With Primary Victory, Kimberly Gardner Is Poised to Become St. Louis' First Black Circuit Attorney

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Kimberly Gardner is a registered nurse, state representative and former St. Louis prosecutor. - PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Photo by Danny Wicentowski
  • Kimberly Gardner is a registered nurse, state representative and former St. Louis prosecutor.

Kimberly Gardner is St. Louis’ next circuit attorney. With 47 percent of the vote, the state representative and former prosecutor swept Tuesday’s primary election by a landslide margin, beating out a field of opponents that included two current prosecutors in the Circuit Attorney's Office.

The victory represents a historic moment for the office and the city — there has never been a black circuit attorney in St. Louis. And after sixteen years of circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce calling the shots, the results suggest city voters are ready for an outsider to take the reins.

Gardner spent five years as a prosecutor under Joyce before leaving the office in 2008 to pursue a political career, although she didn't win her seat as state representative to the 77nd District until 2012.

During Gardner's campaign, she touted her political experience and presented herself as the only candidate who both understood the rigors of Circuit Attorney's Office as well as its failures. She highlighted her deep connections to the city's north side neighborhoods and promised to repair the damaged trust between hard-hit communities of color and the criminal justice system. 

The message clearly struck a chord with Black Lives Matter activists and critics of Joyce's handling of police shooting cases. Gardner has vowed to call special prosecutors to review instances of officers using of deadly force.

Gardner has also promised to reform the working culture inside the office, especially when it comes to hiring and retaining black prosecutors. 

Joyce's handpicked successor for circuit attorney, lead homicide prosecutor Mary Pat Carl, pulled in just 24 percent of the vote despite a lengthy career spent handling murders and sexual abuse cases. Carl had previously won the endorsement from the St. Louis Police Officers Association. 

The second active prosecutor in the race, Patrick Hamacher, may have surprised observers in February when he was endorsed by the Ethical Society of Police (St. Louis' black police union), but on Tuesday he nabbed only 14 percent of the primary vote. Steve Harmon, an attorney for St. Louis Public Schools and former metro police officer, came in fourth with 13 percent. 

Considering the lack of any Republican challengers, the circuit attorney race is effectively over. It's a different story in the race for St. Louis sheriff, where former sheriff’s deputy Vernon Betts defeated his four opponents by a comfortable margin. Betts will face Republican and current sheriff's deputy John Castellano III in the general election. 

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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