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, March 07, 2007

Racial voting again dominates city's Democratic primary

The results of Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the City of St. Louis had a very simple geographic tone. Draw a line from the western city limits to the Mississippi River along the southern borders of Wards 28, 17, 19, 6 and 7. Regardless of aldermanic or committee endorsements, victorious Lewis Reed carried every ward north of that line, and incumbent Jim Shrewsbury carried every ward south of it. No exceptions!

A slightly more sophisticated version has four zones. At the north end are Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 18, 19, 21, 22, 26 and 27. All eleven of these wards gave Reed over 75% of the vote, averaging a little over 80%. Next come the central corridor wards just south of there, Wards 6, 7, 17 and 28, where Reed won by smaller margins ranging from 55-65%. (This band is broken geographically by a narrow southern arm of the 19th, but a precinct-level analysis, when available, will probably show that “arm” with results more similar to this band than the rest of the ward.) Next are Wards 8, 9, 15, 20 and 25 on the near south side, which all went for Shrewsbury by margins ranging from 53-65%. Finally, the remaining wards to the south and west, Wards 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 23 and 24, all voted for Shrewsbury with 2-1 or better margins, all but one topping 70%.

These geographic stripes are explained (surprise!) by race. Generally, the blacker the ward, the stronger it went for Reed, and the whiter the ward, the stronger it went for Shrewsbury. Four of the city’s five purest (i.e., most segregated) black wards (27, 4, 22, 1) were Reed’s top four wards, each giving him over 85% of the vote. In the other totally segregated black ward, the 21st, Shrewsbury had the backing of the ward’s alderman and committeeman, but that support only dropped the Reed vote there by 5 points. The 12 wards represented by black aldermen were Reed’s 12 best wards.

At the other end, the six wards where Shrewsbury topped 70% are the city’s whitest. Reed carried only two of the wards represented by the five white aldermen who endorsed him, both from the central corridor. Shrewsbury apparently won most of the young white progressive voters in the integrated neighborhoods surrounding Tower Grove Park, carrying both the 8th and 15th Wards with about 58% in each.

So why did Reed win? Even though Shrewsbury is the first serious white candidate ever to lose a one-on-one citywide Democratic primary to a black candidate, I reject the notion that people were fed up with Shrewsbury’s performance and voted to throw him out. Elections like that show an upward spike in turnout (because pissed-off people turn out to vote), and that didn’t happen this time. Only 13.3% of registered voters cast ballots. The result, as I speculated in my preview post, was a reflection of who voted and who didn’t. Reed won by 2,042 votes. There are more Shrewsbury fans than that who were too complacent to vote and were kicking themselves this morning.

One interpretation is that Reed had more appeal across racial lines than Shrewsbury, winning 32.6% in the predominantly white south side while Shrewsbury was winning less than 20% in the predominantly black wards north of Delmar. That difference overcame the fact that turnout on the south side was much higher than up north. If Shrewsbury had won 77% of the south side vote instead of just 67%, he would have won.

But I think the other side of the coin is more significant: that 3-1 majority of Democratic primary voters who continued to vote for the candidate of their own race, notably African Americans. Shrewsbury had worked hard to please African American voters, especially with his support for civilian oversight of police and his crucial leadership role in eliminating medical waste incineration from north St. Louis. Even in racially divisive elections, black voters have historically given a third of their votes to white incumbents like Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, former State Sen. Pat Dougherty and even Mayor Francis Slay. If Shrewsbury had won a third of the vote north of Delmar instead of less than 20%, he would have won. It is mind boggling to me why Shrewsbury would do more poorly among black voters against Alderman Reed than Slay, who is regarded by many black voters as a virtual political antichrist, got against Alderman (and respected attorney) Irene Smith just two years ago. There are over a thousand black voters out there who apparently voted for Slay two years ago but for Reed this time. I’d love to ask them why.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Developers, Callow bankrolling Reed

The 8-day campaign finance report and a 48-hour supplemental report for aldermanic president challenger Lewis Reed show that he had raised about $375,000, much of it from developers, allies of Mayor Francis Slay, and supportive politicians. That puts him within $100,000 of the man whose job Reed wants, incumbent Jim Shrewsbury.

Among the notable donors on Reed's 8-day report are Paul McKee ($1K) of the controversial developer Blairmont, which is quietly assembling (and then neglecting) parcels in Old North St. Louis. Well, it would be quiet but for watchdog preservationist Michael Allen over at Ecology of Absence, and his blog.

Other major developers pouring funds to Reed this period include Rothschild Development, McCormick Barron Salazar and several employees (including Richard Barron), Tom Barta of Fred Weber, Bill Bruce of Bruce Development, and McAvoy Realty. Other contributors include over a dozen companies whose names sound like they are developers.

