Hartmann: Retire, Lyda

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson should ride off into the sunset.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson should ride off into the sunset. DOYLE MURPHY

It’s not every day that one bumps a legendary quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of the lead of one’s column. Especially without legendary words of one’s own.

But this week’s an exception. I’d planned on quoting Dr. King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in particular the part where he worried aloud that “white moderates” were more of a threat to the civil rights movement than Klansmen and other racists.

I was going to suggest that we in St. Louis were starting to look more like Dr. King’s nightmare than his famous dream, with two white moderates — Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page — vying for St. Louis’ first-ever “This Is What MLK Was Warning About” award. It looked like a tight race.

And then Doxx-Gate happened. Apparently having had a little more than her fill of democracy for a Friday, Krewson decided to disturb the peace of some peaceful protesters who had offended her with budgetary suggestions that would have basically eliminated the police. These were numbers written on pieces of paper, mind you, not burning torches or shards of broken glass. Pieces of paper.

Very calmly, Krewson used her Facebook Live platform to give the citizens a little virtual perp-walking for the crime of radical thought. Krewson ridiculed their numbers and then read their names and addresses for all of the internet to behold. She doxxed them.

This was actually quite new. The optics of a white Democratic mayor — in the middle of the largest racial protest movement in American history — angrily launching virtual tear gas at her own constituents was almost beyond description.

It was fucking unbelievable.

Now, we all make mistakes, and sometimes we might get upset and fly off the handle and say something we wish we hadn’t. Mayors of major cities aren’t typically expected to do such a thing when annoyed by their constituents, but people lose their tempers. It happens.

But Lyda Krewson didn’t just lose her temper. She lost the city. Many hours after her Facebook Live political-death march, Krewson calmly looked at cameras uncomfortably outside the front of her home and doubled down by refusing to apologize. She had to know by then that heads were exploding all over town, but she stood her ground.

It wasn’t for another several hours that it apparently sank in to Krewson that she was sunk with people of color and white progressives, among others, for at least eternity. As if that weren’t enough, the scandal had turned into a national news story. So, Krewson gingerly picked up her Facebook mess and made it a whole lot messier on Twitter:

“I’d like to apologize for identifying individuals who presented letters to me at City Hall today,” she tweeted. “This was during one of my Facebook updates as I was answering routine questions. Never did I intend to harm anyone or cause distress. The update is removed and again, I apologize.”

To be fair, the statement contained two more “apologies” than the previous non-apology. On the other hand, the “never did I intend to harm anyone or cause distress” part was actually worse than not apologizing since people and bots on the internet saw Krewson do that very thing, for that very reason, with their very own eyes (or whatever it is bots have).

This was not an isolated hiccup. Krewson has seemed at war with her own city almost since taking office — from a glaring inability to manage police and crime to transparency issues to that disastrous failure regarding unhoused people. And of course, there’s also the Rex twins of Better Together and airport privatization.

Still, Krewson hadn’t looked this bad since the aftermath of that dark and bloody night of police “kettling” protesters in 2017, for which officers are still being prosecuted. Then, Krewson had stood at the side of her tragically unqualified acting police chief, Lawrence O’Toole, and quietly supported him as he said, “I’m proud to say the city of St. Louis and the police owned the night.” To that — and to questions about those nice police chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” — Krewson shuffled uneasily and said, “I wish they wouldn’t have said that.”

Arguably, that still holds the distinction of “the worst apology ever.” But this one was weak, too. It provoked a flood of calls for Krewson’s resignation. I won’t be joining in.

I have a different idea: Krewson should announce now that she’ll not seek reelection next spring.

In so doing, Krewson would accomplish several things at once. She could spend the next ten months seeking to salvage some sort of positive legacy as mayor. Free of political pressure, she could become an honest broker, which would certainly qualify as a novelty item in city politics.

Krewson could close the workhouse, slay (pun intended) the airport privatization monster for all time to come. She’d at the very least be remembered for integrity and some social distancing from the city’s corrupt political ruling class. Maybe she could also chip away at the police crisis, although in fairness, that task might exceed everyone’s pay grade.

If she’s got spare time, maybe she could use her energy to get out city voters, across racial lines, to vote August 4 to expand Medicaid expansion in Missouri to provide decent health care for the economically disadvantaged. That’s the sort of thing MLK cared about.

Krewson could be remembered as she came in, a nice and decent person with an inspiring personal story. That won’t be building any statues or naming streets for her, but that doesn’t generally work out well for one’s heirs anyway.

Across the great divide, County Executive Hazel Erby could have been doing the same retirement thing this November, had she not been trampled in April 2019 by the lean-and-hungry white moderate, Sam Page. There would be a lot less angst right now in the county and probably a much better police chief. But that subject will need to wait a week, at least.

Ironically, I’m like Krewson: I just ran out of space. So, I’ll end with the lead:

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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