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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your third to last sentence is a little hard to follow.."got something about (attorney) Smith."

However, I think you're getting warm when you bring in Irene Smith. Shrewsbury's role in the potty-gate incidient was much more visibly apparent than any other white leader. He was the poster boy in the chamber, oppressing the black vote.

Black people who vote, especially north siders, remember that incident and this was payback.

As far as helping black people, police oversight was never perceived as Shrewsbury's issue (it was Kennedy's) and medical waste incineration is something few people understand.

Now lead poisoning and a failed public education system are issues that predominatley impact low income African Americans. On these efforts, Slay has shown leadership, raised money and invested his political capital. What about Shrewsbury?

March 8, 2007 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Gary Gilliam said...

The things that always bother me about political elections is the dirt and corruptness of seemingly all of the candidates that we have to choose from. We say that it is a quest for power or money. maybe some of these candidates do run for the right reasons, it is so hard to see through all of the smoke and mirrors.

The other thing that bothers me the most, I travel all over the world and meet people from many different races and dialects. I always am looking for a way to find a common ground with other people. We let our political system continue to drive a wedge between the black and white race in this country. It does not really matter what the color of our skin is.

when you read my comments, can you tell what color my skin really is?

March 8, 2007 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

"Shrewsbury's role in the potty-gate incidient was much more visibly apparent than any other white leader."

If Smith's "potty-gate" galvanizes the black community why did mayor slay beat her so badly?

If that incedent is the defining moment of the Shrewsbury administration why didn't Smith run insted of Reed?

To the statment of leadership of Slay on education... he chose a slate of poeple that chose to strangle the school system through it budget rather than fight the state to fund the schoos properly.

That is bad leadership. The money spent to get his people electd would have been better spent directly on the schools rather than politicians.

March 8, 2007 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Antonio D. French said...

Oracle, while I usually find your analysises very insightful and well-reasoned, I think your analysis this time falls apart in the last paragraph.

The statement that "Shrewsbury had worked hard to please African American voters" is just not true. Those close to the discussions can attest that Shrewsbury's "support" of both of the issues you mentioned (CRB and the medical waste incinerator) came after the heavy lifting was done.

And frankly, neither one of these issues are likely to be in the top 5 of those most important to black voters.

The Shrewsbury campaign had a tough time finding a black elected official to stand with him. They even had a tough time finding real people (not campaign staffers or rented children) to appear with him in campaign literature and commercials.

After 24 years in office and 5 years as a citywide elected official in a majority-black city, what kind of a legacy is that?

But where your analysis completely goes astray is when you write "It is mind boggling to me why Shrewsbury would do more poorly among black voters against Alderman Reed than Slay... got against Alderman (and respected attorney) Irene Smith".

You're kidding me right? You can't see why a higher percentage of black voters voted for Lewis Reed than Irene Smith?

Without being disrespectful of Smith, for whom I have a great deal of respect, let me just say that Reed had far less baggage and was a much more serious candidate for citywide office that Ms. Smith, whose reputation was (tragically) tarnished and who had great difficulty raising the needed money to be a serious candidate.

Black voters are no less sophisticated than their white counterparts and they can tell when a candidate has a serious chance or not. As a matter of fact, one of the early things the Reed campaign attacked was the "It can really happen" factor. That is why I believed that the biggest endorsement in this race came when a majority of aldermen supported Reed.

It proved to many people -- all over the city, and not just blacks -- that it was possible.

March 9, 2007 at 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Urban Review said...

I think both Oracle and Antonio French are correct, to a degree.

AF is correct that Smith was not seen by most, black or white, as a credible candidate. As AF says, she had baggage that Reed did not. This lack of baggage combined with serious backing gave voters confidence that Reed has a good chance. People like to vote for winners.

But AF you must see that despite all these factors voters, with exceptions north & south, voted based on race. Reed managed more southside (white) voters than Shrewsbury did northside (black) voters.

Florida's endorsement of Reed was not enough to help him win the 15th just like Jones-King's endorsement of Shrewsbury was not enough to help him in the 21st.

Sadly, I think most voters did so based on race, not on real issues. As Oracle indicates, not enough contested races on the southside brought out Shrewsbury voters. Less contests on the north or more on the south might have closed the gap or flipped it the other way.

March 9, 2007 at 10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reply to Urban Review--

The issues of contested versus non-contested ward races was well known leading up this this election.

There was genius behind the campaign to elect Lewis Reed. They knew the various factors gave their candidate a real shot at winning.

I am impressed that the Fourth Ward drew nearly half the vote as the Sixteenth. By comparison, that's high turnout.

The fact that Reed did better on the south side than Shrewsbury did on the north side points to more crossover votes for Reed than Shrewsbury.

And even if Shrewsbury would have received every vote cast in the 12th ward, he still would have lost.

Shrewsbury does not have city-wide appeal like Lewis Reed does.

March 9, 2007 at 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Urban Review said...

Anonymous @ 2:07:

You'll get no argument from me that the Reed campaign took all the factors such as contested races north but not south into account.

Frankly, I think the Shrewsbury campaign counted on getting a 1/3 of the northside vote --- something that did not happen. Although not winning a southside ward, Reed got far more cross over voters than Shrewsbury did on the northside.

For the most part people voted along racial lines, not issues.

March 9, 2007 at 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard from a lot of southside voters who voted against Shrewsbury because of his position on the BJC lease.

He staked out his position too early, and it burned him in the end. Sticking to his no-BJC position cost him votes. He figured his base was secure, and opposing the BJC deal would win him votes in the central corridor.

He figured wrong. His base didn't show up, and most city residents favored the BJC deal. For a politician who always tried to avoid controversy, he picked the wrong side of a controversial issue, and it cost him.

March 9, 2007 at 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oracle, very good review of the election. I have always enjoyed your perspective.
Veronica O'Brien

March 9, 2007 at 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'll see how many people supported the BJC deal on April 3.

March 29, 2007 at 2:55 PM  

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