ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tishaura Jones has called systemic racism the biggest obstacle to progress in St. Louis, and the city’s new mayor used her inauguration speech on Tuesday to pledge to fight back against all types of discrimination.
Jones was sworn in during a coronavirus-mandated socially distanced ceremony at City Hall that included fewer than 100 people on the first-floor, seated six feet apart, though many others watched from balconies. Jones, a Democrat, is St. Louis’ third Black mayor, but the first Black woman to lead the city.
“I am going to walk into an office that my ancestors could never have imagined that I’d be working in,” Jones said. “But I’m here.”
Jones, 49, is a former state representative who served as the city treasurer from 2013 until defeating Alderwoman Cara Spencer in the mayoral election two weeks ago. She succeeds Lyda Krewson, St. Louis’ first female mayor, who announced late last year that she would not seek a second term.
Jones inherits the same array of problems that Krewson and decades of her predecessors have seen — too much crime, declining population, vacant homes, high rates of poverty.
“Decades of problems will not be solved by days or months of solutions,” Jones said, noting that the work will be challenging “and the conversations will not be comfortable.”
Voters in the heavily-Democratic city are turning to progressives in hopes of a turnaround. In addition to electing Jones, four new members of the Board of Aldermen were elected from a progressive slate.
Jones also joins two other progressive Black women in roles pivotal to the city’s future. Cori Bush defeated longtime U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay in the August Democratic primary and won easily in November. Her district includes all of St. Louis. And Kim Gardner was reelected circuit attorney in November.
Jones has called for a significant rethinking of the city’s criminal justice system. She has vowed to end St. Louis’ “arrest and incarcerate” model of policing. She wants treatment, rather than punishment, for drug users, and more emphasis on social service programs to help the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates.
Her plans are similar to the policing changes pushed by Bush and Gardner, and critics have questioned how a city with so much violence can consider scaling back policing. St. Louis has one of the nation’s highest per capita murder rates.
The new mayor is already putting together her public safety team. She hasn’t said if she’ll keep Police Chief John Hayden, but announced last week that former Police Chief Dan Isom will serve as interim public safety director. Isom was police chief from 2008 to 2012. He now heads the Regional Justice Information Service, which provides information technology and data services to government and criminal justice agencies.
Jones also appointed Heather Taylor as senior advisor to Isom. Taylor is a former homicide detective and longtime head of the Ethical Society of Police, the smaller of the two police associations in St. Louis and one whose 260 members consist largely of Black officers.
The majority of the city’s officers are members of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, whose business manager, Jeff Roorda has been an outspoken critic of both Gardner and Jones. In 2017, Roorda, on Facebook, called Jones a lazy “cop-hater” and “race-baiter.” Jones has said Roorda “has to go.”
The association’s president, Jay Schroeder said in a statement after the election that the association is committed to working with “anyone else willing to do the hard work of making this city a better, safer place to live.”
Other top leaders, speaking at the inauguration, expressed their support for Jones. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called Jones’ election “a turning point in this region.” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said residents of his city are behind Jones.
“As you look to make sure that Black lives truly matter, we will be there with you,” Lucas said.
Jones said her dream is to build a St. Louis “that is strong, confident, equitable, united and inclusive.”
“I’m ready to get to work.,” she said.