ST. LOUIS–One theme for 2022 could be “decisions, decisions”. You could probably make that argument for most years, but as we look at some of the biggest stories in the area heading into the new year, it feels like an apt place to start. Our region, like the rest of the world, faces decisions about how we’ll continue to address the COVID pandemic and its many facets. The St. Louis area faces many decisions about how to spend an unprecedented amount of money that will be flowing into the area for a variety of reasons.
Voters face many important decisions at the ballot box in 2022, highlighted by a U.S. Senate race that could have the nation’s attention. St. Louis and St. Louis County have choices to make about who will lead their respective police departments. And there’s a new man in charge on the field for the Cardinals, who will have many of his own decisions to make–assuming owners and players agree on a new contract in time to avoid disruption to the season.
In no particular, here’s a look at five stories to watch in 2022.
As 2022 begins, we still find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic almost two years later. More than a year into a vaccine regime, variants are the concern. Health officials are concerned that the St. Louis region is headed toward a “Winter Surge” thanks to the Omicron variant. The potential surge comes at the same time Attorney General Eric Schmitt has won a string of court victories related to limiting mitigation mandates for things like vaccines and masks. Many St. Louis area school districts will remove mask requirements when school returns in January. Will access to testing improve in 2022? Will more boosters be needed? Will children younger than 5 years old be able to get vaccinated? State lawmakers in 2021 passed legislation that limits public health orders. Will further measures to clarify those orders be on the table? So many of the questions we asked in 2021 will continue to get asked in 2022.
Between the NFL settlement, COVID relief, and the recently passed federal infrastructure bill, there is an unprecedented amount of money being poured into the St. Louis region, on both sides of the river. Together it has the potential to make a generational impact on the region. While the funds coming by way of legislation have specific targets as drawn up by the law, the roughly $500 million from the settlement of the Rams lawsuit to be divided between the regional stadium authority, St. Louis and St. Louis County still has an uncertain future. Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page haven’t disclosed the criteria that will be used to divide up the funds. Some city leaders have already said the city should get a greater cut than the county since the county didn’t contribute to efforts to keep the Rams in town. Will the regional stadium authority’s share go toward paying for upgrades at the convention center? The uncertainty speaks to one of the reasons some fans hoped the lawsuit would lead to an expansion team as part of a settlement. A team is a tangible asset the community can see instead of the result of a political deal.
US SENATE RACE
Roy Blunt’s decision not to seek re-election has created a crowded GOP primary field looking to keep what is widely believed to be a safe Republican seat in party hands come November. Former Governor Eric Greitens, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, U.S. Rep. Billy Long, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey and Missouri Senate Pro Tem Dave Schatz have already declared on the GOP side. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith has also been considering the race. Former State Senator Scott Sifton and Marine veteran Lucas Kunce have declared their intentions on the Democratic side. No one can file until February 22. Pundits have already wondered out loud if a Greitens primary win, in particular, would put the seat up for grabs in a general election, to the point where some are pleading with former President Donald Trump not to endorse the former governor who resigned under pressure of legal and ethical scandals in 2018. If Democrats sense that Greitens could clinch the GOP nomination, could it push a higher profile candidate into the race on their side?
POLICE CHIEFS WANTED
Both St. Louis and St. Louis County are in search of new leadership. Chief John Hayden announced he would step down in St. Louis this coming February, while Lt. Col. Kenneth Gregory is currently the Acting Chief after Mary Barton announced her resignation in July after accepting a $290,000 settlement for a discrimination complaint. As our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, the city’s search is tied up in political turf wars, while the county’s search hasn’t yet started.
NEW CARDINAL IN CHARGE
The youngest manager in a major league dugout to start the season will be Oliver Marmol, who succeeded Mike Shildt after Shildt got sideways with the front office and was fired in a move that stunned the baseball world. How will Marmol handle what could be a rushed start of the season depending on negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement? How will he manage what very well could be the last year for both Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina in Cardinals uniforms? What about the expected arrival of the designated hitter, and juggling a bullpen? The Cardinals failed to add pitching depth last offseason, and were dangerously shorthanded when injuries struck the rotation in 2021. Has the front office done enough for 2022? How will Marmol respond if the major additions stop at pitcher Steven Matz?