On May 1, the era of East St. Louis mayor Robert Eastern III began in East Boogie. Fresh from an election in which he defeated Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks by nearly 1,000 votes, his “Heart for the People” ticket swept him into office on a promise of progressive change.
Congratulations to Mayor Eastern on a landslide victory – or, should I say, congratulations cousin Bobby? I’ve been told by family members that we’re related. Yet, I’ve never received a plausible explanation as to how that plays out on our family tree.
Not that it should matter, because Mayor Eastern is fully aware that it’s irrelevant as it pertains to my coverage of East St. Louis City Hall. I’ll continue to be fair and brutally honest if necessary.
And if I may be brutally honest, it escapes me as to why Mayor Eastern’s predecessor, Emeka Jackson-Hicks, had the audacity (or arrogance) to do a no-show for the traditional passing of the gavel at Eastern’s inauguration.
Initially I thought that, perhaps, she believed that she wouldn’t be missed or that maybe she’s just a sore loser. But during an exchange with me on (of all places) Facebook, Jackson-Hicks informed me (and my other 4,381 “friends”) that “I do not have to explain my absence to you or anybody else.” So, I guess the voters made an excellent decision in removing her highness from her throne.
So far, Mayor Eastern has started out on a sober note. Instead of bragging about his victory, during his inaugural address he addressed the reality of a city teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, with a budget deficit of $5.5 million.
“Although I am excited, I realize that it’s not time to celebrate,” Eastern said. “We have work to do.” He has opted not to have the traditional Mayor’s Gala. Instead, he will “use the funds for the gala to start a spring cleanup program.”
Sounds like a great approach, but if I could offer some cousinly advice to Mayor Eastern it would be to take account of those whose advice and counsel you value, as well as which faces you appoint to positions of leadership and trust.
While many of your team were winners, there are many of your extended body of supporters who have extensive criminal backgrounds. They should have a job somewhere, but not at City Hall.
It is imperative that the appointments that you make are individuals whose backgrounds are above reproach. Otherwise, once the honeymoon is over, you will find yourself being pulled in a dozen crooked directions by those who have no compunction for returning to their old federal stomping grounds.
You must resist the gravitational pull into the vortex of corruption that has saddled ESL with a reputation for corrupt government for so long.
And state and federal government entities will be less willing to work with your administration if your appointees and staff looks like the cast of “Goodfellas.”
On the positive side and in spite of the latest gloom and doom reporting on East Boogie by the Belleville News-Democrat, there was an amazing 42 percent drop in homicides in East St. Louis in 2018. That must become a trend, especially in light of some of the recent, senseless, shootings and murders of our young people.
So you’re right in asserting that “we have work to do.” That work started the very second that you took your hand off the Bible on inauguration day.
With the challenges and financial shortfalls that ESL faces, there is little room for error and this may be the last chance to salvage our community as we know it.