St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch is seeking re-election, and the August 7 Democratic primary election (when he faces Wesley Bell, currently a Ferguson councilman) will decide his fate, given that no Republican filed for the office before closing. Having held office since 1991, McCulloch was a controversial figure long before he gave Officer Darren Wilson his stamp of approval – then made the announcement that Wilson would not be charged for killing Michael Brown at night, in riot prime time. A card-carrying member of the Blue Line establishment, McCulloch's tenure has been noteworthy in the black community for little but letting police officers off the hook for shooting unarmed black men. An egregious example: In 2001, two officers shot two unarmed black men 21 times, killing them in the parking lot of a Jack in the Box in North St. Louis County. McCulloch refused to indict the officers, explaining that the shooting was justified because "These guys were bums."
In 2014, while supposedly investigating Wilson's killing of Brown, McCulloch found time to accuse Charlie Dooley, first black to serve as St. Louis County executive, of corruption. Despite having the full power of the law and the considerable resources of his office behind him, McCulloch never found anything on Dooley, demonstrated by his failure to bring any charges against Dooley. Yet he (and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) continued to stir up rumors of corruption about Dooley in the absence of evidence. McCulloch overtly backed Dooley’s challenger Steve Stenger, who went on to narrowly win the race.
Since McCulloch's support helped to elect Stenger, the two blue dogs have been politically inseparable. McCulloch's legislative priorities seem to be as self-centered as McCulloch's public persona. In 2006, Stenger pushed through a pension windfall for McCulloch. The Post-Dispatch (which has exhibited a great deal of buyer’s remorse later for pushing Stenger onto voters throughout his first campaign) found that the result of Stenger's favor to McCulloch would be that McCulloch would collect a pension that was $10,000 more than his current salary. Stenger called it "an act of fairness and appreciation," but the County Council found it offensive and later voted to roll back McCulloch's bloated pension.
One of McCulloch's other priorities – increasing his own salary, as well as the salaries of his top staff – is now creating waves around county government. As a result of Proposition P, a sales tax increase to generate revenue for public safety, Stenger allocated millions to McCulloch's budget. According to sources familiar with the County budget, McCulloch then allocated part of the Proposition P money to increases for his staff, including his personal secretary. An increase for his secretary may seem only a tad self-serving, but it strikes workers in the county's criminal justice system, a largely African-American workforce, as unfair, because those who work with prisoners directly did not see a pay raise out of Stenger's allocation of Proposition P money.
Between McCulloch's cozy, protective relationship with police officers who shoot unarmed black men and his cozy relationship with the scandal-plagued Stenger, his re-election campaign should not be the shoo-in it has been for him in recent elections. The EYE was told that McCulloch had lost interest in the job, but ran for reelection only at the quiet urging of his longtime ally, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who believes she needs his name on the ballot to energize white voters in the county. Nevertheless, McCaskill knows that she must avoid any public embrace of McCulloch, a toxic name in post-Ferguson black St. Louis County.
Regrettably, his only opponent, Bell, has a history of practicing law in predatory municipalities like Velda City. An African American, Bell should expect widespread black support. Since McCulloch does have a progressive record of decrying municipal court abusers, another likely source of support for Bell will be from municipalities that want to be left alone to run their taxation-by-ticket schemes that are only now beginning to be busted up. Non-black progressives – assuming such a voter group exists in the county – should be pressuring Bell to stay to the progressive side of McCulloch on every issue, including municipal courts. Certainly, Bell’s public statements on municipal courts are, to date, progressive. ArchCity Defender’s Executive Director Blake Strode wrote rightly in these pages – black elected officials that “perpetuate the functioning of systems that are devastating for poor people and people of color, they will face a level of resistance reminding them that an empty sense of diversity in leadership was never the ultimate goal.”
Race, money and Northwest Plaza
Stenger has touted his efforts to renew a failed shopping center in St Ann, the former Northwest Plaza. He is right about the fact that this former shopping mecca had failed to the point of becoming a dilapidated eyesore. But when he justifies his shameless overpayment – more than $75 million – by saying his investment of our money was worth it, we should say: Worth it to whom?
Stenger says the revitalized center is home to 2,500 new jobs. Many of these are county government jobs that occupy the $75 million facility. These jobs are not new – just moved, from Northwoods and North County. Stenger relocated the Workforce Development Center from the old North Oaks shopping center in Northwoods. Why not share some of that $75 million with a poor, underserved community that also has a failing shopping center? Why not leave those government workers in Northwoods so they could help the unemployed folks from North County find real new jobs? Stenger’s staff said that the Northwoods location was not safe for county workers. This is just a dog whistle excuse for racism in government service. The services should be brought to the people who need the service. If Northwoods is not safe, then make it safe. That is the government's job.
Stenger moved the North County government center to St. Ann. This government center is the location of the County Municipal Court. So now, North County residents from Spanish Lake, Castle Point, and the Old Jamestown area must go to St. Ann to pay their traffic tickets. St. Ann is the notorious traffic ticketing capital of the world. This relocation of county services not only makes the unincorporated citizens of North County travel out of their community, they may get another ticket on their trip. The county owns the failed Jamestown Mall. Why not invest some of our tax money in Jamestown?
Stenger said there has been a $280 million investment in Northwest Crossings, as Northwest Plaza is now known. Much of that is county taxpayers’ money. County taxpayers hold a lease for the old North Oaks shopping center and own outright the entire Jamestown Mall. Why not put some of the overpayment for Northwest Plaza into these other failing commercial centers? The only apparent reasons: campaign contributions by the developers of Northwest and a county government fear of the people who live around North Oaks and Jamestown. Fear of black folks is a disease that can be cured – with investment, not departure.
Joe Roddy, ‘keyboard vigilante’
The age of Twitter has seen many governmental bodies with their own mini-Trump who goes on Twitter tirades, adds insulting monikers to opponents' names, and vents their personal frustrations for the public to see on social media. In St. Louis County, there's Stenger, who decries critical news coverage as "fake news." And on the city's Board of Aldermen, there's Alderman Joe Roddy.
Roddy's Twitter tirades are now becoming a pattern. He has labeled Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia "erratic @chryssi," seemed to criticize companies for employing activists who oppose his gentrification agenda and developed a "Black List" of Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green supporters to block on Twitter.
Last week's tirade focused on Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones and progressive attorney Chelsea Merta, who represents Roddy constituents who are targeting Roddy's gentrification agenda in the Grove. Merta argues that Roddy has tried to move black families and businesses out of the burgeoning Grove neighborhood in favor of white homeowners and powerful developers. One longtime target of Roddy's has been Dan Scott, an African-American resident and property-owner in the Grove. The EYE has learned that a city investigation into the racial motivations of a past attempt by Roddy to target Scott resulted in the city dismissing the charges against Scott. Merta has apparently been looking for this and other evidence through requests for Roddy's emails under Missouri's Sunshine Law.
On Friday, Roddy took to Twitter to say that Merta had sunshined his emails and posted Merta's phone number, in an apparent attempt to encourage his supporters to inundate Merta with phone calls. (Instead, Merta said she received "a lot of supportive texts and tweets.") Then Roddy brought Tishaura Jones into the maelstrom, insinuating that she and former aldermanic candidate Joe Diekemper opposed Merta's client. When Jones chimed in, she remarked that Roddy was "delusional and out of control," calling Roddy a "keyboard vigilante" who will "say all this mess on Twitter but you dare wouldn't say it to me in person."
Like Trump, Roddy seems to have a penchant for attacking women, minorities, and young people on Twitter. Sad!