For Lewis Reed, Hard Questions About Abortion — and No Comment

Jan 18, 2017 at 6:00 am
Lewis Reed, far right, launched his city-wide profile as a Slay ally. Then he ran against him in 2013.
Lewis Reed, far right, launched his city-wide profile as a Slay ally. Then he ran against him in 2013. PHOTO BY THEO WELLING

One month ago, State Senator Jamilah Nasheed levied a startling accusation against Lewis Reed, the president of the city's Board of Aldermen and, at the time, a fellow candidate in this spring's mayoral race.

Nasheed told me that she'd sought a donation from Dave Steward, the founder of St. Louis-based World Wide Technology. In return, she was asked two questions by his lobbyist: Did she support gay marriage? And did she believe in a woman's right to choose?

Like Reed (and, indeed, anyone with a snowball's chance of being elected St. Louis mayor) Nasheed is a Democrat. She told the lobbyist that she strongly supported both gay marriage and abortion rights. And with that, she said, the conversation ended. It was clear that no money would be coming.

But, Nasheed pointed out, Dave Steward is one of Lewis Reed's biggest donors. So far this election cycle, he's given Reed $25,000.

So how would Reed answer the questions posed by Steward's lobbyist? Does he oppose abortion? What about gay marriage?

Nasheed believes he must, or at minimum represented as such to the IT entrepreneur. And either way, it's a big problem for a guy seeking to be mayor of St. Louis. Says Nasheed, "Either Lewis Reed lied to him, or he does not represent the beliefs of the people he wants to lead in this city."

Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which is the case, or what transpired in any interactions between Reed and the lobbyists repping Steward. The lobbyist Nasheed spoke to, Dave McCracken, referred my questions to another person at his firm, Richard McIntosh. McIntosh did not respond to requests for comment. And Reed did not respond to repeated requests for comment over a three-week period. We did not publish a story.

Weeks later, I reached out to Reed's camp again, this time with a different request. We were putting together a series of profiles on the major mayoral candidates for our print issue. When would he be available for an interview? No response. I tried again, repeatedly, even offering to talk on background first in case they feared an ambush. Neither he nor anyone with his campaign returned a single call or email. I can only presume it's because they feared I would ask about Steward.

Perhaps Steward supported Reed without the litmus test he gave to Nasheed. But his support, and Nasheed's allegations, bear further discussion. Abortion is certain to be a hot button issue in St. Louis this year — the state's only abortion clinic is located within city limits, and bills are pending that would restrict protests and enshrine in the city's ordinances new protections for women who've had abortions. One of those bills would even make St. Louis a "sanctuary city" for reproductive rights, in the words of its sponsor. How does Lewis Reed feel about that? He won't say.

Among the political chattering class in St. Louis these days, there's a sense that Reed, now 54, is a man in search of a constituency. After running — and winning — in three citywide elections, as well as his unsuccessful challenge to Mayor Slay back in 2013, he has relatively high name recognition. But his success may depend, in the words of one veteran political consultant, on turnout from "low-information" voters. Reed seems to be the first choice of few, if any, of the major constituencies active in city politics these days.

That's partly an accident of history. Reed won the aldermanic presidency in part because he was backed by Slay, but ended up on opposite sides when the mayor ran for an unprecedented fourth term — and Reed decided to run against him. During that race, Reed became a rallying point for Slay's opposition, securing the support of both the city's firefighters and many north city residents. But while the firefighters union has continued to support him financially, now north city residents have no less than three of their own representatives running. Why should they support a guy who lives in Compton Heights? Meanwhile, the man long thought to be Reed's closest aldermanic ally, Antonio French, is himself running, and even some former allies on the board speak of Reed derisively.

Will name recognition be enough as the race heats up? Reed seems to be banking on the idea that it will. He's not ignoring the media (he participated in St. Louis Public Radio's podcast profile series), but he seems to be studiously avoiding controversy even as other candidates plunge into it in the hopes of making headlines.

But at some point, he has to face the public, and I hope at that point, someone asks him about his position on abortion and gay marriage — not to mention crime, the city's penchant for throwing tax abatement at developers and other hot-button issues facing St. Louis. His donors can ask in private, but the voters weighing their choices in a crowded mayoral field deserve to know, too.