Courtesy of Nicholas Mahrt
Kacey Cordes wants to shake up the St. Louis mayoral race.
The conventional wisdom about St. Louis politics holds that voters in the March 7 Democratic primary get to decide the city's next mayor. That's because St. Louis operates as a single-party game in which elections are mostly hashed out in shades of blue. Currently, out of seven Democratic mayoral candidates, five front-runners are waging increasingly competitive campaigns
under the presumption that the election season will end with the primary.
Kacey Cordes wants throw a wrench into that age-old presumption.
Cordes is the 38-year-old vice president and assistant project manager at US Bancorp Community Development Corporation whose work involves financing Low-Income Housing Tax Credit projects in St. Louis and across the country. This week, her campaign filed a statement of committee organization with the Missouri Ethics Commission, and she plans on filing a formal declaration of candidacy — as an independent — with the St. Louis election board smack-dab on the February 13 deadline.
"I’m interested in having a real election in this city, where the outcome of the election is not determined in the primary," Cordes tells Riverfront Times.
A resident of Lafayette Square, the Cor Jesu graduate says she decided to run in the April 4 general election in order to provide voters a chance to confront the substantial policy challenges facing the city — without all the personal drama
of the primary.
"It's exciting for me to think about a new wave of energy coming into City Hall," she says.
At present, Cordes' campaign has made no visible moves besides filing paperwork. That means she'll have less than three months to introduce herself to voters and convince them that they should choose a political neophyte over whoever emerges from the field of established politicians battling for the primary win. And she'll need a serious amount of money to do that. Nicholas Mahrt, Cordes' husband and spokesman, says the campaign has not accepted any donations to date.
But while hers will definitely be an uphill battle, there's
reason to believe she could impact the race. For one thing, Cordes has potential backing from her father, Dan Cordes, a former Express Scripts executive who made headlines late last year with a plan to build a pro-soccer stadium in midtown St. Louis
— a plan which the MLS rejected in favor of a different ownership group
. For another, her knowledge of real estate and financing (in addition to her decade of high-level work in affordable housing, she's got a master's in real estate development from Columbia) could uniquely position her for an effective challenge of the status quo.
Cordes says she's not comfortable using public funds for "massive stadiums," as she believes those resources could be better spent on fighting concentrated poverty and addressing other city needs. As mayor, she says she would work to implement the sorts of "racial equity" reforms advocated by the Ferguson Commission, and her approach to crime would apparently bridge the gap between "Black Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter." She also wants to expand the police department's staff for community engagement.
"We need to get the police department in a healthier space," she says.
Cordes' progressive bent could create an interesting showdown in the general election, especially if Lyda Krewson wins the primary. Krewson, a moderate, far outpaces her rivals in fundraising and today notched an endorsement from current mayor Francis Slay. But Krewson's campaign, which has earned backing from the union representing police officers and some of the city's big developers, is likely to leave some progressives disaffected — opening the way to a challenge from the left.
Still, if history serves as precedent, it won't be an easy path. Slay himself was challenged by a third-party candidate during his last general election, and Cordes has to be hoping that her attempt goes better than that of the Green Party's James McNeely in 2013
. That year, the general election ended with Slay winning more than 80 percent of the vote.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com