St. Louis Region: Political State of the Game 1 Year After Mike Brown

Intro

image

Mike Brown. Rest in peace.

More than a year has passed since Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed Mike Brown on Canfield Drive in Ferguson.  That moment started a movement against police repression that has since went global.  The world has changed.  Black Lives Matter is part of the national dialogue with even presidential candidates having to take a stand.  Locally what has happened?  What has changed,  what is the same,  and what does the future hold?

Ferguson

image

Protesters take to the roof of the old Ponderosa in Ferguson

Unfortunately not much has changed in Ferguson or surrounding municipalities and thus there is no need for protests to end.  Sure a couple of cosmetic changes have been made such as the firing of some racist employees after emails were made public and Chief Thomas Jackson resigned.  Other than that things are about the same. Predatory courts, agressive policing,  and a city council that still doesn’t look like the city of Ferguson. 

There is an effort to force a recall vote to try and remove Mayor James Knowles from office.  While I’d like to see Knowles gone I don’t think there is the kind of ground-game and political organization to make this happen.  If there is a recall vote there is little doubt in my mind Knowles will remain in office. 

Political organizing takes a long time and Knowles is representing a deeply-entrenched establishment. Organizers need to be looking at the long-game and not the short-game. Much of Ferguson,  definitely amongst renters,  is transient.  Others feel no connection to the system. Organizing is hard work with deferred gratification (if any). A lot of money has been sent to this area in the last year.  It would be nice if some could go to experienced grassroots politics organizers with a history of winning.

North County

image

Ferguson sped up the white-flight process from North County.  30 years on with whites having already fled from most of North County Ferguson convinced many remaining whites to leave for St. Charles County and further points west.  In their mind they can’t live in North County without an agressive police presence.  While not a single white person in North County was killed in the protest movement the site of African-Americans taking to the street sent a shock wave of terror throughout white North County.  The ones who are staying are either hardcore committed solid old North County stock,  tied to a system that benefits them,  or too poor or old to go anywhere else.

Hazelwood is still in good financial shape due to corporate headquarters.  The Ritenour School District (and to a lesser extent Pattonville) benefitting from an influx of Mexican-American, South Asian and Arab immigrants. However,  much of North County is in serious trouble.  Failing schools,  vacant homes,  high rates of poverty,  and high rates of crime. 

The quality of life is down. Closed shopping malls, 15 closed movie theatres from my childhood in North County,  and numerous closed sports clubs for kids. Once a powerhouse in soccer and wrestling those sports are now on life support in North County.  Catholic schools loot the once powerful Suburban North Conference of many of the best football and basketball players. Factories closed. Companies gone.  Churches closed. My grandmother’s church (Bellefontaine Baptist Church) once boasted a large and lively congregation. Now they’re lucky to get ten people on a Sunday.

image

A march in Florissant. Reminiscent of the old Florissant. Not the current diverse city.

Florissant,  where I spent much of my childhood,  is in transition.  The city is still stable; but unless there is an agressive plan of attack it will soon rapidly crumble.  A small town reshaped as a suburban bedroom community after World War II the city of Florissant depends on the strength of housing prices,  quality of life,  good schools,  and city services.  All of those are slipping.

The Florissant of my childhood was an openly racist place. Racist police that found themselves repeatedly under investigation. The old racist element is moving out to St. Charles County or dying.  Left behind is a younger much more diverse population dealing with disinvestment.

The establishment in Florissant still looks as it did 40 years ago. White mayor, white city council,  a mostly all-white police department,  and a board of the Ferguson-Florissant School District that is white.

In the months before the death of Mike Brown over 1000 African-American parents and students attended a Ferguson-Florissant School board meeting protesting the firing of Dr.  Art McCoy,  the popular African-American school superintendent at the time,  by the all-white board.

Florissant will accept change or die. The police of Florissant will reform or they’ll see their own gas stations and stores burned and looted and the remaining tax-base move out of North County. 

Mayor Schneider of Florissant can work to make Florissant an inclusive city and undo the mistakes of his predecessors or he can watch Florissant become a hashtag. 

In the long run nothing can stop the population decline of North County of both white and African-American residents. The ship has sailed. A city can be reborn, it’s always the urban-core, has history, has character,  and is more walkable and transit-friendly. Once a suburb declines it’s over.  The only thing that can save a declining suburb is an infusion of new residents such as a wave of immigrants.  That’s why if North County and St. Louis County leaders are smart (which is highly questionable) they’d do everything they could to lure an organization like the International Institute to North County and lobby for 200,000 refugees over 15 years starting with Syria and the Rohingya.  That would breath life into North County. 

