Browning's filing could affect contest for board prez
One of today's surprises on the first day of filing for municipal offices in the City of St Louis was the filing of disabled retired police officer Matt Browning for alderman in the 12th Ward (south of Carondelet Park). Shortly thereafter, incumbent Alderman Fred Heitert also filed.
Heitert has rarely faced opposition during his 28-year tenure. But what makes this really interesting in the overwhelmingly Democratic city is that both incumbent Heitert and challenger Browning are Republicans. While the 12th is the second most Republican ward in the city (behind the 16th), Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who got the most votes of any Republican running in the ward this year, got less than 37% of the vote.
While the Heitert-Browning contest should be interesting if neither withdraws, it may have an even bigger impact on the Democratic primary for president of the Board. That contest is shaping up as a classic black vs. white barnburner between white incumbent Jim Shrewsbury and an African American challenger, 6th Ward Alderman Lewis Reed. In contests like that, most of the 20% or so of the city's Republican voters usually cross over and vote in the Democratic primary, usually for whichever Democrat is most conservative.
While not quite the most Republican ward, the 12th is nevertheless regarded as the city's most conservative. In the 2005 contest for Mayor, Republican crossovers swelled the ward's totals in the Democratic Primary and gave white conservative Mayor Francis Slay a big margin over black Alderman Irene Smith. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce enjoyed similar crossover support in her 2004 primary win over Jerald Christmas, and this year Shrewsbury would be expected to enjoy similar support against Reed (even though Shrewsbury isn't particularly conservative on matters not involving abortion - similar to Sen. Pat Dougherty). Shrewsbury won a big margin in the 12th when he first won the post by defeating 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson. But with an interesting Republican Primary between Heitert and Browning, many 12th Ward Republicans will "stay home" and participate in their own party's business. Nearly every erstwhile Republican crossover who votes in her/his own primary instead is probably a lost Shrewsbury vote in the aldermanic presidency contest.
With the 12th being an important part of the high-turnout southwest city bloc that powers conservative Democrats to victory, one almost smells a rat, as though the impact on the aldermanic presidency contest were the prime motive for creating an unusual GOP primary contest as a diversion. Such would be consistent with the style of Reed consultant Richard Callow. But it's hard to imagine that scenario playing out with these players. Though conservative for my personal tastes, I regard both Heitert and Browning as class acts. While there is no love lost between the St Louis Police Officers Association and Shrewsbury, I can't really see the SLPOA going out of its way to help Reed. (The conspiracy theory would sprout into full bloom if the SLPOA were to endorse Reed.) Heitert also lacks any apparent motive to boost Reed over Shrewsbury. In fact, if the Shrewsbury-Reed contest appears close, I could even see Heitert opting to retire and eliminate the diversionary primary.
Let's see how filing proceeds, and see whether political unknowns file to create contested Republican primaries in other wards where Shrewsbury is expected to run strong (e.g., the 10th, 14th, 24th, or even Shrewsbury's own 16th).