No one was on the edge of their seats awaiting the Post-Dispatch’s endorsement in the March 5 mayoral primary. There was no suspense. The only questions were how thick would they lay it on for three-term incumbent Mayor Francis G. Slay, and how condescending would they be to the only serious challenger, aldermanic President Lewis Reed?
Their endorsement opens – not with a serious analysis of what’s at stake in the leadership of the city – but with a cheap, dismissive joke. “Life is full of disappointments,” writes Kevin Horrigan, his putative boss Tony Messenger, and their colleagues on the Post’s all-white editorial board. “The dead cell phone. The sold-out movie. Chris Carpenter’s bum arm. The mayoral campaign of Lewis Reed.”
The campaign to determine who will lead this city is equated with entertainment and amusements. This smug, off-point, trivializing sarcasm is reinforced in the next paragraph with a quote from popular culture, “He could have been a contender.” The EYE suspects we are supposed to hear Horrigan doing his imitation of Marlon Brando.
When it comes to substance, at first they take Slay’s word for it as he “ticks off” his alleged accomplishments: the new Busch Stadium (which any mayor would have gone along with), “neighborhood developments” (not specified which neighborhoods), lead abatement (performed in a hurry after years of inaction in advance of an audit) and a string of things for which Slay gets at most only partial credit: Teach for America, “permanent housing for the chronically homeless, 3,000 extra slots in after-school programs.”
The Post criticizes Reed for “chaotic, grab-at-anything, me-too campaigning,” but this list of alleged Slay accomplishments is grabbing at anything and calling “me too” to many initiatives led by others.
Horrigan et. al. eventually depart from Slay’s dubious claims for himself to make claims for him. They, too, are unsupported and dubious.
“He attracted an able staff,” we are told of Slay. For example? The city’s largest and most important department is Public Safety. Slay made a mess of it with his friend of the family Sam Simon who set up Fire Chief Sherman George for the fall, and Simon’s successor, the laughably inept black hatchet man Charles Bryson. Bryson was replaced by Eddie Roth, who was not on the job long enough to be judged, but certainly is awkward to name by the Post, since his previous job was writing for this same Editorial Board.
“He works 12-hour days and caps them by attending neighborhood meetings or evening receptions,” we are told of Slay. Now, that is ridiculous as a statement of fact. It is a present tense statement, as if that is what Slay always does and is doing now – pulling a 12-hour shift before directly confronting the people at “neighborhood meetings” (we are not told which neighborhoods). This is pure public relations hype – shameful to see in a major metropolitan newspaper.
The unsupported hype from Team Slay continues as the mayor is credited “for doing the politics and building coalitions.” Which coalitions? We are not told. The EYE sees a coalition between the Slay administration and the Post-Dispatch, the Slay administration and Rex Sinquefield (and other deep-pocketed conservative Republicans), the Slay administration and businesses that benefit from downtown development.
But in a racially divided city like St. Louis, that had a majority-black population when Slay took office and has a plurality-black population as he stands for his fourth term, what coalition-building is meaningful that does not include the black community? And who – other than Slay, his campaign manager Richard Callow and this cheerleading duo on the Editorial Board – would claim Slay has built a meaningful coalition that includes the black community?
Slay’s payback endorsements from the August 2012 primaries don’t count. As the EYE has pointed out, Slay make shrewd tactical moves in endorsing U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay and state Senate candidate Jamilah Nasheed in their primaries. Clay, the incumbent, won easily as many expected, and Nasheed pulled off a remarkable upset victory – both over white opponents. As the EYE showed after ward tallies were in, Clay and Nasheed got crushed in the wards where Slay does well. A highly motivated black base, and not Francis Slay, won their elections for them. Yet Slay is now reaping the dividends for his support in strong, even strident endorsements from Clay and Nasheed for the simple reason that Reed sat out both of their primaries, which was politically stupid.
But that’s electoral politics, not the coalitions that put into effect productive policy and actually move a city forward. In the community where the people operate, Slay has forged very few bonds. In fact, he has made many bitter enemies. From ward redistricting to his attacks on public schools to his handling of the black firefighter issue to his lopsided focus on crimes in majority-white neighborhoods, Slay has consistently offended and incensed the black community.
The Post blithely quotes Slay’s winning voter percentage in his most recent reelection (61 percent) without pointing out that he has never won a North City ward and only won one marginally majority-black ward (the 6th Ward) that is on the near South Side. Since Reed is a 6th Ward resident and former alderman for the ward, the EYE predicts Reed will win the 6th Ward, leaving Slay winless in every single majority-black ward on March 5.
Race for Reed only
The Post makes exactly one reference to race in its endorsement, and that is to characterize Reed as “African-American.” Slay’s race is not identified. Identifying only one candidate by race is egregiously bad journalism that would occasion a forced rewrite at every other major metro daily, and in fact most high school student newspapers. But not at the Lee Enterprises Richard Callow Kevin Horrigan Post-Dispatch. Tony Messenger, who supposedly manages this page, and who did great work in Springfield before joining this sinking ship, knows better.
It’s Journalism 101 to identify race only when relevant. In a political campaign, if the race of one candidate is relevant, then the race of every candidate is relevant. This endorsement, for this basic error alone, would earn an F or a forced rewrite in a Journalism 101 class. In St. Louis in 2013, it’s the daily paper’s endorsement of what will be a four-term mayor if he wins.
When the Post finally turns to Reed, he gets short shrift – in sharp contrast to their position in 2007, when they endorsed Reed for aldermanic president. Remarking on his relative inability to raise funds against Slay, the Post says Reed “has relied on so-called ‘free media,’ calling press conferences to make fuzzy allegations against Mr. Slay.” That is an interesting phrase, “so-called ‘free media.’” Francis Slay has called a lot of press conferences in the past 11 years, and the EYE has never heard one dismissed by the Post as “free media.” But of course, Slay and his administration get all the “free media” (or public relations) they want from the Post without calling a press conference.
This was made laughably evident, most recently, when American reporter Rebecca S. Rivas called Slay’s campaign manager Richard Callow for a reaction to a claim made by Reed at one of his free media conferences. Callow told Rivas to read the Post. Rivas said she would not read another news source to get the mayor’s response. So Callow read aloud to her from the Post. “Free media.”
There is one indisputably true statement made in this putrid endorsement: “Mr. Slay’s political operation never stops.” Yes, indeed. That political operation is not a coalition builder, and it shows none of the inclusive, forward-thinking leadership this city so desperately needs, but it never stops. It raises money, and it gets its stories told by the Post and many other mainstream media outlets. That never stops, not as long as Slay is mayor.