Balancing Act: 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson finds time for family, career and public service
By Eileen P. Duggan
Originally published in the West End Word June 17, 2011.
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED. SEE BELOW.
After 13 and a half years, Lyda Krewson still loves being the 28th Ward Alderman in the City of St. Louis.
“It’s such a great ward to represent,” says Krewson, who was first elected in a special election in December 1997. The 28th Ward takes in Forest Park and areas north of Lindell, including the Central West End.
“It’s very diverse,” she says. “There’s a balance of interests between the business interests and the residential interests. There’s old and young, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight. I think that’s why most people choose to live here, because they like that mix. It’s what keeps this neighborhood so desirable. It’s the balancing of interests.”
Krewson does her own balancing act, juggling her aldermanic activities with a full-time job as chief financial officer of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets, a large planning and architectural firm. She also has two children, Jack, 18, who recently graduated from John Burroughs School, and Taylor, 21, who is working toward an art degree at Webster University. Her husband is former KSDK-TV reporter Mike Owens.
When Krewson considered running to fill the seat of Dan McGuire, who resigned in 1997 to take the position of parks director, she was a widow with two little kids. “I needed my day job,” she says
She went to her boss, CWE resident Fred Guyton, to ask his opinion. He told her, “‘I guess we’ll all just have to adjust, won’t we?’” she relates. “So this forward-thinking guy gave me the ability to be the alderman and the CFO of PGAV at the same time.
“I think it’s an advantage to elect people who can get another job — who have another skill set,” she says. “You attract different people to the job if it’s a full-time job. I think we should elect people who can make very independent decisions. I love being the alderman. But having another job and another skill set gives you the independence to make good decisions, the best decisions you can, based on what you think, rather than what you think is more expedient to help you get re-elected.”
Besides, she adds, “most voters that I talk to are not so keen on career politicians.”
Her other skills are useful in her work on four aldermanic committees: Housing, Urban Development and Zoning; Legislative; Parks and Environment; and Convention and Tourism, for which she is chair. The Legislative committee is currently working on drawing new ward boundaries to reflect the new census figures.
The board of aldermen wasn’t Krewson’s first foray into politics. She ran for the school board in 1989, setting up a red pop-up tent outside the election board in order to hold her place in the filing line over the Christmas and New Years holiday. She lost that one, but she did serve as senior class secretary at Moberly High School.
The oldest of four children, Krewson was born near Davenport, Iowa, and moved with her family to St. Joseph and Fairfield, Ill., before settling in Moberly between her sophomore and junior year. She attended Moberly Area Community College for a year then transferred to Northeastern Missouri State University (now Truman State). She graduated in 1974 with a degree in psychology and a special education minor.
That year, Krewson and her first husband, a “nice guy from Moberly,” moved to St. Louis, where she earned an additional bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1976. After getting her CPA certification, she landed a job with the accounting firm of Touche Ross and Co.
She was divorced in the early 1980s, and in 1984, she took a position with PGAV. The firm, headquartered in St. Louis, is known nationally for its destinations business — design of exhibits and buildings for zoos, museums, hotels and attractions such as Sea World and Busch Gardens.
Krewson was thrust into the public eye on March 23, 1995, when her second husband, architect Jeffrey Krewson, was shot and killed in their car outside their Central West End condo. She and their two children, aged 2 and 5, were with him. After the tragedy, she chose to stay in the Central West End, became more active in the neighborhood, then ran for alderman. She still lives in the condo.
In 1998, she married Owens, who now practices law in Richmond Heights.
Over the years, Krewson has learned that there are three aspects to being an alderman. First, constituent service: “That’s returning phone calls, returning e-mails,” she says. “You have to figure out how to do that efficiently. If that’s all you do, that’s terrific, but you should do more.”
Second, development: “It’s working with developers to bring responsible development to the area.”
Third, legislation: “That is figuring out how you’re going to vote on other people’s legislation and thinking about what sort of legislation you want to introduce. I like to think about those citywide issues.”
Some of her successful legislation has been indeed citywide — and controversial. She’s most proud of the “Clean Air Act,” which banned smoking in almost all indoor public places, effective Jan. 1, 2011.
“We led the conversation in the region,” she says. “It’s actually the one thing we’ve done that affects the health of workers and patrons for the long term. It’s the right thing to do.”
But she acknowledges that the law doesn’t sit well with all of her constituents. Krewson also made waves with her “doggie dining” bill, which allows dogs to accompany their owners at sidewalk cafés.
“If you’re out walking your dog and you stop for coffee, it’s supposed to be illegal?” she asks. No, she doesn’t have a dog, but there is a cat in the household.
Her other successful legislation includes the 2008 ban on aggressive panhandling on city streets and in parks; a 2007 ordinance that prohibits solicitation by charities on city streets; and a 2007 ordinance that requires documentation for cash sales of bricks and scrap metal such as copper.
But it’s the constituency that keeps Krewson running for office. “I like meeting the people, even the people who are aggravated about whatever. I like interacting with them. It’s getting to know so many folks. I genuinely like being the alderman.”
UPDATE 6/14/16: On June 14, 2016, Lyda Krewson announced her intention to run for mayor of St. Louis in 2017. Mayor Francis Slay previously announced he is not running for a fifth term. For information on Krewson’s campaign, visit www.lydakrewson.com/.
UPDATE 3/9/17: Lyda Krewson won the Democratic primary for mayor of St. Louis on March 7, 2017. She will face Republican Andrew Jones in the general election on April 4.
UPDATE 4/21/17: Lyda Krewson was elected as the first female mayor in St. Louis’ history and was sworn in April 18.