COURTESY OF NICK DUNNE
Alderwoman Annie Rice, part of the STL Not for Sale group, was barred from City Hall.
The press conference held by St. Louis: Not for Sale
yesterday was pretty tame as far as these things go. No chanting, no marching. Just a half-dozen people concerned about the effort to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport
, and a half-dozen or so journalists intent on quoting them.
But City Hall was apparently expecting something a bit more rambunctious. Just before the 3 p.m. press event began on the stairs facing Tucker Street, security guards closed the gates for that entrance and a few others. Questioned why, they said only that orders had come from their supervisors.
The action was particularly odd because roughly half the group assembled to criticize the privatization effort consisted of city alderwomen. Alderwoman Annie Rice says she actually left her office inside City Hall to participate in the press conference — only to see the gates soon locked behind her.
"It just seemed baffling," she says.
Koran Addo, a spokesman for the mayor's office, says the decision would have been made by the city marshals, a unit of the police department responsible for security at City Hall. The mayor was not involved, he said.
There's been some speculation that the locked gates were ordered because officials expected a protest. Both Rice and Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green were frequently seen marching during the protests that greeted the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley one year ago. Others in the group have also taken to the streets on various occasions.
But yesterday's focus was policy, not protest. St. Louis: Not for Sale is seeking to raise awareness about the canvassers currently visiting homes throughout the city to talk about the benefits of airport privatization. Thanks to the city's agreement with Grow Missouri
, the Rex Sinquefield-backed group helping it explore privatization, the costs of such public relations efforts could end up being paid by the city if a lease deal for the airport goes through.
To the group — which is both gathering signatures and pursuing a bill at the Board of Aldermen to demand a public vote
— it feels like they're fighting not just Sinquefield and his deep pockets, but also City Hall. As Alderwoman Green explained in the group's press advisory, "From day one, this process has been set up by political insiders for political insiders. Once again, the interests trying to privatize our airport are providing half-truths to try to sway public perception about privatization.” (In a statement, the city defended its efforts as "an informal outreach campaign to keep the public up-to-date on this exploration.")
As for the lockdown, it didn't really have an impact on the press conference — the group had always planned to stay on the steps, not go inside, and they kept to that plan. A few minutes after the event was over, Rice says, workers reopened the gates .... even though the entire the group was still just standing around and could presumably storm the place or whatever the city was trying to prevent in the first place.
But the closure did inconvenience at least one man who'd come to City Hall to take care of business (offices on site include a DMV, as well as city agencies that interact with the public, such as the recorder of deeds). "He was literally irate," reports Alderwoman Cara Spencer, "screaming and jumping up and down." Welcome, visitor, to St. Louis City Hall — and, apparently, democracy in action.
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