Francis G. Slay is the longest-serving mayor in the City of St. Louis’ history. He was sworn in as its 45th Mayor on April 17, 2001. He was re-elected by large margins in April 2005, April 2009 and April 2013.
Reflecting on his city’s quarter-millennial in 2014, Mayor Slay wrote:
“The brilliance of St. Louis’ celebration ... is that only the barest attention is being paid to the actual details of our foundation as a fur trading post established by Pierre Laclede and August Chouteau.
“Instead, our civic focus will be on other things: the river itself; the immigrants who found their way here; the buildings and neighborhoods in which they settled; the churches and civic cathedrals in which they congregated; the sports they adored; the great public spaces they built; the foods they popularized; the strength with which they struggled with the injustices of slavery and segregation and the ravages of the Depression.
Like most St. Louisans, I am the descendent of immigrants. I was raised on a block in which I knew everyone. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is my idea of a church and the Eads is my idea of a bridge. I never have lived further than a half mile from a park. I bleed red and blue for the Cardinals, Blues, and Rams. I have a taste for provel, in quantity...
“The year in which we celebrate our foundation is our most recent best opportunity to reflect on the courage and ingenuity of St. Louisans who faced flood, fire, discrimination and violence; kept faith in their home; and built – if not yet a Shining City Upon a Hill, at least a vibrant and diverse city perched on the bank of a great river, where all are welcome.”
Since taking office as mayor, Mayor Slay has led a downtown and city neighborhood revival that so far has resulted in billions of dollars of private, public and philanthropic investment in historic renovations to commercial and residential structures, in advancement of cultural institutions, in improvements to streets, bridges and other city infrastructure, and in the creation and restoration of parks, trails and recreational facilities.
Cass Gilbert’s celebrated Central Library has been restored to its original luster. The curtain rises again at the legendary, long-idled, Peabody (nee Kiel) Opera house. The baseball Cardinals have constructed a new Busch Stadium as their home. The cable-stayed Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge spans the Mississippi. The newly constructed, nationally acclaimed CityGarden stands at the center of the Central Business District. The region is served by a vibrant new residential and entertainment district up Washington Avenue, the historic home to the city’s storied millinery, garment, and shoe manufacturing industries.
Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, the Danforth Center for Plant Science, the Missouri Botanical Garden and leaders in private industry have created an environment that is attracting science and technology enterprises, including a growing number of startups.
In a precedent-setting partnership with the National Park Service Mayor Slay put in motion, the City Arch River 2015 project staged an international design competition and has begun construction on a $400 million project to improve the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial — the urban national park bounded by the Mississippi River and on which is situated the Dred Scott Courthhouse and the Gateway Arch, Eero Saarinen’s 630-foot stainless steel masterpiece.
The St. Louis Cardinals have won National League Pennants in each of his four terms (2001, 2006, 2011, 2013), winning two World Series championships (2006. 2011).
Mayor Slay led citywide campaigns to reform the firefighter pension system, and to create the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and ensure its reliable funding through a special use tax so that for more than 10 years it has supported projects in neighborhoods throughout the city.
He guided municipal government through the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression without interruption of essential city services or major layoffs of city employees.
Mayor Slay successfully petitioned the Missouri Department of Education to strip the St. Louis Board of Education of power and replace it with a special administrative board that has plenary authority to oversee St. Louis Public Schools. Under Mayor Slay’s leadership, St. Louis has created 18 public charter elementary, middle and high schools, enrolling approximately 8,500 children in 2014.
Mayor Slay led a statewide voter initiative to return the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to the control of city government after 150 years as a state agency — a vestige of Missouri’s ignominious Civil War history. He organized a public safety partnership with University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice that independently evaluates police department operations. Since 2006, the incidence of violent and property crime in St. Louis has fallen about 50 percent — with rates at their lowest since 1967.
Mayor Slay led voter initiatives to fund, construct and maintain state-of-the-art family and youth recreation centers in both north and south St. Louis, and to restore financial stability to the regional public transit agency.
The mayor's program to reduce children's exposure to dangerous lead paint has won national acclaim.
St. Louis is one of just 25 (out of 291) cities to earn a perfect score of 100 under the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, “which examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there.”
St. Louis’ plan to end chronic homelessness has been celebrated nationally. In 2013, it was the subject of a Next Practices roundtable at Harvard University focusing on the city’s “improvements in engagement, assessment, case management and data management” and “a 122% increase in permanent supportive housing units, an increase from 595 to 1322 units; a 2700% increase in permanent supportive housing units for chronically homeless persons, an increase from 11 to 308 units, and closure of four encampments.”
Mayor Slay believes that St. Louis steadily is becoming the kind of great city that attracts residents and businesses from throughout the region — and from other regions — as its civic, commercial and political leaders work together to improve the quality of life in its unique neighborhoods and increase the responsiveness of its business climate.
He has called for City of St. Louis to re-enter St. Louis County as a municipality.
In endorsing Mayor Slay for reelection to a fourth term, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board observed:
“It’s useful to remember where the city was in 2001, when Mr. Slay took office. City Hall was largely dysfunctional, so much so that many business people threw up their hands when faced with running the gauntlet of getting a simple business license.
“Mr. Slay brought competence to city operations, at least most of the time. He attracted an able staff. He works 12-hour days and caps them by attending neighborhood meetings or evening receptions. Though power is widely diffused among multiple offices at City Hall and the City Charter creates what political scientists call a “weak-mayor” government, he became a de-facto strong mayor.
“He did so by getting in front of issues, mastering thousands of details, doing the politics and building coalitions.”
Francis Gerard Slay was born on March 18, 1955, the second of 11 children to Francis R. and Anna Slay. As a boy he worked in his family's restaurant. He attended The Epiphany of Our Lord Parish School, St. Mary’s High School, and graduated from Quincy College, where he started on three NAIA national soccer championship teams.
An attorney by profession, Slay graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law and practiced for 20 years with the firm of Guilfoil, Petzall and Shoemake, where he was a partner specializing in corporate law and commercial litigation.
Prior to being elected Mayor, Francis G. Slay served as a St. Louis alderman for 10 years, then as President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen from 1995 to 2001.
The mayor and his wife, Kim Slay, live with three rescued dogs. Their children, Francis, Jr., and Katherine, are grown.