There are two things that you need to know about St. Louis city government.
First, every fiscal and important policy decision made in the City of St. Louis involves the Board of Estimate & Apportionment (E&A), consisting of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen. The Board of E&A creates the city budget and approves every contract. The mayor may run the administration, but contrary to popular belief, it's E&A that controls the government.
Second, the Board of Aldermen is the other coequal branch of city government. E&A may create and manage the budget, but only the Board of Aldermen can pass a budget. The mayor can pretend to be the king or queen of the development universe, but only the Board of Aldermen can approve and authorize development agreements.
You could argue when the authority of the mayor of St. Louis is compared to the authority E&A and the Board of Aldermen, the mayor is a clerk.
From April 1993 to now, there has always been at least one African American on E&A, but what's important, in 18 of the last 24 years – from April 1993 to April 2001 and from April 2007 to now – there have been two African Americans on E&A.
On the Board of Aldermen, there are 28 aldermen, but any 15 get to decide what the board will pass or block. For the last 24 years (really, since 1981), there have been 11 African-American aldermen (40 percent of the board), which means a coalition of African-American aldermen (if they could all agree) would need four white Aldermen out 17 (24 percent) to pass or block any legislation. If you include the African-American board president, you only need three. From personal experience, I know you don't need to be a political genius to pull that off.
So what does it all mean? Since 1993 – that's 24 years and counting – African-American elected officials have had effective control of St. Louis city government. Given the level of representation the African-American community sends to city government, there is no plausible, rational explanation for the lack of city investment in North St. Louis’ African-American community. While they may not have had the power to do whatever they wanted, it's impossible for anyone to move anything in city government without the approval, or at least the passive consent, of African-American elected officials.
African-American voters have been flimflammed and bamboozled into thinking African-American elected officials don't have the wherewithal to push an agenda that speaks to their needs. Now it's possible that African-American elected officials have so internalized a sense of political inferiority that they can't act in their own interests. It's what psychologists call “learned helplessness”: If you feel you aren't in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in.
The African-American presence in city government exists in sufficient numbers in all the strategic locations to largely dictate public policy in the City of St. Louis. To a large measure, the condition of the city's African-American community is a function of the collective failure of African-American political leadership. The reason I can say that? Because on reflection, I've been part of that failed leadership.
Where shall we go from here? To be continued.
This is the first part of a series.