fixed in three years, or even one or two terms. But if we keep doing the work, our future will look brighter…and brighter.

To me, our future looks like generations of healthy families living in safe and growing neighborhoods.

Our future looks like St. Louisans taking public transit to work and school.

Our future looks like safer streets no matter how you choose to get around.

Our future looks like creating safe spaces for our young people.

Our future looks like workforce development connecting families to sustainable jobs.

Our future looks like safe and vibrant neighborhoods.

Our future looks more inclusive, by sending our PSAs out in several languages and hosting naturalization ceremonies in city hall.

Our future looks vibrant! And it’s not too far off!

Ten years ago, this theater didn’t look like it does today. It took a lot of hard work and a complete overhaul to get it to a place where it can host an event like this.

I’m also doing the work to get where I want to be. The hardest part was changing my lifestyle. I changed the things I ate, the things I did, and I changed the way I thought about and talked about myself.

How we talk about ourselves and how we treat ourselves matters. If we constantly put ourselves down, or make unhealthy choices, then we become what we put out in the universe.

What if we changed the narrative? What if we changed the way we talked about our city? What if we changed the way we treat our city? What if we spoke life into St. Louis every day?

You know I always end with asking you to do something. Last year, I asked you to meet me upstream and many of you responded to the call. So this year, and from now on, I’m asking you - the next time you hear someone talking trash about St. Louis, straighten your spine, look them in the eye, and tell them…

You don’t know what you’re talking about! St. Louis is my city and she is in the middle of a renaissance!

We have the best sports fans in the country!

We punch above our weight in the arts and culture!

We’ve got great restaurants to satisfy your tastebuds!!

We have world class universities and healthcare!

You can find a good job and get a good education!

Our cost of living is very reasonable!

We’ve got the best tasting tap-water you’ve ever had, and we have plenty of it!

You tell them every day we’re doing the work with a capital W to make our city safer, stronger and healthier for many years to come!

And, most of all, you tell them that St. Louis has a mayor who loves this city and its people with all of her heart.

Thank you for coming. God bless you and your beautiful families. Good night.


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