Another notable (and long suspected) supporter of Reed is Richard Callow, Mayor Slay's public relations guru who is married to Barbara Geisman, Slay's deputy mayor for development. Callow donated a thousand bucks on January 29, just after the close of the prior reporting period. Flint Fowler, city school board member supported by Slay, also pitched in, joining another former Slay school board member, James Buford.

Richard Mark, chief apologist for Ameren prior to Karen Foss' arrival, donated a thousand bucks to Reed, as did the St. Louis Rams and the Chase Park Plaza. A PAC for AT&T also donated.

The two largest contributions surfaced after the 8-day report, disclosed by a special 48-hour filing and first reported at Paul Weissman of New York City donated $35,000, and George Kruntchev of University City made a late $10,000 contribution that raises his total in this campaign to $16,250. Does anyone know these guys, or why they would be interested in investing that kind of dough in this campaign?

The 8-day report was filed late, for the stated reason of illness on the part of the campaign treasurer. But that's what deputy treasurers are for. The tardiness has been successful, so far, in diverting most news reporting sources from reporting what I have mentioned above.

The 8-day report also failed to list addresses for seven corporate contributors, including the Anheuser Busch Credit Union. Does the Reed campaign have a phone book?

Perhaps more serious, the report merely listed "employer requested" for 34 separate contributors, including the controversial McKee and Callow. One wonders whether the campaign consciously attempted to conceal McKee's connection to Blairmont. In any event, the Missouri Ethics Commission takes the position that contributions over $25 which are received from donors not disclosing their employers (or occupations if self employed) must be returned. Reed also listed "employer requested" for several contributors on the 40-day report filed in January, but never supplemented that report to disclose any of those employers.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Preview analysis of Tuesday's St. Louis primary

The key to Tuesday’s contest for aldermanic president in St. Louis, as has been the case in many recent primaries, is turnout. The corporate media have given these city elections very little attention, and turnout will be low. That means that the impact of good GOTV efforts will be magnified in a smaller voter pool.

Incumbent Jim Shrewsbury starts out ahead with the power of incumbency that one earns with a good record. The contest appears once again to be following racial lines, which is helpful to both. That helps challenger Lewis Reed because being adopted by the black community as “theirs” gives the challenger greater credibility than a two-term back-bench alderman would ordinarily get. But the racial orientation probably helps Shrewsbury more, because white voters, especially those in his own southwest city base, tend to turn out in greater numbers than African American voters. Historically, African American citywide candidates don’t generally prevail over a serious white candidate in one-on-one contests like this one. (In Shrewsbury’s losses for comptroller to Virvus Jones and Darlene Green, there were additional serious white candidates competing for his votes.)

But other factors could tighten it up. Reed has been successful in attracting to his camp just about anyone who has ever had reason to dislike Shrewsbury. The people who don’t like Shrewsbury really don’t like him, and hatred is a better voter motivation than gratitude. While Shrewsbury is not complacent or overconfident, many of his casual supporters may be. The only people whose opinions count are those who actually vote.

Who will win: The likely low turnout makes the contest hard to call. While I think the contest will be close, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either candidate win by as much as 65-35. My call is a narrow win for Shrewsbury.

Who ought to win: I reiterate my endorsement of Shrewsbury set forth in the previous post.

4th Ward: Alderman O.L. Shelton’s incumbency and prior service as state rep have given him ample opportunity to build up an unbeatable collection of grateful constituents. But he hasn’t. He won the seat by plurality in a 4-way contest, and now faces a rematch one-on-one against Sam Moore, the leading challenger last time. North side politics are always contentious, and job security for incumbents there is more tenuous than elsewhere. I see Moore unseating Shelton.

6th Ward: Ordinarily a ward committeeman, especially one as well funded as Patrick Cacchione, should have an advantage. Not this time. His relatively conservative views (especially his opposition to abortion rights) are unpopular with many progressives in the ward, and he has two very substantial opponents. Christian Saller has greater and better experience, and is popular with preservationists, who are plentiful in the ward. Kacie Starr Triplett, granddaughter of the late Sen. John Bass and daughter of a popular former Big Red player, has a flair for politics that belies her youth (26), and has the best organized, most effective campaign. She has the additional advantage of being the only African American candidate in a ward with a slight black majority.

Who will win: Kacie Starr Triplett will win easily.

Who ought to win: While Ms. Triplett is a potential star (no pun intended) on the rise, the ward and city would be better served by the experience and policies of Christian Saller.