Positives from Movement in North County: A court-reform movement,  police-reform legislation out of Jefferson City,  and what everyone knows is a path that will lead to the disincorporation of many of these useless municipalities and their police departments.  Pressure must be applied to speed up change.

St. Louis County

image

If there was ever a St. Louis County Executive out of place it’s Steve Stenger speaking on Ferguson.  By comparison Stenger almost makes Congressman Lacy Clay look competent.  The Stenger – McCullough team is looking out for South County and West County.  North County doesn’t seem to be a priority unless it’s to declare a state of emergency.  No visible plan for economic or education development,  no serious transit plan, and no leading on police-reform. 

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob Mcculloch is gonna retire with a legacy of not taking police crimes seriously and ignoring the cries from the African-American community.  Stenger has time to improve his legacy although he’s shown no signs of improvement since defeating Charlie Dooley.  We got what we expected. 

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar is part of the same team. I’ll give him that he seems competent and has the respect of his department;  but his heavy-handed policing illustrates the dire need for a civilian-review board in St. Louis County. 

St. Louis City

image

Mayor Francis Slay and Chief Sam Dotson. Photo from St. Louis Public Radio

Mayor Francis Slay carefully navigated the past year.  He responded to the protest movement with bending his position on the civilian review board and investing more in social services and jobs programs. However,  he could only go so far without losing his rabidly pro-police white base.

President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed had a golden opportunity to show leadership after the death of Mike Brown.  He failed to inspire. The last year has seen Reed talk about Ferguson with the same lethargic lack of inspiration he had while campaigning for mayor. 

I don’t see Mayor Slay as being vulnerable in 2017. A Slay-Reed rematch would play out the same as last time.  The only thing that can bring this race into question is the entering of a white candidate who could split the white-vote. This doesn’t count favorites of the Cosmopolitan Cartel such as Alderman Scott Ogilvie, or Ed Domain who are low single digit candidates.

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson was being touted as a future mayor. That’s done.  Dotson is toast politically.  Crime is on the rise and he hasn’t articulated a decent plan to combat it. Many in the African-American and social-justice community are upset by the police-brutality he’s oversen. White cops are calling Dotson a wimp and a p****  for not cracking down on protesters harder and see him as a poodle of Slay. I’ve been told race-relations in the department are at an all time low.  There is open-mutiny and insubordination going on in the department.  Rumors have it that major criminal corruption indictments including murder are getting ready to come down for officers.  The St.  Louis City police department is broken.

Who broke the department?  It was an archaic department with numerous problems to begin with and it couldn’t stand the heat of the protest movement.  In the year since the killing of Mike Brown the Black Lives Matter movement has taken down the political career of Sam Dotson and the city police department.  The civilian review board was the beginning. Massive changes are coming. All thanks to the movement. 

Some career advice to Dotson since I think he’s a nice guy. Resign. Do so now.  Bow out gracefully. Take a job working with youth in St. Louis, learn something and rebrand your image. Then take a stab at politics.

The resigning of Jennifer Joyce opens up some interesting possibilities.  Will the movement get behind a viable candidate who will actually charge rogue officers?

This will be Slay’s last term. 2021 will look like Game of Thrones with the possibility of Tishaura Jones,  Antonio French,  Scott Ogilvie, FX Daly, Steve Conway, Shane Cohn, Alderman Carter, Winston Calvert,  Martin Casas, and even Russ Carnahan all running for mayor. Each of these candidates will have part of their fate tied to how well they get along with the movement. 

St. Charles County

image

St. Charles County is resistant to any positive change.  For those of you who haven’t witnessed the hate of St. Charles County firsthand (which is nothing but the old North County racists in newer cul de sacs with bigger Walmarts and buffet lines) please check out the great This American Life podcast on the racist resistance to integration from parents in the Francis Howell School District.  St. Charles County is a hub for bigotry and bigoted politics.  That’s why the Millenial Activists United protest on Highway 70 was so beautiful (something I suggested a year ago). St. Charles County is dragging down our region with its Confederate conservatism. Counties to the west even worse. It will need a steady dose of protests, activism and organizing to be dragged into the 21st Century. 

