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.

Monday, August 01, 2016

BLM's early impact on north St. Louis politics

The usual racial wars in Missouri's Democratic primary are back. The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired several candidacies, some against whites and some against establishment blacks. Their challenges have some in the African American establishment flummoxed on how to react. This is quite apparent in the endorsements - and non-endorsements - by the voice of the African American establishment (the weekly St. Louis American) and the voice of the white Democratic establishment (the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its online presence,

In the contest for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, the American notes in passing that Cori Bush is running, but the paper made no endorsement in that contest. The Post Dispatch endorsed the establishment pick, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. (The Oracle prefers drug reform advocate Chief Wana Dubie.)

The highest profile challenge is in Missouri's First Congressional District, where Ferguson activist State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is challenging veteran African American Rep. Lacy Clay. The American pointedly declined to endorse, describing the contest as "a choice between experience and seniority versus new energy and bold direct action." (In contrast, the American did go to the trouble to endorse Bill Otto, unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the Second District.)

The Lieutenant Governor's race has drawn less attention that I expected. Term-limited State Rep. Tommie Pierson is an African American state representative from just north of Ferguson but isn't generating much attention. The establishment candidate, former Congressman Russ Carnahan, was last seen losing a racially charged primary against Clay. The Post predictably backed Carnahan, while the American remained silent.

In the contest for Secretary of State, former KTVI anchor Robin Smith is the establishment pick against two political unknowns and got the Post endorsement. This marked the first time in several years that the Post endorsed an African American candidate in a contested Democratic primary with one or more white opponents. Surprisingly, the American made no endorsement, in spite of Smith's family connections with the African American political establishment. Her father and brother were city aldermen and part of the storied political operation of the late J.B. "Jet" Banks.

The most visible local contest is in north St. Louis County, where long-time white incumbent County Councilman (and ally of County Executive Steve Stenger) Mike O'Mara is being challenged by African American State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray. While Walton Gray (whose parents both served in the legislature) is part of the African American political establishment and is not a BLM activist, she has substantial financial backing from Chappelle-Nadal. The American endorsed Walton Gray, while the Post did not endorse.

In State Senate District 5 in the city, BLM activist Jamilah Nasheed is the incumbent. She has the American's endorsement over white Bernie Sanders activist Dylan Hassinger. No endorsement by the Post.

The Post also remained curiously silent in the city-wide primary for the open Sheriff position vacated by retiring Sheriff James Murphy. South-side ward organizations are united behind white 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, despite his lack of education and other qualifications. Most labor unions (including white police and fire unions) also back Vaccaro, but the SEIU and black police and fire unions back Vernon Betts, a college-educated African American former deputy. Betts also has the backing of the American and most black ward organizations; but Vaccaro scored the backing of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, north-side Aldermen Dionne Flowers and Jeffrey Boyd and Boyd's 22nd Ward Democratic organization.

There are numerous twists in the contest for St. Louis Circuit Attorney, featuring two white and two black contenders. Most African American ward leaders have coalesced around State Rep. Kimberly Gardner, and the American backs her as well. Steve Harmon, son of former Mayor Clarence Harmon, has little support. The white candidates are two current assistant circuit attorneys who are running well-financed campaigns, Mary Pat Carl and Patrick Hamacher. Most south-side ward leaders are backing Carl. The Post endorsed Carl for the lamest of reasons: incumbent Jennifer Joyce endorsed Carl and that's good enough for the Post. One intriguing twist is that the African American Hubbard family organization in the 5th Ward has broken with other black organizations and backed Carl. The Hubbards face BLM challengers for Penny Hubbard's state rep seat and her and son Rodney's 5th Ward committee posts. The American backs BLM challenger Bruce Franks over Hubbard in the state rep contest and the Post was silent.

Like the challengers to the Hubbard family dynasty, many BLM and allied Sanders candidates are vying for ward committee posts, which fly beneath the radar of most newspaper coverage. (Neither paper endorsed in any committee contests.) A front-page story in the current edition of the American (the last before the primary) mentions several of these candidates, as well as several others who it calls "white allies." BLM challenges of black incumbents are taking place in Wards 5 and 27, while "white allies" (with financial support from Chappelle-Nadal) are challenging establishment forces in Wards 6, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15 and 20. Of particular interest is the racially integrated Ward 6, where Matt Carroll-Schmidt, attorney for anti-Trump protesters, faces off against black State Rep. Michael Butler for committeeman, and white Ferguson activist (and NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director) Allison Dreith challenges Mary Entrup (the white wife of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed) for committeewoman. In spite of its non-endorsement in the committee races, the American made its preference known by endorsing the establishment's Butler in the state representative primary in which he runs unopposed.

While not featuring anyone associated with either BLM or the Sanders campaign, the contest for committeewoman in the 26th Ward (home ward to the Clay dynasty) is interesting as a clash of established African American officials. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones faces off against State Rep. Karla May. As in the 6th Ward contest, the American made its preference known with its endorsement of Jones in her uncontested primary for Treasurer, but not of May in her uncontested primary for state rep.

Also of interest is the north St. Louis County state representative primary in which African American incumbent Courtney Allen Curtis faces three challengers, including white former state rep Eileen Grant McGeoghegan. Neither the Post nor the American endorsed anyone.


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