“It’s not just me,” Jones, 49, said in an interview. “I think that the region itself is seeing a shift in the type of leadership that it wants.”
“I just respect where Black women lead from,” said Jones, who had served as the city’s treasurer since 2013. “We just tend to lead from a different place because nine times out of 10 we’re … taking care of family, either our children or aging parents, or we’re just caretakers in general.”
Jones grounded her campaign on tackling systemic racism, with a key component of that being an overhaul in public safety. Policing had long been a major concern for Black residents and it became a national issue in 2014 after a police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, resulting in an uprising in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb.
When she considers police reform, she thinks about her 13-year-old son. Before Jones launched her campaign, he asked her whether the mayor is in charge of the police department and she said yes.
“He said, ‘Well that’s great, because that means I’ll be safe,’” Jones said. “And that moment just hit me like a ton of bricks because I started to think that his mom shouldn’t have to become mayor in order for him to feel safe if he has an interaction with law enforcement.
“It really fueled me to win and also to change how we do policing to make sure that my kid and other kids like him don’t fear law enforcement officers,” Jones said.
Jones also wants to address accusations of racism within the department. She concedes changing the police department “is not going to be easy” with a police force that has been resistant to change.
Jones points out that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is represented by separate associations, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, which is predominantly White, and the Ethical Society of Police — which is predominantly Black and was established in 1972 to fight police corruption and racism. In 2020, Gardner sued the police union and the city of St. Louis after she said the SLPOA blocked her efforts to investigate racism within the police department and the city.
Jones is sure to face similar pushback from the SLPOA, which has been critical on their Facebook group about calls to defund the police in other cities. Jones is calling for the removal of Jeff Roorda, the SLPOA’s business manager who called Jones a “race-baiter” in a 2017 Facebook post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported at the time. In an email Wednesday, Roorda said he didn’t have anything to add beyond a statement that the association issued the day after the election: “We congratulate all of yesterday’s winners and we commit to continue to partner with them or anyone else willing to do the hard work of making this city a better, safer place to live.”
Jones also wants to form a truth and reconciliation commission, building off the Ferguson Commission report ordered by then-governor Jay Nixon in 2014. Jones calls the report a “starting point” for more public and private conversations about ongoing systemic racism in the region. While certain aspects of the report, such as revising the police department’s use-of-force policies have been implemented, the report has 189 calls to action, including more conversations about racial equity and overhauling policing.
“One of the things we want to do is take a look at the deployment of officers and how do we deploy the right professional to the right call, which means staffing our police and public safety departments with different types of professionals like mental health professionals,” Jones said.
In March, St. Louis announced it would be receiving about $500 million in stimulus funds from the federal government as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Jones has said one of her goals is to distribute the funds with racial equity in mind. She proposes putting some of the money toward rent assistance, grants for small businesses and public WiFi. Her team has also put up a portal asking residents to give feedback on where the money should go and has received more than 250 responses, Jones said.
“In the last six years, voters have become increasingly more sophisticated and know the issues, they’re not relying on stereotypes to say, ‘I think she’ll behave this way because she’s Black or because she’s a woman, because she’s a Black woman,’ ” Brown said. “It’s not a hypothetical anymore.”
Unofficial results of last week’s election show Jones won about 52 percent of the vote against Alderwoman Cara Spencer under a newly enacted approval voting system, which allowed voters to choose as many candidates as they wanted in the primaries and for people to run on a nonpartisan basis. The top two vote-getters, in this case Jones and Spencer, competed against each other in the April 6 runoff.
The change “made a huge difference,” Jones said. “It took out the possibility of vote splitting.”
Jones will be sworn in on April 20.
“I’m excited to work as hard as I can to bring change to the city that I love,” Jones said.