In an about-face, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson now says she won’t oppose letting voters decide if Lambert International Airport should be privatized.
She previously said a public vote was unnecessary even though she has officially taken a neutral stance on the controversial issue until a final plan materializes.
Krewson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Friday that she doesn’t care “either way” if there is a public vote on the issue even though it may not be legally binding and only “if and when there is a proposal” for an actual lease deal.
Good for the mayor. Let the people vote. It’s the right call. And if we are being honest, after the Better Together fiasco, Mayor Krewson didn’t have a choice.
To circumvent the voters again on a Rex Minefield special would have been political suicide. That is the reality even if the St. Louis Board of Aldermen never adopt’s a bill setting an election.
Taking the airport private could result in a hefty financial windfall for both the city and whomever is selected as the private operator. Proponents say such an arrangement could result in increased investment, improved service and potentially more flights.
Critics say that hasn’t always been the case in other cities that have adopted public/private airport management partnerships. They also say this Rex deal doesn’t pass the smell test in terms of transparency or conflict of interest.
Rex Sinquefield is the retired St. Louis billionaire who is spending a jaw-dropping $800,000 a month on an army of lobbyists and consultants to get the airport privatization plan across the finish line, according to news reports.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sinquefield has a financial stake in both the key financial adviser to the airport privatization process, and one of the companies that is bidding on managing the airport.
That has raised some eyebrows. It’s unclear how privatization would impact the 7,000 people who work at the airport. It’s still too early to know exactly how any privatization plan would work as the consultants work through the process with city officials.
Like Better Together, the Rex-inspired plan may never take flight.
Why should any of us in Franklin County care about all this inside political jockeying over the St. Louis airport? Simple, if you use the airport, as most of us do from time to time, you have an interest in the outcome of any airport privatization deal. We depend on the airport to get us where we need to go.
St. Louis Lambert International Airport is the largest and busiest airport in the state with over 7.6 million people boarding planes there in 2018 although not too long ago, it had almost twice that many.
Will this deal improve an airport that has struggled in recent years? Or is it just a play to enrich the already rich?
Clearly there is a lot at stake. And that’s precisely why Krewson should welcome the public’s imprimatur. In fact, she should insist on it after Rex’s failed Better Together city-county merger experiment which sought an end run around a local vote which critics rightfully called undemocratic.
The same mistake shouldn’t be made with airport privatization.