If there was anyone in St. Louis government deserving of a hook-up from St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson after her election, it was Steve Conway, longtime 8th Ward alderman (and son of the city’s 41st mayor, James Conway). Conway’s vehement opposition to Krewson’s closest mayoral challenger, Tishaura O. Jones, was worth every bit of the 888 votes by which Krewson bested Jones. So textbook political payback was in effect when on Monday, November 27 Krewson appointed Conway city assessor, with a salary of $125,000, nearly four-times what Conway was earning as alderman (he also was CFO for Imo’s Pizza, a position he resigned, along with his aldermanic seat, to take his new job). And this is a gift that Krewson will keep giving – in taxpayer dollars – to Conway for as long as he is alive, given that his city pension will be calibrated according to his salary at the time he retires.
Conway was something of a capo in the smear campaign against Jones that lasted for most of the mayoral campaign that she still almost won. When KMOV reporter Lauren Trager did the first story on Jones’ travel expenses in her current position as city treasurer – a story followed by many other local media – Conway was one of her main sources for venom (along with Alderman Joe Vaccaro, who must be wondering when his back gets scratched and his wallet gets fattened by Krewson). Trager included multiple quotes from Conway and Vaccaro saying they were “outraged” at Jones’ spending. Trager and her sources neglected to mention, as The American reported, that the Board of Aldermen approves the Treasurer Office’s Parking Division’s travel budget every year. In June 2016, the aldermen – including Conway and Vaccaro – unanimously approved a $20,000 travel line item for the 2017 fiscal year, which is for the entire department. And those numbers have been the same or similar since Jones was in office.
Conway faked his outrage for the camera – and helped elect his mayor of choice, who now has paid him back handsomely.
This was not a one-off attack on Jones from Conway; far from it. He and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, a black spoiler in the mayoral race, led the effort at the Board of Alderman to undermine many of Jones’ progressive initiatives as treasurer and to wrest control of her department’s budget away from her.
Nor was it a one-off collaboration between Conway and Krewson. He introduced the half-cent sales tax increase for new public safety spending that Krewson championed as mayor and that gave her one of her few victories in her first months of mayor – a victory they shared publicly with the St. Louis Police Officers Association and its notorious business agent, Jeff “Fergustan” Roorda.
Progressives won’t miss Conway on the Board of Aldermen, where he served for 27 years, and taxpayers may accept the extra pension burden for Conway’s twilight years in exchange for his being able to do less damage as assessor (a position for which he is, as a lawyer and an accountant, professionally qualified, at least).
Scanning recent Political EYE columns for evidence of Conway, we see him voting no on Board Bill 203, which added pregnancy and reproductive health decisions (such as birth control, in vitro fertilization, and abortion) to the list of protected classes from discrimination in employment and housing in the City of St. Louis. The ordinance helps ensure that women can make their own reproductive health decisions, without fear of losing their jobs or being denied housing because of private, non-work related decisions. This includes the ability to determine whether, when, and how to raise a family. Conway opposed it, along with his fellow diminutive conservative Vaccaro and eight others – including then-Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, who was since appointed by Krewson to be city registrar. (Krewson, then an alderwoman, approved of the measure.) This means St. Louis' first woman mayor promoted to better citywide positions two of her former aldermanic colleagues who took anti-feminist positions on this bill. Only in St. Louis.
Conway was also on the aldermanic team that battled for taxpayer funds to underwrite St. Louis’ most recent bid to lure yet another NFL franchise to the city, helping vote the measure out of committee. With him gone, more progressive bills may make their way out of committee, including the Scottrade funding repeal and the bill to stop prosecuting marijuana offenses in the city. Conway chaired the Ways and Means committee, which handles the city’s budget.
It is ironic, however, that Conway, one of the biggest abusers of the tax-abatement system as an alderman, who has helped to drain the city of tax reserves, now gets the gig to assess taxes in the city. He replaced someone named Freddie Dunlap, who must have been the least-known citywide official.
Rice vs. Fehler for nomination
Both Democratic committeepeople in the ward – Annie Rice and Paul Fehler – want to take Conway’s seat. Fehler, Conway's handpicked heir, started campaigning over the holiday weekend. He is the status quo candidate, but the 8th Ward is not a status quo ward anymore and Conway has been losing his relevance in the ward for years. He won his most recent reelection bid in 2015 over Kevin McKinney (an African American transplant to St. Louis) by less than 100 votes. He was Krewson’s boy in the most recent mayoral primary, but Jones beat Krewson in his ward by more than 500 votes. The 8th Ward was even one of the city’s four wards to vote against Proposition P, the regressive sales-tax increase to pay police and firefighters more that Conway sponsored.
The Democratic Central Committee in the city may choose Fehler over Rice for its nomination, but voting trends indicate that Rice will be more popular in the ward than the more conservative Fehler. If she doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, surely she will run against Fehler when the seat comes before the voters.
Finally, the Ferguson protest movement might want to celebrate, just a little. James Knowles may still be mayor of Ferguson, Bob McCulloch may still be St. Louis County prosecutor, and St. Louis may have elected a more pro-police mayor than their candidate, but the alderman who frowned at and insulted the Shaw neighborhood protests over the police killing of VonDerrit Myers Jr. no longer holds the office from which he sneered at them. What’s depressing is to realize that’s the first time someone the movement opposed left elected office – and he did so for a much better-paying position, right after helping the new mayor who appointed him get the police some more money.
Real ID: good and bad news
Good news: This week the Department of Homeland Security granted Missouri an extension to implement REAL-ID compliant driver licenses. The extension means Missourians will be able to use their current forms of identification to fly domestically and enter federal facilities until October 10 of next year.
Bad news: the Republican-dominated Legislature in Jefferson City can’t seem to pass the legislation needed to make these extensions no longer needed and make it possible for their constituents to use their IDs to get on an airplane. If they keep up their work on IDs, Missouri Republicans will make it harder and harder for people in this state to fly in an airplane – or cast a ballot.
Show-Me and Team TIF
The conservative Show-Me Institute has published a new report showing that tax-increment financing (TIF) is often used to incentivize development that would have happened, anyway, but now happens with less tax yield to the city. Overall, the authors of the study, T. William Lester and A. Rachid El-Khattabi, found that economic activity in TIF areas is "not discernibly greater than the levels where TIF projects were not designated." It’s interesting to see the Show-Me Institute line up on the same side of the ball with the uber-progressive Team TIF. The difference is that Team TIF wants fewer, more equitable TIF deals, whereas Show-Me Institute wants, more or less, to put an end to taxes.