ST. LOUIS – As is the case in many years, some of the biggest news stories of 2018 were from topics we might have expected had we mapped out what this list could look like on January 1, like the culmination of a construction project, or an election that we at least knew was going to happen on a specific date, even if we didn’t know the result.
But no one could have imagined the political shockwaves that would start reverberating January 10, with Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ admission of an affair in 2015. A man who clearly had aspirations for higher office would leave office six months later.
There is a lot more to the St. Louis region than the Cardinals (take that, Stan Kroenke!), but there’s no question that the team’s struggles on the field were a big story this year, and not just for sports.
Here in no particular order are 10 stories that had St. Louis talking, and had the nation talking about St. Louis, in 2018.
Greitens resigns amid scandal
In January, on the night of his second State of the State address, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens acknowledged an affair with a woman in St. Louis in 2015, setting off a chain of events which would ultimately lead to his resignation in June. Greitens was charged with felony privacy invasion in St. Louis Circuit Court over accusations he photographed the woman as a form of blackmail to keep the affair quiet. Greitens denied the charge, which was later dropped. A special prosecutor ultimately decided against refiling the case. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney dropped a felony computer tampering charge against Gretiens connected to fundraising for his gubernatorial campaign in exchange for his resignation. The move came after a special committee had been investigating Greitens’ conduct in what likely would have led to impeachment proceedings in Jefferson City.
On June 1, Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson became the state’s 57th Governor. He then appointed State Senator Mike Kehoe, a St. Louis native serving in Mid-Missouri, as the new Lt. Governor. The decision was notable because there was debate over whether the state’s constitution clearly allows a Governor to make such an appointment.
Cardinals fire Matheny, miss the playoffs, and make a big deal for 2019
For the third straight season, there was no Red October in St. Louis, as the Cardinals missed the playoffs. For the first time since the DeWitt family bought the team, the Cardinals made an in-season managerial change, dismissing Mike Matheny and promoting Mike Shildt in July. The first half was derailed by poor starts from Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, among others, an inconsistent bullpen and injuries which plagued the starting rotation, plus more defensive struggles. The team caught fire after the change, with Carpenter, Harrison Bader, and Jack Flaherty among those leading the charge. The team won 88 games but fell out of the playoff race in the last week of the season. In December the team acquired first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks in hopes of finally shoring up the middle of the lineup and added lefty reliever Andrew Miller to shore up the back end of the bullpen. Will it be enough to end the playoff drought? Will Goldschmidt re-sign? We’ll see in 2019.
Hawley defeats McCaskill in high-profile Senate race
One of the most expensive Senate races in the country played out in Missouri, as Attorney General Josh Hawley ousted incumbent Claire McCaskill, a result that leaves State Auditor Nicole Galloway as the only statewide elected Democrat. President Donald Trump was deeply invested in the race, making several appearances at rallies on Hawley’s behalf across the state in an effort to maintain a GOP majority in the Senate. To understand the importance of the race to national Republicans, look at some of Senator-Elect Hawley’s committee assignments: Judiciary, Armed Services, and Homeland Security. The election result sets off another set of dominoes among statewide officeholders. Hawley’s upcoming resignation as Attorney General and the appointment of State Treasurer Eric Schmitt as his successor in January means that of those elected to state office in 2016, only Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft remains in his original position. Cassville-area State Representative Scott Fitzpatrick will succeed Schmitt in the Treasurer’s office in January.
Challenger Wesley Bell upends longtime St. Louis County Prosecutor
Bob McCulloch, the longest-serving Prosecuting Attorney in St. Louis County history, was defeated in an August primary election against Wesley Bell, a two-term Ferguson City Council member. With no general election opponent in November, Bell will be sworn into office in January. The stunning upset came as McCulloch faced a primary opponent for the first time since the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, when McCulloch announced that a grand jury would not indict Officer Darren Wilson in connection with Brown’s death.
Voters come out against ‘Right To Work’
One of the biggest and earliest achievements of the Greitens administration was rolled back in August when Missouri voters rejected the state’s Right to Work law. Originally signed in February 2017, the law prohibited employees from being forced to join a union or pay union dues. Despite the vote, legislation has already been filed ahead of the 2019 General Assembly that would bar employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment.
New effort to bring MLS to St. Louis
A year and a half after St. Louis voters rejected a proposal that would have allowed public financing of a downtown soccer stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise, a new plan backed by Enterprise and the Taylor family, along with Jim Kavanaugh of World Wide Technology emerged in October. The stadium would be on the same site as the original proposal, near Jefferson and Interstate 64, but construction would be funded largely with private money. The team ownership group is asking for the city to own the facility, and for property and ticket tax abatement and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a non-binding resolution in late November supporting efforts to build a stadium and to bring an expansion franchise here. The team would take the field in time for the 2022 season.
PGA Championship shines at Bellerive
Bellerive Country Club hosted the PGA Championship in August, for the first time since 1992, drawing the eyes of the golf world to St. Louis. Brooks Koepka was your winner on the course, as he won his second major of the 2018 season. The Palm Beach County native finished two strokes ahead of a reinvigorated Tiger Woods, who shot a riveting final round of 64 in front of a huge gallery of fans. Thanks to some early rain, a few national experts wondered if the PGA had made a mistake by putting the 100th edition of the event at Bellerive, but the crowds who took over the course told a different story. The PGA doesn’t release specific attendance figures but many observers believe Bellerive set a record.
Arch Grounds Transformed
In February, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial officially became known as The Gateway Arch National Park, and after years of planning, plus four years of actual construction, the work connecting the Arch grounds to downtown St. Louis was officially unveiled on July 3. The $380 million project was the result of a public-private partnership, the largest in the history of the National Parks Service. Besides allowing foot traffic from the Arch into downtown without crossing into highway traffic, the project also expanded the park’s Visitor’s Center and overhauled the Arch museum. With the work finished, Fair St. Louis and July Fourth fireworks returned to the riverfront for the first time after four years in Forest Park. The ribbon-cutting for the finished project set off a mini-controversy when the lineup of dignitaries did not reflect the region’s diversity. Another event was later held.
Radioactive Landfill gets EPA cleanup plan
In late September, the Acting Administrator of the EPA announced a final remediation plan to clean up radioactive waste at the West Lake landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton. The plan will remove roughly 70 percent of the waste on the site, but does not include plans to relocate residents who live nearby and who have campaigned for years for action, citing health concerns. The cleanup work plan is several years away from happening and would cost $205 million, split between “responsible parties”, including the Department of Energy and the current property owner, Bridgeton Landfill, LLC. The company has taken legal action to draw other entities with ties to the property’s past and the material stored there in hopes of spreading the cost of the cleanup.
Corporate mergers continue to impact St. Louis region
After almost two years of review by regulators in the United States and abroad, the $66 billion dollar merger of St. Louis-based Monsanto with Bayer gained final approval, with the integration taking full shape in August. What was Monsanto is now the Bayer Crop Science Division. In late November, Bayer announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs around the world by the end of 2021. It did not specify exactly where the cuts would be made.
In March, the insurer Cigna announced plans to buy pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts in a deal valued at roughly $67 billion. The deal closed December 20. The Express Scripts brand will live on.