12th Ward: As I have written before, the city’s only Republican primary may have an impact on the Democratic contest for aldermanic president, by keeping Republicans in this ward from crossing over. Challenger Matt Browning’s inspiring story, seeking public service in a new arena after losing his law enforcement career (and both of his legs) to a drunk driver, makes him the most credible new city Republican candidate in years. Unfortunately, he chose to challenge 28-year incumbent Fred Heitert, the board’s only Republican and the only Republican to carry the ward in over a decade. Heitert has survived the ward’s political changes by being responsive to his constituents, bridging party divisions and getting along well with everyone. The 800-pound gorilla in the contest is the police vote. Large numbers of cops and their families live there, and neither candidate for board president is likely to attract them to the other primary. The St. Louis Police Officers Association formally endorsed Heitert, but many cops may find the loyalty of their “brotherhood” is stronger than their appreciation for Heitert’s legislative support for their agenda.

Who will win: Heitert relatively comfortably, but with an impressive minority for Browning, who could succeed Heitert when the latter retires.

Who ought to win: Heitert has served the ward well. Now that he has retired from his day job as an engineer, he will have even more time than before to serve his constituents.

18th Ward: A mismatch between African American incumbent Terry Kennedy and perennial Caucasian candidate Bill Haas in a ward where Haas’ CWE precinct is attached to an otherwise African American ward.

Who will win: Kennedy in the day’s most lopsided contest.

Who ought to win: In spite of his reputation as a gadfly, Haas would actually make a very good alderman. He is attentive to a fault. But he’s overmatched in this contest, in qualifications as well as in politics. While Mike McMillan is (and Lewis Reed wants to be) the “showboat” star of the black community, it is Kennedy that African Americans look to for leadership in serious matters. Kennedy deserves re-election.

20th Ward: For the second consecutive election, no African American candidate has filed for the seat that Mayor Francis Slay designed as a south-side black ward in the last redistricting. Alderman Craig Schmid is challenged by art gallery owner Galen Gondolfi. The main issue seems to be Gondolfi’s support for, and Schmid’s opposition to, more bars in the ward. A large non-voting non-citizen Hispanic community helps make this the lowest turnout ward in the city (although the Bosleys’ 3rd ward actually turned in a worse turnout last November).

Who will win: One reason that no African American has ever run for this seat is that African Americans are happy with Schmid’s representation. Schmid will win, but it will be close.

Who ought to win: I have had my disagreements with Schmid, but he’s the right guy. I admire his willingness to buck the archaic tradition of aldermanic courtesy when the matter directly affects the welfare of his ward. I also believe that Gondolfi is too tied to business interests, while Schmid will put the interests of ordinary people first.

22nd Ward: A re-match between Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and the man he unseated, Jay Ozier, in a ward with a history of voting irregularities. The smoke-filled rooms cloud the Oracle’s crystal ball, and I have no clue who will win. Neither should.

24th Ward: Another re-match pits Alderman Bill Waterhouse against former Alderman Tom Bauer, who was recalled over his support for eminent domain for commercial development and his use of SLAPP suits to silence opposition. Bauer, however, has tapped into an issue where Waterhouse is vulnerable, the latter’s support for the lease of Forest Park land to BJC, which is the subject of several huge lawn signs in the ward.

Who will win: Bauer will do better than critics expect, but Waterhouse will still win.

Who ought to win: Bauer is a nicer guy than his record makes him appear, but the SLAPP suits are a killer for me. Waterhouse makes President Bush look smart. No endorsement.

26th Ward: Yet another re-match, but with lots of twists. Alderman Frank Williamson should be a prohibitive favorite, and may be the only choice if litigation succeeds in removing challenger H. Lee Willis from the ballot at the last minute. This ward is the Clay family fiefdom, and Williamson has strayed. He and his predecessor, Irv Clay, are backing different candidates for board president, and Williamson also backed a different candidate than the organization in last summer’s hot contest for state senator. Williamson will still win. No endorsement.

The Post-Dispatch and Suburban Journals weren’t interested enough to endorse in contests other than the aldermanic presidency, and their reasoning in that race (one endorsement for each candidate by the commonly owned papers) was worthless. For an alternative set of thoughtful (though sometimes different) endorsements, check out Urban Review.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Endorsement: Re-elect Jim Shrewsbury

On the surface, both candidates for aldermanic presidency in St. Louis are good, capable candidates with many similarities. Voters must decide whether to fire incumbent Democrat Jim Shrewsbury and replace him with 6th Ward Alderman Lewis Reed.

Both candidates have impressive aldermanic experience. Reed’s 8 years on the board is about average, but it is dwarfed by the 24 years (as either alderman or board prez) served by Shrewsbury. Only Fred Heitert, the board’s sole Republican, has served longer.

