While the 2013 St. Louis mayoral primary didn’t bring the sea change many of us worked for, it was a game changer in our local political landscape.
Incumbent Mayor Francis G. Slay won 54 percent of the vote and Lewis Reed won 44 percent. Voter turnout continues to be low with Mayor Slay in the mix.
The Slay campaign was well-financed, the biggest donor being Rex Sinquefield. The Slay administration didn’t have much of a record to run on, so it just hung its hat on other people’s hat rack, claiming credit for bringing local control of the St. Louis police department, support for minority inclusion and the building of the O’Fallon Recreation Center.
Slay’s support came from the predominantly white wards such as the 23rd (his family’s home ward). The St. Louis Beacon has a nifty graphic that showed the stark racial voting divide. It is a divide the Slay has manipulated and aggravated for his last three terms, and this race was an indication that he plans to continue plantation politics. It should be disconcerting that the white establishment agrees (by their donations) that this is an appropriate way to run a city that is majority non-white.
Reed built his campaign on the growing discontent with the Slay administration as exemplified by the candidacies of Irene J. Smith (in 2004 and 2009) and the independent candidacy of Maida Coleman (in 2009). Each of those elections saw distinct voter opposition to Slay in the North Side wards.
Reed’s campaign had some problems, like having to fire a campaign manager early on and losing his home 6th Ward. However, his campaign brought together a diversity of political sectors – blacks, whites, labor unions, community groups. It reflected the kind of city that many of us envision where there’s inclusion and transparency on all levels. Something is terribly wrong when an administration excludes large swaths of the community in favor of white elites and a few selected blacks.
Speaking of selected blacks, state Senator Jamilah Nasheed and Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay were the most prominent African-American faces Slay projected in his campaign. I have a long relationship with both, but I think their reputations will suffer irreparable damage. You can’t tell people the sun is shining when it’s a thunderstorm and expects them to continue to believe you.
Reed’s coalition is not likely to fade away any time soon. The no-bid contracts given by the mayor and lack of job creation exposed by the Reed campaign will keep the labor movement engaged. The continued attempted destruction of the St. Louis Public Schools will keep AFT Local 420 and public education advocates worked up. The bankrupt political ploy of using the empowerment of black folks to scare white folks will keep enlightened black and white citizens challenging the racial inequities of the current administration.
This mayoral race has cleared up the vision of many as to our tasks moving forward. Going forward there will be more scrutiny of the decisions made by the Board of Estimate & Apportionment composed of Slay, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green. On the North Side, the performance evaluation of elected officials by voters should be anticipated.
The Reed campaign brought many out of the shadows of fear to participate in their personal destiny and the future of their city. The mayor’s M.O. of retribution for those who oppose him in any way is real. But people had reached their breaking point, saying enough is enough and were willing to suffer the consequences.
It’s time to construct a new vision for this city that rises above petty issues, political fiefdoms and divisive boundaries to a vibrant city that utilizes the energies and talents of its citizens and ensures the rights of its citizens to adequate housing, jobs with livable wages, accessible health care, safe neighborhoods and an exemplary public school system.