Congress

image

State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal in a moment of truth calling out Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

I supported the campaign of Congressman Lacy Clay last time around. I knew he was lazy and incompetent; but I didn’t see a Carnahan commitment to North County.  In retrospect I should’ve  voted for Carnahan.  With a world looking to his district Clay managed to crawl from kicking it on the eastern shore of Maryland to Ferguson a handful of times. With really nothing to offer Clay let Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver from Kansas City lead on the issue.  That’s unacceptable. 

For this reason if she chooses to announce I’ll support the candidacy of Stare Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal if she decides to run. Maria is a friend,  a supporter of the movement,  and someone who is far from lazy.

St. Louis Muslims, City Hall and the Mayoral Election

In 1992 there were two mosques in St. Louis. Masjid al-Mu’minun on Grand and Cass in North St. Louis and the Islamic Center on West Pine and Vandeventer in Midtown.  Masjid al-Mu’minun catered to the African-American Sunni-orthodox believers under the leadership of Imam Warith-deen Mohammed and the Islamic Center catered to the Muslim immigrant population under the leadership of the Sudanese Islamic-scholar Sheikh Muhammad Nur Abdullah. In addition to this there were places operated by pseudo-Islamic groups: but for the sake of this discussion I will focus on those within the bounds of Islamic orthodoxy.

St. Louis has never been a hotbed of Islam. The indigenous African-American community still lags generations behind the East Coast in terms of development and the immigrant Muslim community is a generation behind the times comparatively speaking to many other cities.   However, things are changing and they are changing fast and with that come opportunities and challenges.

Today there are at least 28 mosques in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. From 2 to 28 in 20 years-that is massive growth.  Several of these mosques, and the largest concentration of Muslims, are in the city of St. Louis. Along with mosques Muslims have opened up a plethora of businesses. Whereas in the 1990’s it was hard to find a store selling halal meat or a restaurant serving halal meals there are now numerous options within the city of St. Louis. This population has been fueled by refugee populations moving to primarily South St. Louis, an increase in Muslim conversions and second and third generations in the African-American community, and Muslim professionals coming to St. Louis for school and employment.

Recognizing this growth the campaigns of Mayor Francis Slay and Alderman Lewis Reed reached out to the Muslim community in the recent mayoral election. Yet the way these two men approached the issue was remarkably different and this made a difference at the polls. Mr. Reed had as his point-man in the Muslim community either obscure figures representing the teachers-union or controversial figures outside of the mainstream of the community. The teachers-union representative advocates positions that are not that popular within the Muslim community. Muslim families, like non-Muslim families, are leaving the city for the suburbs over the issues of public schools. Those who can afford to do so often choose to send their children to the two private Muslim schools operating in West St. Louis County. Most religious Muslims you talk to, in particular traditional Muslims, support voucher programs which would allow poor and working-class families to send their kids to private Muslims schools. This is a position advocated by former Missouri State Representative Rodney Hubbard (who is also a Muslim). Neither mayoral candidate supported school choice, that’s fine I get that, but why send someone as a point man to Muslims who instead of representing issues that are important to Muslims represents an unpopular position? Furthermore, someone who while not advocating for Muslims, surrounds himself with controversial figures and resorts to thuggish behavior?

Alderman Reed passed the word around the Muslim community that, if elected, he would be creating a Department of Muslim Affairs at City Hall. The fact that this is unconstitutional and had zero chances of actually happening seemed to not bother those repeating this line.

What did Mayor Slay do? As he has done during his entire administration he reached out to known and mainstream figures within the Muslim community, held meetings with imams and attended a Muslim dinner. The people Mayor Slay spoke to within the Muslim community were Muslims speaking about issues important to Muslims. Furthermore, they are Muslims who are known and respected within the community. This paid off big for Mayor Slay at the polls. The Mayor made no false promises, no line about a Department of Muslim Affairs; rather he spoke about outreach to the Muslim community through a Diversity Officer and other departments of the city. Along with the support of leading figures within the Muslim community Mayor Slay also received the support of Muslim elected officials such as State Senator Jamillah Nasheed and former State Representative Rodney Hubbard.

Today Muslims can be found all over St. Louis from north to south. Muslim shopkeepers and cabbies, physicians at Barnes-Jewish, jummah prayers at the SLU chapel, restaurants in north and south city, and many public schools with a large percentage of Muslim students. Muslim immigrant populations have revitalized south side neighborhoods in decline and indigenous Muslims have been at the forefront of many positive developments in North St. Louis.

