John Stephens looks back on Sunset Hills mayoral election

John+Stephens+and+his+wife%2C+Gena%2C+started+the+private+Sunset+Hills+Neighbors+Facebook+group+last+year.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

John Stephens and his wife, Gena, started the private Sunset Hills Neighbors Facebook group last year.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Despite a loss in the June 2 mayoral race, Sunset Hills resident John Stephens plans to continue to advocate for city residents.

Two-term incumbent Sunset Hills Mayor Pat Fribis collected 1,117 votes or 55.82 percent to win over Stephens, who earned 884 voters or 44.18 percent in the election, which had been postponed from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephens is not yet sure if he will run again in the future, but he plans to focus on ways to connect the city. He and his wife, Gena, started the private Sunset Hills Neighbors Facebook group last year.

“People really yearn for a connection to their neighbors … We might know a few neighbors, but we have a potential to know so many more … The value of that … is viable neighborhoods and taking care of crime,” said Stephens, who would like the city to have an official Facebook page to connect with residents, as Crestwood does.

Although Stephens didn’t win, he said he was proud to garner nearly half the vote against a longtime city official, while connecting with people across Sunset Hills.

John Stephens

“I think a lot of work remains to be done. Forty-four percent of the vote is a strong turnout against a long-term mayor. Nearly half our residents voiced a desire to conduct business in a different way,” said Stephens. “We need to make sure residents’ voices are heard and make sure they have time to review important issues … Of course I’m proud of … the vote. I gave people an option when they voted, an option to not just say they were concerned but say that with their vote … I am going to continue to be involved how I can.”

Like others who were running races this year, Stephens faced unprecedented challenges brought on by COVID-19, from social distancing to a postponed election.

“It diminished the chance to talk to residents. Before the pandemic, I knocked on 1,000 doors,” Stephens said. “As soon as COVID came that stopped completely.”

Stephens, a physician, was inspired to get involved in local government when the city was negotiating a lease with the St. Louis Bombers Rugby Club in 2019. He and Gena — also a frequent speaker at city meetings — live with their two children in Tapawingo near the rugby site.

“I was always concerned about the nature of the lease and how it was conducted, and its effects on the surrounding community,” said Stephens. “I’m invested in the city since we’re raising our family here. I want to see the community succeed.”

While going door-to-door campaigning, Stephens said many residents he spoke with wanted their voices heard more often regarding city business. Another hot topic was the zoning code rewrite: People moved to Sunset Hills for a reason, and want it to stay the same city.

“The biggest issue was… prioritizing residential input and transparency,” he said. “That’s not just a campaign theme, it was something that developed with the rugby lease,” along with zoning and flooding. “Some residents don’t feel like the city is listening to them or involving them … They want more input than every