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Getting To Know Heather Navarro

New Ward 28 alderman calls herself ambassador for Central West End

Heather Navarro holds a law degree from Washington University and is executive director at Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Navarro was elected in a special July 11 election to represent the city's 28th Ward, a ward that includes the Central West End. | photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

July 26, 2017
Democrat Heather Navarro, elected 28th Ward alderman in St. Louis on July 11, has lots to say about a GOP talking point called "local control." She bristles that Jefferson City is messing with the local decision-making rights of the Gateway City.

The most recent infringement was the action by Gov. Eric Greitens to sign into law a Republican bill in the legislature to invalidate a St. Louis measure on the minimum wage. Greitens' decision lowered the minimum wage in St. Louis from $10 to $7.70 per hour.

Statehouse meddling with St. Louis has received national attention because the wage hike had already taken effect. By lowering it, Greitens and the legislature took money directly out of the pockets of 35,000 working families.

As blue cities in Missouri become incubators for progressive policy, a red state legislature tramples on their authority with "preemption laws." These laws forbid municipalities from implementing their own rules related to minimum wage, paid sick days, plastic bag taxes and hot-button issues related to hiring and discrimination.

"It boggles my mind when I hear all this preaching by Republicans about local control, and then they work against it on everything from wages to the environment," said the newly-minted member of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

"One of the things I would like to encourage in my new position is for St. Louis to reach out to cities like Columbia, Springfield and Kansas City and together directly confront the state legislature on the issue of local control," said Navarro. "We are urban areas with interests that aren't always the same as those of rural areas represented by so many of the legislators."

Navarro's concerns about the state lowering the minimum wage play into two issues that she campaigned on when running to replace Lyda Krewson, who left the aldermanic seat to become mayor of St. Louis. Those issues involve race and economic development.

A mostly white legislature is overriding laws of a heavily minority city and lowering wages that affect an inordinate number of black families. What's more, economic development is an essential component to fighting crime – slashing the minimum wage by 23 percent removes money that would have been spent in the local economy.

Another pre-emptive action by the legislature, which troubles Navarro, is the move to void a St. Louis law that bars employer discrimination against women who favor or who have exercised reproductive choice.

"This is clearly overreach by the state legislature," said Navarro. "It's also unconstitutional."

"People come from all over to see the Central West End and visit the unique shops, restaurants and galleries," said Navarro. "It's a destination." | photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)

Environmental Law

Navarro has a law degree from Washington University and has represented parents of children with special needs, victims of both race and disability discrimination, and Medicaid recipients who couldn't access basic services and needed resources.

For the past four years she has been executive director at Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE), a statewide non-profit focused on protecting the environment and public health through education and advocacy.

"There are a number of areas where my work with MCE should be helpful for my ward and the city," said Navarro. "This would include climate resiliency, energy efficiency to save money – and the environment, urban farming, local food availability and healthy diet.

"We need to see that city residents have access to produce and foods that improve their health," added Navarro. "It's unfortunate, but St. Louis ranks poorly with diet and the number of residents with obesity problems. Some statistics show as many as 30 percent of our residents deal with these issues."

Of course, locally-produced food and urban farming depend on a hospitable climate. Navarro said she is pleased St. Louis has joined more than 300 other U.S. cities expressing concern about rising temperatures and distancing themselves from President Donald Trump's assertion that climate change is just a Chinese hoax.

"I think it's great that our mayor has joined others in affirming the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, despite the President turning his back on that agreement," said Navarro. "Local officials also have to get our representatives in Congress to stop the dismantling of the Clean Water Act and the EPA.

"I am a Democrat and I will campaign for Claire McCaskill for Senate in 2018," said Navarro. "But I would like to see more concern about clean water for St. Louis residents and regional problems like radioactive contamination at West Lake Landfill.

"If Democrats want to win, they have to give urban residents a reason not to stay home on election day," added Navarro. "Many urban residents just feel disenfranchised and that big money controls everything. We've got to get big money out of politics, which is one of the reasons I support the CLEAN Missouri ballot measure."

Central West End Ambassador

During her campaign, Navarro described herself as an ambassador for the Central West End. She said residents in her ward are right to care about what businesses come into their neighborhoods and to take steps that will make their areas safer.

"People come from all over to see the Central West End and visit the unique shops, restaurants and galleries," said Navarro. "It's a destination. Residents have the right to ask businesses that want to locate here to understand and appreciate the culture and the diversity that's here."

Navarro views Forest Park, its institutions and the Central West End as regional assets that are not always appreciated when discussions begin on healing the "Great Divorce" between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

"Our region is fractured and there are good reasons to study the issue of greater collaboration between the city and the county. Should the city and county merge at some point? Should the city become a municipality inside the county? I want to study it all more and to keep an open mind."

Navarro said leaders in suburban cities, who want nothing to do with St. Louis, need to think about how the region's fate is tied to the city.

"And their towns benefit from this city," added Navarro. "We have the major culture, sports and entertainment venues that people enjoy from all over the region. Preserving and enhancing those assets benefit the entire region."

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