However, at the same time, there are also a set of challenges associated with the Muslim community. Halal food and religious needs at schools and hospitals, cultural issues surrounding gender-relations regarding interactions with police, extremist groups recruiting immigrant youth, having successful transitions for prison converts, guarding against Islamophobia, etc.

In order for St. Louis to successfully face these challenges the city needs to work with people who know the community and know the issues. In years past City Hall may have reached out to organizations based in West St. Louis County for issues pertaining to city Muslims: but what does someone in Ladue know about the condition of Muslims on Newstead and Natural Bridge or Hickory and Ohio?  The city needs to reach out to city Muslims for city solutions.  Muslims are a part of the fabric of St. Louis and within our mosques are those committed to the growth and prosperity of this city. In this we need a strong partner in City Hall and that is why many of us came to the conclusion to “Pray Like a Mantis and Vote For Francis” ( remember the general election is still in April).

Slay Day, Hubbard Wins and Quick Thoughts

Quick Thoughts on the St. Louis Democratic Primary:

Mayor Francis Slay won as I expected. I did not expect this race to be close and as a matter of fact I bet Alderman Antonio French Slay would win and local bar owner Steve Smith Slay would win by 20. OK, so I got a little carried away with 20: but at the end of the day Mayor Slay won by a comfortable margin. St. Louis voters opted  not to neglect the path to prosperity with a detour into uncertainty. The best mayor anyone in St. Louis has seen in their lifetime was elected to a historic fourth term. Alderman Lewis Reed, gracious in defeat, noted that the media focused too much on the racial-angle as Brother Anthony Shahid, always a man who approaches race with the utmost sensitivity, nodded in agreement. As a city we can now look forward to four more years of progress and staying the course. I was particularly happy during his speech Mayor Slay stated St. Louis would welcome immigrants and look forward to seeing the policies behind that.

Ward 5

If you want to write a book on “ground game” you can call it the Hubbard Diary. That family, plain and simple, knows how to get out the vote. Tamikka Hubbard was victorious over her opponent Michelle Hutchins-Medina. The Hubbard victory happened despite the fact that Hutchins-Medina seemed to be very well-funded and bombarded the ward with mailings. The day before the election I received a mailing at my home containing photos of Alderwoman Hubbard partying taken from her Facebook page. A rather juvenile action if you ask me and one that whoever paid for it didn’t even have the courage to stand on as it had no attribution.  Why did Hubbard win? Plain and simple: people know her and know her family and feel they will look out for them. Hutchins-Medina could not ride the wave the more upscale crowd, loft-dwellers, and the like in the ward have for Hubbard to victory. The fact of the matter is despite her money she could walk the streets of the ward and nobody would know who she was.

Ward 21

Congrats to Alderman Antonio French. In St. Louis there is scant coverage of local and state politics so all of the information was not out there. The city still has no guidelines for the usage of police cameras and as Mr. French has used them for private political purposes before who is to say he will not do it again. A city employee told me if Mr. French wants to shoot a porno with them he is free to do so. Anyway, it is what it is, and God bless brother Kerry Wilson. Kerry is a good man and tried his hardest. No shame in his game.

Ward 1

Sharon Tyus aka her Highness is back. Please say a prayer for a ward I used to live in. They are going to need it.

Ward 6

Congrats to Christine Ingrassia. I don’t really follow south side politics all that tough but if Virvus and Tishaura Jones say you are good then you must be OK.

Mayor Slay, Lewis Reed and The Real Deal With St. Louis

If you live in Florissant and Afton and you are a responsible or even semi-responsible adult and concerned citizen chances are you cannot names the mayors of Cheserfield, University City, Ferguson, Berkeley or Kirkwood. Chances are though you can name the mayor of St. Louis. The city is the heart of the region and even if you do not live in the city your family roots probably trace back to the city. If you are in North County or St. Charles County chances are your roots are in North St. Louis and if you are in South County or Jefferson County chances are high your roots are in South St. Louis. People pay attention to the officer of city mayor as whoever sits in room 200 becomes a spokesman for the area. So, as we head to the polls this Tuesday for the Democratic Primary we will not only be electing the leader of the city in this one-party town we will also be electing the leader of this region. Will Mayor Francis Slay be elected to an unprecedented fourth term or will the challenger Lewis Reed upset his plans to make history? This race is also a referendum on the state and condition of St. Louis so it is a good time to asses where we are. So, let us take a look at the major issues in the race:

Mayor Francis Slay: Pros and Cons

Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis with a Somali-Muslim schoolgirl

