I walked briskly out of Room 200 headed back to the assessor’s office. The assessor’s office is on the first floor in the southwest corner of City Hall. I was feeling so self-conscious that I believed that everyone I saw in the City Hall corridors knew what Mayor Vince Schoemehl and I had talked about.
If my face looked anything like I felt, my staff must have thought I was in a trance when I got back to my office. As I entered the office, my secretary, Ruth Martin, handed me a stack of messages and Friday’s mail. I took the mail and messages and walked into my office and closed the door. I spent the next few minutes looking through the mail and messages, but my mind was still upstairs in the mayor’s office.
I decided at that point to call Congressman Bill Clay. I felt the need to tell someone about the conversation. It was Friday and Congress had adjourned for the week, so I had to call the congressman at his home in Maryland.
After we exchanged pleasantries, I told him that I needed to ask his opinion about a possible career change. Busting out in a loud laugh, Clay said he hoped I was not going to tell him that I was going to run for sheriff again.
He was referring to my losing 1984 campaign for St. Louis sheriff. Clay believed that my running for sheriff was a waste of time. He told me at the time that he believed I should wait to run for one of the Board of Estimate & Apportionment offices (mayor, comptroller or president of the Board of Aldermen). I argued at the time that getting elected sheriff would be a stepping stone for me.
I found out later the real reason Clay was opposed to my candidacy for sheriff. He had cut a deal with the South Side white elected officials to support a coalition ballot to protect Treasurer Larry Williams and incumbent Sheriff Gordon Sweitzer. Clay and the North Side black elected officials would support Sweitzer in exchange for the South Side white elected officials supporting Williams.
I told the congressman that I had no intention of running for sheriff again. I then told him about the meeting I had with Schoemehl – how Vince floated a scenario where Paul Berra would resign as comptroller, I would be appointed by the mayor to complete Berra’s term, and Schoemehl would appoint Berra to the assessor position.
Clay immediately expressed his support of the idea, but warned me about the trustworthiness of Schoemehl. Clay told me of several times that he thought Schoemehl had lied to him. In 1986, according to Clay, he had a meeting with Schoemehl and Kim Tucci at the Mayfair Hotel to discuss the endorsement of Freeman Bosley Jr.
Bosley was running for reelection as clerk of the Circuit Court. Bosley was elected Clerk in 1982, beating out one of Schoemehl’s closest allies, 17th Ward Committeeman Joe Roddy Sr. Bosley’s father, 3rd Ward Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., ran against Schoemehl for mayor in 1985, which had created a tremendous amount of animosity between the Bosley and Schoemehl political organizations.
Although Clay had endorsed Roddy against Bosley in 1982 and had endorsed Schoemehl for mayor against Bosley Sr. in 1985, he was supporting Bosley for reelection. As payback to punish the Bosleys, one of Schoemehl’s campaign aides and closet friends, Louis Hamilton, had been recruited by Tucci and Luther Boykins to run against Bosley Jr.
Clay said Schoemehl got to the meeting first. Tucci’s secretary had called Clay earlier to tell him that Tucci’s plane had been delayed and he was running late. Clay said that he and Schoemehl started the discussion about Bosley without Tucci being present. Clay’s said that he and Schoemehl had agreed to support Bosley Jr. for clerk in exchange for Clay’s endorsement of a candidate of Schoemehl’s choosing to run for collector of revenue against the incumbent Ronald Leggett.
According to Clay, when Tucci finally did arrive and was told of the agreement that Clay and Schoemehl had worked out, Tucci got upset. He was screaming at Schoemehl, telling him that his agreement with Clay would not stand and that he did not run things. Clay said he asked Schoemehl who was in charge, Tucci or him?
Clay also told me of a series of meetings he had been having with state Representative Tony Ribaudo and St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter. Carpenter and Ribaudo were part of the coalition that defeated Schoemehl and his slate in 1986. It was common knowledge in the political community that the two of them were interested in running for mayor against Schoemehl in the next mayoral election.
At the meetings, Clay said he told both Ribaudo and Carpenter that he would only endorse a candidate for mayor who could support a black candidate for comptroller. Ribaudo and Carpenter had told Clay that they could not agree to support a black candidate against Berra. Ribaudo had succeeded Berra as the 24th Ward committeeman and was part of the Berra political machine.
Clay ended the phone call by telling me that he would support me for comptroller, notwithstanding a deal involving Berra. He also told me that he would predicate his endorsement of a mayoral candidate on who could bring the most white Democratic committeemen to the table to endorse me for comptroller.
Immediately after I hung up the phone, bells suddenly started to go off in my head. Schoemehl had to know about the conversations between Ribaudo, Carpenter and Clay when he met with me. I was basically being served up as the bride in a marriage of convenience. Schoemehl knew that Clay and I were friends and was thus going to use my relationship with Clay to try and heal the rift between the two of them and to also short-circuit any deal between Clay, Ribaudo and Carpenter.
To be continued in next week’s Black History Month section.
This article is excerpted from Virvus Jones’ forthcoming memoir, “The Swap.” This version of events reflects the author’s personal memories of events in which he was a direct participant.