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Monday, February 26, 2007

Election Next Week: Yawn! I Mean, Yay!

One week away from a primary election (the election in this sick city), one wonders why the city is so sleepy. One barely catches any news of heated arguments over policy, sharp ideological differences or the infectious charisma of up-and-comers. Of course, I live on the near northside in an odd-numbered ward. There is no local aldermanic contest, and the citywide candidates have barely been around these parts. But even if I lived elsewhere, the malaise would still be evident.

Yes, there are lots of yard signs in some parts of the city. But is there much in the way of political campaigning? The races that do get coverage seem mired in the politics of personality. The race for president of the board of alderman seems more like a painful ritual, and while I sympathize with Jim Shrewsbury's effort to stay focused on real issues I still don't feel excited or motivated to be concerned.

What I have seen is disappointing -- mud-slinging, innuendo, gossip and posturing. For some reason, political junkies are interested in the races although one find it hard to see why. Voter turnout should be its usual low factor. The city will sleep through Tuesday, and what a shame that will be.

Here we have huge issues: a state takeover of the public schools, the BJC lease, the plot to displace residents from the near north side and a tax credit to do so, the appropriate use of TIF financing, police residency, the need for comprehensive zoning changes, the ongoing failure of the city's ancient charter, the county's dumping of homeless people on the city, regional government, the new river bridge, the definition of blight, historic preservation policy, civilian oversight of police, the lead poisoning epidemic and so forth.

Perhaps I am misreading media coverage of these issues as popular interest in their resolution. However, I see an intense desire for citizens to become informed about these issues. People really care, and even their interest in the lackluster election this year is strong.

What people lack are choices at the ballot box. Renewed civic debate has yet to translate into political strategies. When it does, we will see a great flowering that will shake the Democratic machine off of its pedestal. For now, we can dream -- or not vote next week.

The sad fact is that the races on the ballot are important, and even if one does not find much to ignite them among the contestants, they will legislate for the next four years (don't believe the alderpeople that say they are only there to serve, because they do legislate). The race for aldermanic president is especially important, given that whoever wins will preside over the Board of Aldermen and sit on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment for four years. That is four years of blighting bills, TIFs, transitional school board appointment power and ruling on filibusters. Those are important powers, even if the smokescreen of political spin have clouded the air.

City residents, please vote next week but please help build better choices next time.

(For the record, I am a former Green Party committeeman -- and former Green -- who has spent much time aiding candidates in the city campaigning for real change. Also for the record, I do not expect libertarian socialism to be the basis of a St. Louis political party.)

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