Progressives Win Some Seats in Bid to Transform St. Louis Democratic Party


Twenty-seven-year-old Marty Murray Jr. defeated longtime Democratic operative Brian Wahby in the 7th Ward. In the 9th, social worker Sara Johnson beat incumbent committeewoman Pat Ortmann, who is married to Alderman Ken Ortmann. And immigration lawyer Annie Rice won the open seat in the 8th.

All told, the loose coalition of young progressives hoping to gain power in St. Louis city's Democratic Party didn't win them all. But they did win a few key races against some big names.

In a majority of contested races, though, Democratic heavy hitters held on. Both State Rep. Penny Hubbard and Rodney Hubbard held off their challengers for committee seats — and by greater margins than Penny Hubbard was able to achieve for her statehouse seat. (In her race for reelection as state rep, unofficial returns show Hubbard up by just 94 votes; there is likely to be an election challenge.)

And Alison Dreith, who took on the wife of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed (and triggered an interesting attempt from a Reed staffer to intervene in the race), also lost. Mary Entrup, a former city judge, took 63 percent of the vote.

In the 11th Ward, Adam Kustra, who ran Bernie Sanders' operation in Missouri, lost his committee race to State Rep. Jake Hummel, the state's minority leader. And in the 27th, Rachel Johns failed to beat Pamela Boyd.

The 8th Ward was a bit unusual, with two progressives going head to head. Paul Fehler beat Tony Zebrowski, 55 percent to 43 percent, according to unofficial returns.

The committee seats have little power, which is part of what made the large number of contested seats so unusual. Of the 56 committee seats in the city's wards, 28 were being contested by a combined 87 candidates. It's the highest level of participation in the committee process since 1984, as the RFT reported in last week's cover story.

The candidates were inspired in part by Bernie Sanders' quixotic (and surprisingly successful) campaign for the presidency. Eager to usher in more progressive values into a city that bleeds entirely blue, but doesn't always have much to show for it, and surprised by the lack of resources on the state level, they decided to get involved.

The battles were hard-fought — and in some cases the conflicts sucked in some of the city's top politicians. Reed dipped into his campaign fund to underwrite Entrup in the 6th. Mayor Francis Slay, Reed's frequent opponent, wrote a check to Entrup's opponent, Dreith. State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City), who mounted an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Congressman Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis), kicked in more than $16,000 from her state war chest. 

But perhaps most dramatic were the campaigns of Aldridge and Betts, who were taking on members of the Hubbard family dynasty. Along with Franks, they hired an attorney to look into possible voter fraud — and his statistical analysis raised some serious questions about the family's success at capturing absentee ballots.

That dominance continued last night; the fifth ward, where Tammika Hubbard is the St. Louis alderwoman, showed a higher number of absentee ballots than any other ward. And once again, early returns showed that those ballots broke for the candidate named Hubbard with more than 70 percent of the vote.

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