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Editorial: Hundreds of millions of dollars in funds are at stake amid city leadership crisis | Editorial

By on June 6, 2022 0

By the editorial board

In addition to the acute embarrassment of having two St. Louis aldermen and the chairman of the board facing federal indictment, there is a real possibility that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding find themselves stuck in a political stalemate. Aldermanic chairman Lewis Reed insists he is not stepping down, although he is letting alderman Joe Vollmer step in to run board meetings.

The line of succession, however, is murky when it comes to Reed’s key position on the three-member Board of Estimate and Allocation, a position he did not relinquish. Together with the College of Aldermen, these two bodies must approve disbursements of federal pandemic and infrastructure funds. Aldermen must also approve an emergency bond election for $54 million in road and infrastructure improvements surrounding the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency complex in North St. Louis.

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For all of Reed’s shortcomings and alleged ethical failings, he relied on 15 years of experience as presiding alderman to push legislation forward by striking deals and calling favors from 28 aldermen from disparate backgrounds. This bargaining process might add to the seedy air surrounding the federal corruption indictment, but behind-the-scenes bargaining is precisely how work is done in America’s democracies, from the smallest towns to the House. and the US Senate.

Reed, for better or worse, knows how to flex the political muscles necessary to push his agenda forward. That success may also have contributed to his downfall: Transcripts extracted from a federal indictment last week strongly suggest he succumbed to hubris and a sense of invulnerability. When a well-wired federal informant came to offer money for special treatment, the transcripts indicate that he found willing collaborators in Reed and now former aldermen Jeffrey Boyd and John Collins-Muhammad.

Examples of how Reed wielded power unfolded during last year’s battle with Mayor Tishaura Jones for more than $168 million in federal aid, the first installment of nearly $500 million. coming to town. Jones blocked a $33 million spend. Reed sought to spur business growth in North St. Louis, but after months of stalemate, Reed ultimately prevailed by applying a mixture of persuasion and political pressure among his fellow aldermen.

Vollmer worked closely with Reed to gain board support for the ward maps they redrawn to meet the demands of a 2012 referendum halving the number of wards and aldermen seats. But Vollmer is a rookie and reluctant political warrior at best, as evidenced by the Council of Aldermen meeting he chaired on Friday.

He will no doubt understand parliamentary procedure. But big questions remain about his ability to stand up to the mayor, contest votes and move the money. The result could be months of stalemate as St. Louis figures out its next steps in a leadership crisis that seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, regardless of federal delays or the urgency of the city’s spending needs. .