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For the past several years, Cara was on the front line leading the fight against the privatization of the city’s largest asset, St. Louis Lambert International Airport. With her as the biggest threat to this inside deal, the organizers of the scheme seemed willing to stop at nothing to get her out of the way – including waging a recall to throw her out of office.
One privatization proposal finally died when interests that had waged the petition drive pulled it from the ballot. A similar controversial proposal by Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Alderman, also died a painful death at the Board. Both plans had been pushed by right-wing billionaire Rex Sinquefield and had been fraught with conflicts of interest since the plan came to light in 2017.
Airport privatization as proposed by Sinquefield and Reed was:
- An insider deal from day one. The conflicts have been outlined extensively. Sinquefield’s consultants would have been paid $44 million off the top of the profit from the airport sale. The bill also ensured that a 49-year deal was inked before the next mayor takes office in spring 2021.
- An incredibly rushed job. The bill required that bids be completed within 30 days of a public vote, ensuring that neither the city nor any bidder had time to perform adequate due diligence. The city has not conducted a valuation of the asset and had no time to do one.
- A very risky proposition. Only one airport has been privatized in the continental U.S. It failed miserably and cost taxpayers twice as much money to reclaim what they got for selling it. In St. Louis, of the $1.7 billion in revenue hoped for from the sale, more than $700 million would go off the top to pay debt. The city would then get $900 million for a 49-year lease and give up control and revenue. While $900 million is no small number, the city’s annual operating budget is $1.1 billion. The bottom line was that on top of these efforts being highly deceitful and completely lacking transparency the deal was just bad business.
The city could undoubtedly benefit from a large influx of cash; that is what made the airport idea so appealing to some people. Parts of the city have been devastated by disinvestment and abandonment, forgotten by city government.
But Cara believes the city must be smart about how it solves such problems. As an old saw says: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Opposing this bad deal doesn’t mean Cara doesn’t favor a plan to improve the airport. She just wants to do it responsibly and with public support. Read her thoughts on the future of our community’s aviation assets here.