Mayor Francis Slay of St. Louis with a Somali-Muslim schoolgirl

I view Mayor Francis Slay as an old-school South St. Louis machine-politician who has come to office at a unique transformational time in the history of the city of St. Louis and literally went through a transformation on the job. I celebrated the night in 1993 Freeman Bosley, Jr. became the first African-American mayor of the city of St. Louis and I mourned his loss in 1997 and voted for Bosley again in 2001. To me Bosley was the man who could have brought St. Louis out of our poor state of race relations. Having lived around the country I can definitely say I have never been anywhere with worse race-relations than St. Louis. Everything in this city is black and white and the seat of racism, the Selma of St. Louis, has traditionally been deep South St. Louis. It just so happened that the deep South Side is the political-base of Mayor Slay so I did not vote for him when he first ran and did not trust him for years.

Over the years I have watched Mayor Slay and have had to admire his leadership and the cities growth under his watch. At first I said to myself “this is some kind of a trick” and this Lebanese South Side Hoosier Catholic schoolboy must have something up his sleeve. I did not believe a South Side Machine politician could actually want a diverse and inclusive city and I remembered the white rage at the election of Mayor Bosely and the uproar the white-establishment had at just giving up a little bit of power. Yet year after year I have watched Mayor Slay consistently reach out and embrace the diversity of this city.

The pros are obvious. As a teenager when I would catch the 74 West Florissant bus to Washington and Tucker to shop at Gus’s I got out to a seen of boarded up buildings and complete desolation. I vividly remember turning around 14th and Washington when I was in the 8th grade and a man pissing on my shoes in broad daylight. For me to see that strip become famous as “Warsh Ave” and a destination to out-of-towners is surreal. The St. Louis of my youth was on par with Detroit, Gary and Camden (only with worse race-relations and maybe a few more jobs) and without change this city was on its way to looking like Detroit looks today. My mother lived in the Shaw Neighborhood in the 90’s and at the time there were several open-air drug-markets in the neighborhood and it was definitely not the place to be. The corner of Shenandoah and Thurman was one of the most dangerous and hottest drug-corners in the city. Today, it is home to the Thurman Café a place where rich yuppies drink craft beer and talk about the English Premier League. A far cry from the Palestinian-owned store that used to sit on the corner with a Dirty Harry .45 revolver permanently affixed behind the counter. Or the corner where “Mae Man” was gunned down by police who had a hard-on for him anyway for being the leader of the “Do Mob”.

McCree Town, just blocks over from Shaw, looked like a ghost town or something out of a dystopian futuristic novel. The only people you ever saw were dope-dealers and dopefiends. Working people fled in droves and those left behind became victims getting robbed of social security checks and anything else of value.  Today my old friend Ben Poremba has one of the fanciest restaurants in St. Louis on the corner of Tower Grove and McRee. The old Dixiecrat South Side Hoosiers were fleeing the city and neighborhoods like Dutchtown and Bevo became vacant only to be saved by a wave of immigration. Bosnians, Somalis, Mexicans, Afghans, Vietnamese and other immigrant groups are now buying homes, opening up stores, and laying down roots with houses of worship. North St. Louis looked like Germantown Philly or West Baltimore with late-night traffic-jams from ghetto-drama and working-taxpayers locked up behind bars in their own homes at night never to leave their homes in the daytime unless it was necessary. The West Side was even worse and as in other cities the experiment of hi-rise public-housing from the Cochrane to the Peabody to the Blumeyer was not doing well.

Young people were not moving to the city, city employees were using their parents addresses and moving to the county, and anyone who got a good job got the hell out of the city ASAP leaving a trail of vacant housing for dopefiends to lay their heads in.

What is the situation today? When young people get out of college they are not thinking about suburban apartment complexes as they did in years past. They are headed to the city and renting apartments where they can have easy access to the Loft District, The Grove, South Grand, The Loop, the Central West End and other hotspots for dining and nightlife. The slightly older crowd are following the national trend and instead of buying suburban dream homes are buying homes to rehab in south side neighborhoods like Benton Park and Tower Grove East often on sketchy blocks. In my neighborhood of Old North St. Louis, where the old-times will tell you they couldn’t even get family to visit them in the 80’s and 90’s it was so bad, there are now lines around the corner at Crown Candy Kitchen and an organic food co-op.

