by Michael R. Allen
Today, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen convened for the first time since the general election. New members Antonio French (D-21st), Joe Vaccaro (D-23rd) and Shane Cohn (D-25th) joined 11 re-elected incumbents and 14 members whose terms do not expire until 2011. The board approved several consent resolutions and had first reading of 25 bills, including several to vacate streets and alleys.
Shane Cohn and Antonio French are young, neighborhood-oriented aldermen whose reputations as activists precedes their efforts at electoral politics. In Dutchtown, Shane has been part of an emerging renaissance of the business district around Meramec and Virginia. Shane is also the first openly gay member of the Board of Aldermen. Coming from the heart of south St. Louis, that is a great accomplishment.
Through Pub Def (reborn today), Antonio has kept the flame of intelligent political advocacy journalism alive in St. Louis. His prior campaign for the Board of Education showed that he is willing to act on his principles. In the six years since that run, Antonio’s work has only gotten better. One of his strongest traits is his penchant to build coalitions around issues he cares about — sometimes drawing together people who otherwise would not talk. He’s also been an ambassador to other cities, attending the Great Lakes Urban Exchange conferences to represent the great things happening in St. Louis to young people from the broader region.
Readers of this blog will take heart that both Shane and Antonio are preservation-minded. In fact, Antonio ran on a platform centered on re-directing block grant money from new construction to existing housing where constituents need home repairs. Both represent areas densely populated with abundant, aging stocks of historic buildings — pivotal wards for the future of preservation in the city.
I don’t know what Vaccaro will do in terms of preservation and development, but I have no reason to be alarmed.
Some may still mourn the lack of competition for Room 200, but I’m overjoyed that we elected two young, progressive aldermen this year. Change starts at home, not the executive office. Few call the mayor when they want the vacant house next door torn down — they call the alderman.