At St. Louis City Hall this week, nostalgia is in the air.
Mayor Francis Slay, with the help of his staff and family, has been busy packing up the office he’s held since 2001.
“There’s a level of emotion to it. I take the job very seriously. It’s a big honor for me to represent the people of St. Louis as the mayor,” he said Tuesday.
On a large table in his office on the second floor, there are countless mementos and keepsakes he’s collected from various charities, civic organizations and supporters at different events.
“I’ve received about a thousand books since I was first elected,” he said.
There are also a number of portraits, posters and pictures that now need to find a new home. Slay said some will end up in his living room, but others will go to local museums or libraries.
“These memories really display the diversity of our community, but also the diversity of what it’s like to be mayor,” he said.
Slay said the strangest thing he’s ever received was a “curse” from a school board member when he was first elected. Around the same time, he said he also received a voodoo kit.
Fortunately, Slay said, he doesn’t think the curse came to fruition. In fact, looking back, he said he has no regrets about his performance and leadership and believes St. Louis is better off now than it was when he was first elected.
“I think the thing I am most proud of is the things I was able to do for those who are less fortunate,” he said. “We are creating a much better environment and better opportunities for those who don’t have a place to lay their head.”
Among his other points of pride, Slay said city residents gained better access to affordable housing and health care under his watch. He also touts a stronger public school system and the regaining of local control of the police department among his other accomplishments.
All of these things, he said, have helped create a new energy and enthusiasm about city living. He said his administration has also made a big impact on neighborhood revitalization and getting people back downtown.
“There’s a new vibrancy in this city. We’ve attracted a lot of millennials who are progressive. That’s exactly what we hope for. This new generation of St. Louis dwellers who are engaged and moving from the suburbs,” he said.
But some problems persist, even after more than a decade of trying to address them.
Slay said crime in the city is down significantly overall, but admitted homicides have spiked in the last three years.
“We have too many guns. They’re too easy to get ahold of and too many types of guns,” he explained.
He also said St. Louis is still grappling with high poverty levels that need to be addressed at a very early age.
“This isn’t just about policing. It’s about creating an environment where people have better opportunities,” Slay said.
So what does he think the solution is?
Slay is very upfront about his support for a St. Louis County and City merger. He said the region already shares successes, challenges, resources, a workforce, an image and an economy.
“What happens in the county affects the city and what happens in the city affects the county,” he said.
That’s why he believes leaders in the area need to start thinking regionally. “The problem we have is that we are not working together well enough as a city and a county. That line that divides the city and the county holds the whole region back,” he said.
And until there’s a unification, Slay said the city will continue to lag behind other cities like Indianapolis and Louisville.
“I see it every day. We are falling behind.”
As for what’s next for Slay, he said he’ll be working right up until his successor, Mayor-elect Lyda Krewson, is sworn in on Tuesday afternoon.
Then, he said he’ll be turning his phone off for the first time in 16 years. And after a short hiatus, he’ll emerge as a private citizen and practicing attorney again in downtown St. Louis.
And don’t expect to see him hold elected office. He said he has ruled that out for his future. “I can’t start something new with one foot out the door already.”