Photos by Danny Wicentowski
The Democratic candidates for St. Louis circuit attorney, from left to right: Kim Gardner, Steve Harmon Jr., Patrick Hamacher, Mary Pat Carl. All four spoke during a Democratic candidate forum on Tuesday.
What an election year 2016 has turned out to be. The presidential race is a garbage fire. Missouri is getting a new governor, and that race just keeps getting weirder
. Topping it off, St. Louis will have a new mayor
for the first time since 2001.
But the most significant local election arguably will be for St. Louis Circuit Attorney, a position held by Jennifer Joyce since 2000. The Circuit Attorney's office is responsible with handling all felony and misdemeanor cases within the city limits. Prosecutors working under the Circuit Attorney build cases and represent the city in enforcing criminal laws in court. The job is tough and criticism can be fierce
, especially when it comes to handling hot potatoes such as officer-involved shootings
, Joyce announced that she was ready to leave her long-held position and ride off into the sunset in an RV. Her decision sparked a scramble of potential candidates, resulting in a field that features two current city prosecutors, one former prosecutor and the son of former St. Louis mayor Clarence Harmon. All are running as Democrats. Since this is St. Louis, the August 2 Democratic primary vote will essentially decide the winner of the race.
The candidates will appear for their first formal debate
on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Busch Student Center.
Here's a quick breakdown of the contenders, listed in alphabetical order.
Mary Pat Carl:
Currently the lead homicide prosecutor in the Circuit Attorney's Office, Carl boasts nearly fourteen years experience as a St. Louis prosecutor and is a forceful public speaker. (She is a trial attorney, after all.) She is Joyce's hand-picked successor. To address rising crime Carl wants to establish a witness protection unit so that victims and witnesses feel secure while working with prosecutors.
"We won’t be able to end this gun violence in the city of St. Louis until we are able to calm that fear that people have in standing up," said Carl during a candidate forum Tuesday night. "I’ve looked around the country, there are jurisdictions that are doing this. They are supporting their victims and their witnesses with commonsense security measures. I know that we can launch this program."
A registered nurse and former assistant prosecutor with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office who went on to represent Missouri's 77th district
, Gardner presents herself as an outsider ready to shake things up.
"This will not work if we do not build trust in the criminal justice system," she said on Tuesday. "That’s why we need someone who can offer a comprehensive approach to how we ask for trust. That means how we implement ethics reform in the office, having real diversity inside that office and that we understand how legislation plays inside that office."
A young-gun prosecutor, Hamacher has spent the last five years with the Circuit Attorney's Office and currently handles murders, robberies and assaults. Under his leadership, Hamacher says the Circuit Attorney's Office would focus on alternative sentencing and diversion programs in place of jail time.
"It's time we take some new approaches and fresh perspectives," he told the crowd at the candidate's forum. "To address the trust in the criminal justice system, I intend to use the resources that have available for victim and witnesses to make sure they get the protection that they need, to diversify the office, to call for special prosecutor in officer-involved shooting cases, and to not prosecute the misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases, as those cases disproportionately effect minority communities and they clog up our criminal justice system."
Harmon's career sets him apart from the other three candidates. He's never worked in the Circuit Attorney's office, but claims his twenty-plus years in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (and later work as an attorney) provide him with an unmatched managerial background. If elected, he intends to increase diversity the office and to build better lines of communication between prosecutors and communities.
"The St. Louis Circuit Attorney is a managerial administrative position," he said during the candidate forum. "I have experience supervising, managing, budgets, discipline, hiring, firing promotions and so forth. As far as the office of the Circuit Attorney, my plans are, of course, to bring diversity to that office, because that office should reflect the community that it serves."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com