On August 2, 4th District voters of Northeast St. Louis County will have the opportunity to go to the polls and elect a second black member of the St. Louis County Council.
Given that the council is comprised of seven members, this puts significant political power back into the hands of black residents in St. Louis County. The county is roughly 25% black and representation of 28% would approximate the proportion of black residents of St Louis County. Moreover, since there are three Republicans on the council, black council members will be key to the determination of public policy.
Having been barred from seeking re-election due to term limits, Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray (D-75th), currently a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, is seeking election to the county council's 4th District. Gray is black. Her opponent is twelve-year white incumbent, Mike O’Mara.
Gray notes that despite those twelve years in office, O’Mara is virtually unknown to the constituents of the 4th District. Gray notes that among the reasons she is running is because of Mike O’Mara’s failure to be accessible to his constituents, to answer concerns/questions or to preserve the housing structures and neighborhoods of the 4th District. We are now looking at conditions that plague St. Louis City, including abandoned property, lack of street lights and lack of street repairs.
O’Mara has failed to address the unfair traffic ticketing system, including a person’s inability to pay traffic fines; thereby causing warrants to be issued for the defendant’s arrest. This can lead to more issues, such as loss of job if the defendant doesn’t show up for work. Rep. Gray, who was born in St. Louis, moved to North County after marrying and has lived there for the past 31 years of her adult life.
During that time, she experienced significant changes in the quality of life. Many homeowners have moved out of the area but have not sold their properties, instead they have become absentee landlords without attempting to maintain those properties. Both large and small businesses have left the areas. School districts are declining, the Riverview District lost its accreditation. And incumbent O’Mara has done nothing to aid the District in regaining its accreditation.
Rep. Gray was introduced to politics through her father, former State Representative Elbert Walton. She has been in and around politics all of her life. In addition to her father, her step-mother was also elected to the state legislature. Gray succeeded her step-mother in office. She has always been active in her community and considers her move to seek election to the legislature as a natural transition.
Gray was motivated to run for the county council at the urging of others who saw the need for someone who would represent the community and the average worker, not big business or union bosses. There is significant dissatisfaction with County Executive Steve Stenger. Gray believes her role is to make Stenger accountable to his constituents.
The redevelopment of Crestwood and Northwest Plazas were Crestwood and St. Ann’s top priority. The failure of Jamestown Mall to be successfully redeveloped can be directly attributed to O’Mara. Walmart proposed to locate there and O’Mara opposed it because Walmart was not unionized. Walmart located in Florissant instead. Walmart would have brought Jamestown Mall back alive.
Where has Mike O'Mara been all these years? And when it comes to important local redevelopment issues, why has St. Louis County been so unsuccessful?