Today St. Louis is a city full of night-life, new ethnic-neighborhoods and a renewed vibrancy. This may not be the booming St. Louis of the 40’s and 50’s with street cars and a packed Union Station my grandparents describe: but it is a far cry from the 80’s and 90’s. Can anyone who was around then imagine food trucks downtown at night? Tower Grove Park full of yuppies who grew up in West County playing kickball? The diversity of South Grand? A strip like The Grove? All of these things signal a break from the traditional backwards thinking St. Louis and all came under the watch of Mayor Slay who deserves credit.

 

The South Side base of Mayor Slay would have cheered if he would have bashed immigrants and joined the “English is the official language” crowd. Instead Mayor Slay is learning to speak Spanish. The boys down in Holly Hills and Bevo, who are not too keen on their new Muslim neighbors, would have cheered Mayor Slay on if he would have embraced Islamphobia. Instead Mayor Slay has reached out to the Muslim community at every turn and when local Muslims were targeted after 9-11 the mayor immediately came out in condemnation. I will not forget that and I know many other local Muslims feel the same way.

The Mayor is a South Side politician to be sure, and those are his roots, and he takes care of those who knows him best like everyone else does, but at the end of the day, Mayor Slay has worked to bring modernity to St. Louis and embrace diversity and economic-growth.

The cons on Slay? There are not many in my opinion. However, I disagree with the Mayor on the effectiveness of charter schools (I support school-choice), any attempts to privatize our great tasting city water, and I am skeptical (to say the least) of the Paul McKee “development”.

Alderman Lewis Reed: Pros and Cons

A Chicago-native and South Sider Lewis Reed is of the new mold of black urban Democratic politicians similar to the former Mayor of Washington, DC Adrien Fenty, Mayor Corey Booker of Newark and others. In other words “post-racial” black politicians who made their careers catering to the whims of a new breed of white liberal urbansits. In the case of Reed supporting dedicated lanes for cyclists, development in the upscale Lafayette Square neighborhood and such. This has made Reed a darling to the tiny population of urbanists who sit around drinking latte discussing development issues.

However, I am not so keen on Reed. Let us first look at the model of Washington, DC and Fenty. A model Reed seems to be following. Under the administration of Fenty the black population substantially plummeted and he cut through the city payrolls with a machete and almost everyone Fenty fired was black and in almost all cases replaced by whites. Fenty turned Chocolate City into a swirl with all the chocolate at the bottom and falling out of the cone into Maryland. The new DC is not a black working-class city: but rather a home for the white super-wealthy half-empty in the summer as they vacation in the Napa Valley or south of France leaving the District to tourists, the young, and people who didn’t come there for government jobs.

I fear that a Reed Administration would look a lot like a Fenty Administration. This is why I am dumbfounded that in the closing weeks of the campaign Reed is making a naked racial appeal to African-American voters. This is a man who in his entire political career has shown very little concern for black voters, has not reached out his neck on issues affecting the black community, and failed to hire blacks on his own staff and he is now reinventing himself as a modern-day Marcus Garvey? Hell, if you listen to his ads on radio you would think he is Nat Turner and not a guy who has dedicated his entire political career to issues that move the New Yorker crowd and not the crowd on Natural Bridge and Kingshighway. The Reed supporters will be sadly mistaken if he is elected as I am venturing a guess his staff will look a lot like the crowd at a Lafayette Square cocktail party and be concerned with the same issues.

Crime

In recent months I have heard a lot about crime and there is no doubt crime is a serious issue in this city and I speak on this issue with firsthand knowledge. I see it every day on my job and I hear about it everyday. Many friends of mine have been shot and killed in this city and many more have ended up in prison or struggling with addiction.

While crime is bad it is nowhere as bad as it was in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. If you want to go back to the 70’s when Fat Woods with his feared musclemen Earl Jr. and Rodney Woods and their young lieutenant Jerry Lewis ran the Pruitt-Igoe Projects ( something that somehow failed to make the Pruiit-Igoe Myth documentary when that is the first thing people talk about when they mention that era).  There is no block ran in St. Louis today like Big Woods ran the Pruiit-Igoe. There are no players left like Sam Petty and his brothers who did it big in the 70’s in St. Louis. Does anyone remember ’85 and ’86 when crack first hit? Then Bloods and Crips colors and set-trippin hit at the same time as crack and all while AIDS was blowing up? In the mid to late eighties even into the 90’s red and blue were shooting each other on site with no previous beef. That is no longer happening. Nobody with even a shred of information can tell you the gang-situation is worse today than it was in that era and the homicide statistics do not lie.

