Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Will the St. Louis Mayoral Race be Divisive?

November 29, 2012   
BH 426

Lewis Reed, president of the city's Board of Aldermen last month announced his candidacy for St. Louis mayor. He is challenging incumbent Francis Slay who is seeking his fourth consecutive term in office.  Slay was first elected in 2001, defeating incumbent Clarence Harmon and was easily re-elected in 2005 and 2009. My question is will next year’s race reflect the bitterness of some of the past struggles for control?
Some analysts believe this could become one of the hottest contested races in recent St. Louis history. Will race and ethnicity be relevant to the determination of who will occupy room 200 in City Hall?

The role of ethnic identity and how it frames the formulation of policies related to education, employment, housing, and public policy should not play a part in the upcoming contest, but it will.

Racism is always beneath the surface of political life in St. Louis and the fact that another African American is today a serious contender for the mayor’s office will undoubtedly bring out many African American politicians and longtime activists citing the legacy of hundreds of years of slavery, racism and oppression.
Some will bring to mind that Mayor Richard Hatcher hosted The National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., on March 10-12, 1972. It marked the first major gathering of diverse minds and agendas in Black politics, and inspired countless numbers to participate in the electoral process, and many will make the argument that it is again time for a positive change, while others will stress they will not allow the city’s race-based policies to be put in the spotlight.

Will the voters ask, while taking on the city's toughest challenges, which will be the most passionate about effective government? Will past contests have an influence in 2013?

From the archives of The St. Louis American, let us review some of the city’s most important elections involving and relating to the city as a whole and particularly African Americans.

In the March 17, 1977 edition, Farley Wilson wrote of “The Three-Ring Political Circus Has Race for Mayor in Turmoil”. It referred to Congressman William Clay Sr. entering the race for mayor as a write-in candidate supporting comptroller John Bass after his primary loss to Jim Conway. A peace deal was brokered by the late State Senator J.B. ‘Jet’ Banks.

In the Feb. 2-8, 1989 edition Sharon Green reported that Zaki Baruti and Clifford Wilson persuaded Ron Gregory to withdraw from the mayor’s race to allow Mike Roberts to challenge incumbent mayor Vincent Schoemehl.  This edition also told of the withdrawal of Clifford Wilson from the comptrollers race to allow Virvus Jones to seek the office held by Paul Berra. 

The Jan. 23-29, 1997 edition of The American featured Alvin Reid’s headline ‘Bosley and Harmon Talk-the Talk as campaign heats up’. The story described the tension between the two campaigns and centered some objections by Harmon of Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. using the MLK Celebration as a political forum.
Will Slay become the first mayor to be elected to a fourth full four year term? He has the support of County Executive Charlie Dooley and Congressman Lacy Clay.

As an African-American and former member of the aldermanic black caucus, will Reed prevail in the city's predominantly black North Side and recapture the support he held in some white and middle-class wards south St. Louis?

Voters must decide between two men with fairly similar political viewpoints, but different leadership styles and faults.

Whether or not a controversy affects voter turnout will be evident after the election in March.  In the meantime, it only adds to the growing cynicism surrounding political views locally.

The city is facing economic, crime, health and labor problems and it is important that whoever wins, they must come up with an agenda on how to unite the people and face these challenges. I can’t wait for March.
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