Mayor Lyda Krewson is retiring.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced this afternoon that she won't seek re-election and will instead retire in April at the end of her term.
Krewson became the first woman to serve as mayor after winning the election in 2017. She was previously the longtime alderwoman for the 28th Ward, representing the Central West End.
"Over my remaining term I will continue to focus every day — and until the last day — on the pandemic, economy and heartbreaking gun violence traumatizing way too many of our families," she said during what was at times an emotional address.
Krewson was facing a difficult path to re-election. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who was a close second to Krewson in the 2017 Democratic primary, announced two weeks ago that she was running for mayor. Another strong challenger, Alderwoman Cara Spencer of Ward 20, announced her campaign in January. And while Krewson benefitted from a split vote in the 2017 race, the newly passed Proposition D would likely make re-election tough. The change in municipal elections to a system of approval voting will set up a runoff in the general election among the top two vote getters, meaning there's less opportunity for a spoiler.
In this afternoon's address, Krewson insisted that her reasons for stepping aside were personal.
"This past weekend — you may know this — I had a birthday," Krewson, 67, said, adding, "Birthdays are good, and of course, they also make you think about the future: What comes next?"
Krewson's term has covered a wild four years in the city. On her first day in office in 2017, she announced the retirement of the police chief. Five months later, she took heat for the department as the streets swelled with activists infuriated by the acquittal of ex-cop Jason Stockley, who was accused of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith.
This year, the city has been rocked by protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrators staged mass protests in front of her home after she read the names and other information about defund the police activists during a briefing broadcast in June on Facebook. She later apologized, but the protests became intense enough that she moved out of her Central West End home for a time.
A political moderate, she was seen by police reform activists as a protector of the city's law enforcement and a standard-bearer for the status quo of an unjust criminal justice system. When the pandemic hit, she battled critics of the city's decisions over mask mandates and restrictions on bars, restaurants and public gatherings — both from people who think she went too far, and those who think she hasn't done enough.
This afternoon, Krewson said the criticism is part of the job.
"I think when you run for this office, you have to understand the pain of where protests come from," Krewson said. "And when you run for this job, you take that on as well."
During her address, Krewson covered the sweep of her career and the tragedy that upended her life and shaped her political direction.
"Twenty-five years ago, I was living what I thought was my best life," she said. "I was married to a great guy, had two little kids, two and five years old. My husband was an architect. I was a CFO of an international design firm. Then, in the blink of an eye, our lives changed forever."
The change came on March 23, 1995. The family had just returned from a shopping trip when an armed gunman shot Krewson's husband, Jeff Krewson, during an attempted carjacking, killing him in front of her and the couple's children. The mayor said people tried to persuade her to move away, but she and her kids remained in the family's home.
"We stayed, and a couple of years later, I decided to try and make our neighborhood better," Krewson said.
She ran for alderwoman and won in 1997, beginning a 23-year run as an elected official in the city. During her address, Krewson spoke about championing a smoking ban and tougher gun laws during her time on the board of aldermen.
She has also been an advocate for development, leading to criticism over generous tax breaks enjoyed by developers who had her support. During her address this afternoon, Krewson said she would continue to push for business growth in the city during the rest of her term.
"The momentum we had before COVID is not gone," she said. "It is providing jobs today, and it will provide more jobs in the future, and a new mayor will lead us forward."
But it was the topic of violence that she returned to repeatedly during the news conference.
"When a person is shot or killed on our streets, it's a gut punch to me every time," Krewson said, getting choked up. "I know that feeling, and I feel for those families."
After she retires, Krewson said she'll remain in the city but will have more time to relax and enjoy it.
Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed has suggested he may enter the race, and Krewson's would be successors still have until Monday to file to run. But as it stands, she will be replaced by another woman — a fact she addressed during her speech. She said she was proud to be the first and expects the novelty to wear off as more women follow her into the mayor's office:
"The comments over pearls, hairstyle and whether it's mayoral to carry a purse will all fade away."
Editor's note: This story was altered significantly after publication to include additional information.
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