St. Louis was so flush with crack money from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s and gang warfare that many neighborhoods looked like war zones. The College Hill of today is nothing like the Cabanne Courts, Horseshoe, 19th Street, Cochrane, Walnut Park or any projects of that era. The College Hill of 1993 was even way more dangerous than the College Hill of 2013. People always say “these kids nowadays are worser” or “It has never been worse” and most times they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Many of the people complaining today, and I am not talking about residents of high-crime neighborhoods, were living in Ladue or Kansas at that time and don’t know these things. They move to the city, and while crime is down, they are terrified that the streets are not as safe as whatever upscale suburb they grew up in. Advice? Before you move to the city learn how to fight and if you can’t fight get a concealed-carry and try to be street smart and if you don’t do none of that expect to be a Knockout King or robbery victim.

Driving through the city in the 80’s and 90’s you would see corner after corner of people posted up on corners, leaning on whiles, drinking beer leanin on cars, selling dope in the middle of the street, dopefiends driving up to dopesets like a fast food drive-thru, dice games on the corner and the like. Drive through St. Louis north and south these days and there are only a handful of corners where you will see this such as the 4400 block of Farlin and the 2800 block of Stoddard. A friend of mine from the hard streets of Southeast DC remarked “how can St. Louis be dangerous I never see anyone in the streets”? Which of course is a mixed blessing. The city is safer but heavy-handed police tactics have also made people scared to socialize in their own neighborhoods or sit on their own porches.

The new elephant in the room is police cameras. We are being told the city will be safer if we are only willing to give up our civil-liberties and allow ourselves to be in one big reality TV show. Of course these people fail to mention that places like the south side of Chicago and west Baltimore have had cameras for years and they have not been successful.  There are also no city guidelines for their usage and the cameras existing in the 21st Ward have been used to monitor the political activities of the opponents of the alderman. When I asked a city official if this was appropriate he responded “Alderman Antonio French paid for them he can shoot pornos with them if he wants.”  Feeling safer yet?  Somehow we get through the 80’s and 90’s without giving up our civil-liberties. Why now?

Regarding crime I don’t think it matters all that much who is mayor. People are led to lives of crime because of family, social and cultural issues. In some areas a culture of crime takes root. It is a spiritual crisis and the government can only do so much other provide a better educational and job opportunities giving people a stake in society.

Education

On this issue I do not side with Slay or Reed. Our public schools suck. Period, end of discussion. I do not want to hear about Metro or some other school a fraction of parents can get their kids into at the end of the day the schools suck. Living in the city with kids often means: moving to the county when they are of school age, private schools, or home-schooling. I do not blame the teachers as they cannot work miracles. If there is not a culture of emphasizing education at home there is only so much a teacher can do. Our teachers are fine: but you cannot expect them to work miracles with kids coming from chaotic home lives. We do not need rich white kids blowing off a little white guilt through Teach For America to save black kids in some kind of neo-colonial mission. We need better families and that is why I support school choice which will give inner-city kids the same opportunities that every middle-class kids have to attend private schools where their souls can be nurtured.  This is a choice most Democrats can’t politically support: but at the same time they send their kids to private schools. It also does not help the case of the teachers union when a rep wanna-be thug (and we know this cat soft for real) like Mr. Abdul-Raheem assaults Slay supporters.

Culture

St. Louis has been losing population for decades. Reed says he can stop this. Doubtful, this is an issue bigger than any mayor that Slay has handled very well. Let’s start with some facts. In the 1950 census when St. Louis had well more than 800,000 residents St. Louis County was mostly farmland and the city was ruled by Jim Crow. The GI Bill, a suburban housing boom, and desegregation led to a mass exodus of white residents from the city . What followed was the emergence of a White Democratic Machine on the South Side a Black Machine on the North Side and a hipper, more affluent liberal set in the central-corridor fewer in numbers with a decimated downtown.

Each of these machines catered to their base and much, even most, of that appeal as based on race. The city became very provincial and about “where did you go to (high) school” (a question I actually love), tribal neighborhood associations, clannish ward committees, Catholic parishes that worked to enforce racial norms, exclusive labor unions, police and firefighters clustered in Southwest City, and powerful and corrupt black preachers in North St. Louis pimping a dwindling flock and in bed with alderman and funeral-home directors.

St. Louis is changing though. The old South Side Hoosiers are fleeing the city for Jefferson County and if they have money West County. Previous white neighborhoods with neighborhood bars where it was not uncommon to find Confederate memorabilia are now home to a mix of immigrants, African-Americans and educated young white professionals. The Catholic Parishes are not as strong as they once were and labor-unions have become weak. All of those factors led to an erosion of both city population and the political base of Mayor Slay.

