The Fannie Lou Hamer Coalition – a group of more than 30 African-American elected officials who feel disrespected by the Democratic Party – endorsed Republican Rick Stream today in the race for St. Louis County executive.
Group leader Hazel Erby, a St. Louis County councilwoman, said the Democratic Party has not listened to African-American leaders during important issues in St. Louis County, such as addressing the unaccredited schools and Ferguson unrest.
“We wrote letters. We made phone calls, just to be ignored,” Erby said. “That’s not happening anymore.”
The group feels their endorsement will deeply hamper Democratic candidate Steve Stenger’s chances of winning the election in November, which was already one of the tightest races in the state. Stenger, a St. Louis County councilman, beat incumbent Charlie Dooley in the August primary.
Stenger recently worked against efforts to increase inclusion initiatives in St. Louis County, Erby said. Stenger also has “unbreakable ties” to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, and that concerns the group in regards to the unrest in Ferguson. McCulloch is leading one of the investigations into Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown, and has been repeatedly asked to step aside due to questions of his objectivity in the case.
State Rep. Courtney Curtis said he led the group’s negotiations with Stream about ensuring that he will work with them on inclusion issues.
“He’s an honest broker,” Curtis said. “We do have a relationship with him. We can trust him, and the other side has shown that he is unwilling to work with us.”
When questioned about their views on Stream’s right-winged beliefs, the group leaders repeatedly reiterated that it is not about the candidates.
“This is about disrespect of the black community,” said Mayor of Berkeley Theodore Hoskins.
It’s more about flexing political muscle that the African-American political community did not have before the coalition was established, said Mike Jones, senior policy advisor for the Office of County Executive Charlie Dooley.
The coalition’s endorsement aims to change the “political geography” in a revolutionary way, he said. In St. Louis County, Jones said the margin of victory for the Democratic Party is largely dependent on black voters. Now the group has an opportunity to demonstrate African American’s political influence in St. Louis County, regardless of who wins the election. And to show that they don’t have to continue to be ignored and disrespected by the Democratic Party locally and statewide.
“Who actually gets the county executive seat is a side of grits,” Jones said. “As of today, they can’t lose. The only question how big is the win going to be.”
The coalition members have all signed a declaration that pledges to “end the political forces that have never recognized our humanity, nor cared about our welfare.”
“There is no group more important to the viability of the St. Louis County Democratic Party than the African American community,” the declaration states. “Yet, there is a total absence of any political consideration for the African American community, whether it is in the party leadership, the development and support of candidates for elected office or advocating for public policy solutions that speak to the needs of the African American community in St. Louis County.”
Michael Kelley, former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, attended the press conference and spoke with reporters afterwards. Kelley was shaking with outrage at the coalition’s move, saying that it goes against Democratic morals. He said Stream is an extreme conservative that has moved to cut minimum wage and who also led the fight to try and keep President Barack Obama off the ballot.
Normandy Mayor Patrick Green responded to his claim saying that Stream will be an administrator, not a legislator. And if Stenger were a good leader, he would have reached out to them to bridge the gap in the Democratic Party.
Green said, “They had the opportunity to bridge this a long time ago.”