Both candidates claim to be embracing a Jeff Smith-like “for all St. Louis” approach bridging racial gaps, but, like in Smith’s own contest, support has lined up largely along racial lines. Breaches of the racial divide include Reed’s endorsement by five white aldermen and Shrewsbury’s endorsement by Sen. Maida Coleman, Alderman Bennice Jones King, former alderman Irv Clay and the Service Employees International Union.

Both candidates support civilian oversight of city police as proposed by 18th Ward Alderman Terry Kennedy. This has been an unfulfilled African American priority for a decade or more, but it is (wrongly) perceived as something that matters only to African Americans. That perception has been the biggest stumbling block to passage. Consequently, as one of its few white supporters, Shrewsbury’s re-election to his high-profile office will help get it done better than replacing him with an African American, whose support would be tacitly written off as race based. (This works the other way too: County Executive Charlie Dooley’s opposition to civilian oversight is more important to opponents than opposition by white officeholders.)

To their credit, according to the Vital Voice, both candidates “have been supportive of GLBT issues.” That is noteworthy, considering that Shrewsbury’s political base in southwest city and Reed’s political supporters in north St. Louis are the only two areas of the city that backed the anti-gay “definition of marriage” constitutional amendment.

To their mutual discredit, both candidates supported public funding for new Busch Stadium, and neither candidate has exerted leadership in either supporting or opposing the state takeover of city public schools. Shrewsbury has been criticized for his leadership role in guiding the current ward redistricting plan to passage, but I understand (but have not verified) that Reed also supported that bill.

Other important issues include exempting stock options from the city earnings tax, ending medical waste incineration and the candidates’ positions on the proposed lease of Forest Park land to BJC Health Center, which are discussed in detail in my earlier post below.

One major difference is responsiveness. Shrewsbury lists his home number in the phone book, and the after-hours recording on his office telephone suggests that you call him at home and also gives you the number, a practice which Reed actually criticizes. Shrewsbury returns phone calls promptly. In contrast, Reed’s home phone is unlisted, and the Arch City Chronicle notes, “sometimes you have to call him twice or three times to get his attention.”

Another major difference is style. Shrewsbury is a principled, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense guy who doesn’t “showboat” to the media. Reed has criticized Shrewsbury’s lack of “vision,” without really saying what that means. The contrast is reminiscent of that between Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl and Former County Executive Gene McNary. In describing their joint efforts for the region in the 1980s, Schoemehl explained that McNary “sold the steak,” while Schoemehl “sold the sizzle.” Notably, sizzle-selling Schoemehl’s ward organization backs Reed. But the “vision” thing doesn’t resonate with me. If “vision” means new proposals and new ideas, let’s see them! Reed offers hardly any specifics. The appeal seems to be an attempt to tap into the “style over substance” trend that is infecting society. I don’t buy it.

Reed touts the fact that a majority of sitting aldermen endorse him, but I regard this is another factor favoring Shrewsbury. The sad fact is that, with a very few exceptions, our board of aldermen is a really sad collection of pols. Mediocrity is a level of excellence to which many aspire at best. Shrewsbury has used his leadership to try to bring professionalism to the board, and the laggards resent it. They want Reed to put an end to that annoyance. Even a newspaper supporting Reed admitted that he “doesn’t list professionalism of the Board as a plank in his platform.”

The other element of the job, the key vote on the three-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment, is even more important. As I mentioned in the last post, Shrewsbury has been the independent swing vote on matters on which Slay has differed with Comptroller Darlene 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. Just a few months ago, this city voted overwhelmingly to oust Sen. Jim Talent, primarily because they regarded Talent as a “rubber stamp” for President Bush. I fear that Reed, who is married to a city judge appointed by Slay, would become a rubber stamp for Slay. Shrewsbury’s thoughtful independence is good for the city.

In making an endorsement, I should first make a disclaimer or two. I live in the 16th Ward, which Shrewsbury represented for 19 years before winning the presidency, and I know him. I once ran against him (long before I became the Oracle. If I had been the Oracle then, I would have foreseen how decisively he would beat me). Also, in offering this endorsement, I realize that, quite properly, hardly anyone cares who a newspaper endorses for what, and that mere bloggers are probably regarded even lower. What matters (or should matter) to readers is whether the reasoning behind the endorsement makes sense to the reader and her/his own values and priorities. The Post Dispatch, Suburban Journals and Arch City Chronicle made competing endorsements backed by reasoning that largely made no sense. I humbly offer the reasoning in this and prior posts for your consideration.

The city would easily be best served by re-electing Jim Shrewsbury. We need his knowledge and experience. His personal integrity is impeccable, he is principled to a fault, and he really does have the best interests of the entire city at heart. Firing someone as hard-working and self-sacrificing as Shrewsbury would send the wrong message to potential leaders of tomorrow.

Coming this weekend: Predictions, plus some ward-level endorsements.