St. Louis police Chief Sam Dotson thought he'd take it slow — form an exploratory committee, do some polling and, once the noise of the presidential election quieted, go all in on his plans to run for mayor.
Then last week happened. Mayor Francis Slay talked to Dotson on Monday about the chief's plans, waited two days and delivered a kidney punch. Slay bluntly told reporters on Wednesday if Dotson decided to run for mayor, he would ask him to resign.
"I want to be clear to the citizens of St. Louis that I will not condone a part-time police chief," Slay said in a prepared statement. "Chief Dotson should be completely focused on the job he he has. Our city deserves no less. Should Chief Dotson decide to become a candidate for mayor, I expect him to resign, for this City deserves a top crime fighter dedicated to the task 24/7."
Dotson has no plans to resign (under state law, the mayor can only fire him for cause) but he figured his opportunity to announce on his own schedule was blown. He issued his own release within hours, touting himself as a political outsider with inside knowledge of how the city operates and what it needs.
"I am not a career politician," Dotson wrote. "I have never run for office. But every single day, I lead an elite group of heroes who do the critically important work of going into our neighborhoods and making a difference in the lives of ever day St. Louisans."
Dotson told the Riverfront Times
on Sunday he knew Slay's position from their talk on Monday, but the timing of his statement surprised him. He praised the mayor's work during nearly sixteen years in office, but he disagrees that running for office would turn him into a "part-time police chief."
"We clearly disagree on his position," Dotson says.
The rushed announcement seemed to speed up the entire race as two more heavy hitters made moves of their own during the next 24 hours. Later that evening, Treasurer Tishaura Jones told supporters who'd launched a #drafttishaura campaign on Twitter that she had filed her initial campaign paperwork. Alderman Antonio French, a frequent sparring partner of both Slay and Dotson, began the next day with a Twitter post, announcing "I'm in."
Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and Alderwoman Lyda Krewson announced this summer their intentions to run. Gregory F.X. Daly, the city's collector of revenue, has also formed a campaign committee.
It all makes for a suddenly crowded and very busy campaign. Dotson hopes to differentiate himself as an expert on public safety but also as someone who is knowledgeable about what it takes to run the city. He says he learned a lot during his time as the mayor's director of operations and would build on Slay's foundation if he wins. Despite Wednesday's barb, Slay has generally been supportive of Dotson over the years.
Slay was in London over the weekend, but Dotson says he doesn't think there will be any friction when they meet again on city business.
Dotson says the mayor's job would be an opportunity to work on issues, such as the economy and education, that directly relate to crime but are currently outside his purview as chief.
"If I wasn't the police chief — which I love being, by the way — I'd want to be an economist," says Dotson, who studied business and has an MBA.
But running as a police chief at a time when police-community relations are strained across the country comes with baggage.
French, who became a national figure during the Ferguson protests, tweeted he'd fire Dotson "on Day 1" were he to win the election.
Murders spiked to 188 last year, but Dotson says overall crime is lower than it was under his predecessors. And he says he's had good relationships with protest leaders who've gotten to know him. He expects to meet more while campaigning.
Campaigning raises its own issues. Dotson says he will not do any of it while on the job, leaving him nights and weekends to stump. He expects it to be an especially busy five months before next spring's primary. He'll now do some of what he planned to do before — raising money and polling to learn what's most important to residents.
If he loses, he says, he'd like to stay on as police chief.
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