City residents are set to vote Tuesday in the race to be St. Louis’ most powerful lawmaker. Whether the results will stick is anyone’s guess.
Tuesday’s special primary election for aldermanic president is mostly an elaborate poll: New election rules will pick the top two candidates in the primary, meaning that, no matter what, both on the ballot this week — aldermen Megan Green and Jack Coatar — are guaranteed a rematch in November’s general election.
“It’s absurd,” said Lana Stein, a longtime political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “This is an unnecessary election.”
Still, whoever ultimately wins this fall will hold significant power over what bills get heard at the Board of Aldermen and what the city spends its money on, at least until new elections in the spring. They’ll also do so at a time when leadership is being tested: The city is struggling to pick up the trash and answer 911 calls. There’s growing alarm over public safety. And there are still decisions to make about a massive haul of federal aid and a big settlement from the NFL.
And of course, they’ll also be the presumptive favorite in the spring.
That leaves Coatar, of Soulard, and Green, of Tower Grove South, unwilling to give up any ground, even a meaningless primary.
“You want your supporters to come out and have a strong show of support,” Coatar said.
“It matters,” she said, “for momentum.”
And for weeks, both candidates have been raising money, hiring staff and knocking on thousands of doors across the city to get their messages out. Green tells people about her plan to build a city that works for everyone. Coatar talks up plans to fix “basic services.”
They’ve also rolled out their major endorsements. Coatar has former mayors Francis Slay and Lyda Krewson in his corner. Mayor Tishaura O. Jones and U.S. Rep. Cori Bush are vouching for Green.
Still, there are good reasons to doubt that voters’ reaction Tuesday will predict November, observers say:
Special election dates usually attract fewer voters as a rule. Advocates are worried confusion over Missouri’s new voter ID law, which requires a government-issued photo ID, could keep more people away. And candidates say the election board’s controversial decision to reduce the number of polling places on Tuesday, from the usual 70 to just 15, could do the same.
Ben Borgmeyer, the Democratic director at the city elections board, said he’d be surprised if more than 20% of the electorate showed up. Gary Stoff, the Republican director, guessed no more than 10%.
The November contest, on the other hand, will coincide with the regular midterm election day, when all the usual polling places will be available and a U.S. Senate race could push turnout above 50%.
“It’s two entirely different elections,” Coatar said.
The time between them could also change the race. Coatar likely started his campaign at a disadvantage to Green in a crucial category: name recognition. People like to vote for who they know, and Green got her name out in a previous run for aldermanic president in 2019 and then ran for a state Senate seat covering roughly half of the city in 2020. Coatar has never run outside his ward, so more time could boost his standing.