Seeing the old white St. Louis on its death bed and a newer city emerging instead of cloistering himself in the 23rd Ward Mayor Slay reached out and made new alliances and welcomed the changing city. A city that is increasingly not home to the Catholic socially-conservative neighborhoods of his youth: but to a younger, more secular, less traditional group of people who do not have as many children yet love their dogs ( and I hate dogs but you know you gotta be tolerant). This is not a crowd I identify with as a socially-conservative practicing Sunni Muslim: but they have breathed life into city neighborhoods and Mayor Slay is doing everything he can to welcome them while holding on to his core values. As an example Mayor Slay comes from a strong labor background. If I remember correctly he might have even represented my dad who is a UAW Local #2250 member. Most of this new so-called hipster and urbanist crowd are educated, upwardly mobile, and grew up in neighborhoods with people like them. Case in point the guy who is redeveloping McRee Town has a sign “Friends Don’t Let Friends Live in Chesterfield”. That sign says a lot.  Everyone this guy knows, all of his friends at least, can live in Chesterfield if they want: but to most living in Chesterfield is an American dream. If anyone in my family ever had enough money to move to Chesterfield it would be a great success story. This is an opportunity available to so few Americans and what people dream of who move to this country from places like Bosnia and Pakistan. Yet, this guy doesn’t see that and on some levels I agree with him. I would much rather live in the city even if I had money: but like most Americans I can’t afford Chesterfield or one of his fancy eco-friendly houses.

The point is, on issues of class, while many of these new city residents see themselves as progressive and green and support gay marriage they may not be all that different than say Rush Limbaugh on labor issues and other class-issues.  If you watch Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher all you get is a steady dose of “Americans are stupid” we are superior, we are elite, we are not religious, we don’t have guns ( but have the cops on speed dial) now let’s have a toast with our craft beer or wine. While embracing this new crowd Mayor Slay has not forsook his labor roots or the traditional religious neighborhoods of the city. He is trying to find a balance realizing this has to be a city for all people.

This is also not the same North St. Louis that elected Freeman Bosley, Jr. in 1993. The black middle-class has fled in droves to North St. Louis County and now even St. Charles County in search of better schools and safer neighborhoods. Black churches in North St. Louis are full on Sunday: but half the congregation, and probably the preacher, are headed out to North County after the sermon. The traditional Black Machine is in decline and fighting over crumbs as their base is picking up and moving to Florissant and Spanish Lake. While at the same time black political power is on the rise in North County with a sleuth of black mayors and elected officials not to mention St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. I used to live on the 5300 block of Geraldine in the 90’s and it was a vibrant block (in a neighborhood they called Murderville). Today half the houses on the block have been torn down.  Most people just don’t wanna live in North St. Louis and no mayor is going to change that any time soon and the only candidate from the North Side is Jimmy Matthews.

The only thing that can bring St. Louis population back and curb the losses is immigration. While important to attract there are just not enough kids from West County to attract to the city or people looking to reconnect to their family roots. St. Louis is also unlikely to become a major attraction to move to given the fact that the weather here sucks, we are not close to any beaches, and the nature is nothing to write home about. We need immigrants and we need a major influx. Currently we have one of the lowest Latino populations in America and that is a good place to start. Find out how we can attract more immigrants to this city who can join hands in the future with African-Americans in North St. Louis, reformed South Side Hoosiers, and preservationists like Michael Allen to create a sustainable St. Louis into the future. I see Mayor Slay as someone who can strike the balance between all of these groups and at the same time keep dangerous forces with no class or racial consciousness such as NextSTL at bay ( they have some good stuff but overall the land grabs and grandiose projects they advocate, with zero concern for existing residents, and nonsense like making the North Riverfront into the Upper West Side, reminds me of some kind of perverse reverse Great Society where the resources of the state are dedicated to displacing the poor and empowering the rich).

Of course an old industrial city like St. Louis, where we have lost so many factories and corporations, has to figure out the economic questions and the jobs situation. That is a major priority and I see Mayor Slay working tirelessly on this issue while competing under the pressures of globalization .

My Endorsement

I proudly endorse the reelection of Mayor Francis Slay and count myself with State Senator Jamillah Nasheed as a former opponent turned support. I encourage all local Muslims to support this friend of our community. Come Tuesday it will be Slay Day. No Need For Reed.