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Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Saint Louis, 2005 = Moscow, 1945?

Saint Louis may be gearing up for the worst election in its history. It seems that only one party will be on the ballot in the April general election, unless there's a surprise filing by a Republican, Green or independent before this Friday's filing deadline. Up for election this time around are the offices of Mayor, Comptroller and Alderpersons in the the odd-numbered wards.

I can't remember a time when the Republicans didn't have a symbolic mayoral candidate. They have had two bright candidates in the last two elections, Michael Chance in 2001 and Jay Dearing in 1997. I wonder what happened this year? They should be gaining ground as newcomers to the city with affluence and independent minds flow in.

Alas, these newcomers seem to shun involvement in municipal politics. Perhaps they are used to the suburban tendency to not know much about the workings of your burg. Perhaps they are living in private space, and are accustomed to casting their votes with their consumer choices, not at the ballot box. The public sphere is waning as it is, and as long as the roads get paved and the police respond in a few minutes, most people don't notice who is in office.

That's a big shame, because the Slay machine is more vulnerable than people think. Look at the failure of the charter reform jihad. In 2003, Bud Deraps ran as a green for the 24th Ward aldermanic seat against incumbent Tom Bauer and received 29.4% of the vote without yard signs, billboards or any serious coverage from the Post-Dispatch. Not to mention the fact that Ward 24 is still very conservative, as its choice of Bauer shows. Bud had a few hundred dollars and eager volunteers. With a little more effort, he may have won.

In 2005, people could challenge many of the alderpeople on bad development plans they have pushed: Joe Roddy (17th), who won't rest until every poor person is pushed out of his ward, and Matt Villa (11th), champion of the anti-urban strip mall at Loughborough, come to mind. Phyllis Young (7th) helped destroy the Century Building -- shouldn't preservationists be lining up to challenge her, if not to win then at least to make her show more respect to their political power?

And there ought to be a multi-faceted challenge to Francis Slay that included the primary and general elections. I'm not sure that Bill Haas, who has filed in the Democratic primary for mayor, has much of a base or a strategy. Irene Smith, another Democratic challenger, should raise some good points and is African-American like most of St. Louis is. She could make a dent in Slay, but I'd be surprisd if she wins the primary.

What is needed is a challenger in the general election who doesn't have to work through the Democratic Party -- which is firmly behind Slay's re-election.

The left in St. Louis is too fragmented to find an opposition candidate. For one thing, the black left -- which will support Smith -- has no real ties to the white left, despite some claims by patriarchal white leaders that they are forging alliances with black St. Louis. And the Bosnian and Latino voters, who have legitimate issues to raise against the Slayers, don't fit in with either dominant group in polarized St. Louis. The Bosnians could be a huge political force in "white" parts of south city, but so far they have not broken into the system.

If St. Louis is to restore its vibrance and continue to attract smart young people, it needs a better political structure than this one. Young people are liberal, but they aren't going to be interested in machine-style mono-party politics. They may show reluctance to get involved at first, but sooner or later they'll realize the importance of the municipal election. They will want competition and choices -- exactly what won't happen in 2005.

Ah, well. Scan the Election Filings -- if you wish.

At lest the non-partisan school board race gives some hope. More about that later.

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