St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Role reversal in board presidency race

The St. Louis aldermanic presidency contest is a classic bout between a white incumbent and a black challenger, pitting a business-oriented insider against a progressive, independent advocate who’s willing to rock the boat. The twist is that the progressive boat-rocker is the white incumbent.

What distinguishes the candidates more than their race is the constituencies their records represent. In spite of his background representing the relatively wealthy and influential 16th Ward in southwest St. Louis, incumbent Aldermanic President Jim Shrewsbury has a solid record of looking out for the proverbial “little guy” (and, no, I’m not referring to Shrewsbury’s (or my) height). On the other hand, supporters of African American challenger Lewis Reed, the 6th Ward alderman, tout his record of supporting development. Much of the regentrification of the city that the administration of Mayor Francis G. Slay has subtly pushed has taken place with Reed’s backing in his ward, which has eroded the African American majority that the ward was given in the 2001 redistricting. Campaign finance reports show that developers and power brokers from the city’s wealthiest wards have provided Reed with the financial resources necessary to mount a credible challenge.

Three particular issues illustrate the contrasts between the candidates. First was the bill to exempt stock options from city earnings tax in 2000, when both Shrewsbury and Reed were aldermen. (Slay was then the board president, and the mayor was Clarence Harmon.) The exemption was a purer “tax cut for the rich” than anything ever proposed by Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Most stock options go to wealthy executives, and poor people never get them, so exempting them from tax would benefit only the rich. The issue was not about jobs leaving town, because no employer would bolt and leave capital assets behind over whether a mere 1% tax applied to one portion of compensation. The bill was sponsored by Lyda Krewson, alderman of the 28th Ward, home to more corporate executives than any other ward. Corporate political action committees and executives made generous campaign contributions to supportive aldermen. The ostensible 28-1 Democrat majority passed this “tax cut for the rich” easily, with only four dissenting votes. Reed backed the bill, and Shrewsbury was one of the four who voted no. A majority of the bill’s Democrat backers who remain on the board, including Krewson herself, have lined up behind Reed in this election, compared to just one of the dissenters.

The second issue was medical waste incineration, a practice that produces cancer-causing dioxin, releases toxic gases that exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases (especially among children), and transforms metals like mercury and lead into gaseous forms that are more easily absorbed by the body. The Stericycle plant in the 2nd Ward in north St. Louis disposed of medical waste in that manner. St. Louis County had illegalized the practice, but environmentalists’ efforts to get a similar ban in the city had gotten nowhere for several years. The bill couldn’t even get a hearing in committee. Lack of support by 2nd Ward Alderman Dionne Flowers was a key obstacle. The young doctor who led the environmental effort even went to Flowers’ barber shop and got a haircut from her just to talk to her, but to no avail (except for the haircut). But Shrewsbury got behind the proposal shortly after succeeding Slay as board president, and was key in impressing Flowers with the bill’s importance and getting her on board. Shrewsbury also assigned the bill to a more receptive committee than the one previously assigned by Slay. I was one of the environmentalists who had supported the bill, and I attended the committee hearing when the bill finally got one. It was entertaining to see aldermen who had been so disinterested for so long and who weren’t even members of the committee show up and ask to be added then as co-sponsors, so they could claim credit for it. More pretenders did the same (in front of city cable TV cameras) when the bill went to the floor. It eventually passed by unanimous voice vote, and Stericycle converted its plant to use the safer autoclave procedure. Even though the final record shows the entire board in favor of the bill, the fact is that, without Shrewsbury’s hard work, it would have never passed. The entire city, and especially north St. Louis, owe Shrewsbury a great debt of gratitude.

The final and most recent issue is the proposed lease of a part of Forest Park to BJC Health Center. Reed voted to authorize the lease, siding with Slay, while Shrewsbury opposes it, siding with neighborhood activists in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood who want the park’s green space preserved. Neighborhood leaders conducted a successful petition drive to put voter approval of such transactions on the April ballot, and Slay and BJC hurried the process along to get the lease done before voter approval is required. Supporters of Reed and the BJC deal claim that the deal would create jobs in exchange for the park land, by enabling expansion of the city’s largest employer and from the planned construction on the leased land. Can you say “trickle-down economics”? After initially joining Shrewsbury in opposition, Comptroller Darlene Green, an African American, agreed to switch and join Slay in backing the lease if half of its revenue were reserved for the 42 parks north of Delmar, leaving the 62 parks on the south side and central corridor to share the other half. Shrewsbury stood his ground, standing up for the neighborhood most at risk, and for the principle of preservation of scarce urban green space. Reed stood with Slay, Big Business and “trickle-down” economics.

Even some Republicans are impressed with Reed’s support of developers, executive tax cuts and “trickle-down” economics. Former West County state rep Brent Evans and former Republican election board member, Talent-booster and Slay-appointed school board member James Buford have donated to Reed’s campaign.

Shrewsbury and Slay represented neighboring wards before advancing to their current offices, but they haven’t exactly been a “team”on the powerful 3-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Shrewsbury’s independence has made him the crucial swing vote on matters on which Slay has differed with Green, the board’s third member. Unsubstantiated rumors persist that Slay recruited Reed to oppose Shrewsbury (or at least tacitly supports his candidacy) to try to get a more reliable supporter than Shrewsbury on the E&A board. Slay has remained formally neutral in the contest; his father,23rd Ward Committeeman Francis R. Slay, backs Shrewsbury, while his alderman, Kathleen Hanrahan, backs Reed.

So, in this classic match up, the slick black dude is the proponent of Big Business, tax cuts for the rich, and “trickle-down” economics, while the little nerdy white guy is the true representative of ordinary people. Go figure.


Blogger Urban Review said...

Very well stated, thank you!

March 1, 2007 at 9:09 AM  

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