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

Intro

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

New Series On My Support For a St. Louis City-County Merger

Over the next several months I plan to write a series of blog posts detailing the dire situation and bleak future of North St. Louis County and why I believe a City-County merger is needed. While NoCo needs such a merger most such a merger will be good for residents of all ages, races, and socio-economic statuses. These are the six areas I will address.

 

1.  Message to Old NoCo: The 1950’s Are Not Coming Back

2. Suburban Poverty, Gentrification and the Shantytown Future

3. The Failing School Districts of North County

4. Crime in North County

5. The Need For Diversity: Bringing Immigrants North of Market

6. Falling Behind As a Region

 

The cynical always try and find a conspiracy when they disagree with you. Yes I support the mission of Better Together St. Louis. No, my support does not stem from that organization. I’ve wanted to see reunification of the city and county since I was a child and every new life-experience I have had and all of my travels just reaffirms that position.

You can also check newsstands today for the latest edition of the St. Louis Evening-Whirl. I write about reunification, Bo Bergdhal, and analyze the Miguel Cotto’s historic victory over Sergio Martinez.

My Endorsment: Do Your Duty Vote For Dooley

 

MY dear friend and local businessman Zuhdi Masri with Charlie Dooley. Do Your Duty Vote For Dooley!!! Tell Every Jack and Julie Vote For Dooley!!!

MY dear friend and local businessman Zuhdi Masri with Charlie Dooley.
Do Your Duty Vote For Dooley!!!
Tell Every Jack and Julie Vote For Dooley!!!

You work hard and so does Charlie Dooley. That is the message of the campaign for the re-election of St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. Can anyone dispute Dooley has worked hard for St. Louis County? Like Mayor Francis Slay Dooley represents a hands-on leadership that takes him out in the field. Personally I’ve run into Dooley all over the city and county. You can see Charlie Dooley schmoozing at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton; but you can also find him rubbing elbows with union members in Lemay and reaching out to poor children in Kinloch.

 

Charlie’s worked to make St. Louis County the best place to start a business, raise a family and develop a great career. Again, can anyone question this? From the Bosnian families achieving the American Dream and purchasing their first home in South County, to the white-collar professionals buying new homes in West County, to the working-class families in Pine Lawn and Northwoods Dooley has promoted pro-business, pro-family and pro working-class policies for St. Louis County.

 

Charlie helped create thousands of new jobs making us the #1 county for job growth and new business starts in the state.  Over 5,000 new jobs created in 2013 alone. Again, can you dispute this? I remember a time when streets like Evans and Terwood in Berkeley were some of the most dangerous and drug-infested blocks in the region. Today they are home to Express Scripts and a Hilton Hotel. I remember watching the Chesterfield Valley go underwater in the Great Flood of ’93. Today it is home to thousands of jobs pumping large amounts of wealth into the local-economy.

 

His tough leadership guided the County through the financial crisis, we have the highest bond ranking by the three agencies in the state, saving taxpayers’ millions. Again, who can deny this? North St. Louis County was one of the hardest hit places in the country during the sub-prime meltdown and financial-crisis. Of course this is combined with issues of massive white-flight to St. Charles and Lincoln Counties. Yet, in the midst of all of that, we have seen tremendous development in North County. A pedestrian and bike friendly shopping and nightlife area has emerged on Florissant Rd in Ferguson, the city of Florissant has completed a number of successful developments over the last few years, and there has been new construction throughout North County.

 

He fought to protect our families reducing crime to a 42-year low.  And he’s expanded access to mammograms and healthcare.   Our health system has the highest accreditation score in the state. Again, who can deny this? St. Louis County is suffering not from a high crime-rate (outside of a handful of problematic areas that were in bad shape a long time before Dooley as elected); but from a perception of high-crime often fueled by racial stereotypes. Crime is at a 42 year low in St. Louis County, it’s a safe place to live and work, and Dooley is pursuing policies to continue that success. Dooley has also worked with DePaul and SSM Health-Care, Christian Hospital and BJC, St. Anthony’s Hospital, and the various hospitals in West County to ensure the county government is doing its part in promoting effective health-care to the people. In addition to this under the leadership of Dooley St. Louis County has built new and first class health-clinics for the un-insured.

 

Now Charlie is creating bold public-private partnerships to bring the county more jobs and build stronger neighborhoods.   The Mosaic Project and St. Louis Economic Development Partnership are models for attracting talent, entrepreneurship, and industry. Again, can anyone in their right mind question the wisdom of the Mosaic Project?

 

He’ll work with Mayor Slay to consolidate government services to save taxpayers’ money, create growth and provide better healthcare to our families.  Let’s keep the County moving forward with Charlie Dooley. Again, who would be against this? Instead of a city mayor and county-executive at each other’s throats we have two progressive leaders promoting regionalism. We are one region and working together is a whole lot better than being at one another’s throats and fighting over resources. A great historical mistake was made when St. Louis City decided to leave St. Louis County. We finally have two leaders interested in righting that historical wrong.

 

In closing allow me to say this. Even though I was born in North St. Louis and currently live in Old North St. Louis I grew up in North County and attended school in the Ferguson-Florissant School District and later the St. Louis Job Corps Center in Pine Lawn.  Most of my family is still in North County and NoCo is very near and dear to my heart.

There are many things Charlie Dooley is being blamed for which are out of his control. North County began its decline in the 1980’s when white folks (including family members of mine) began stampeding out to St. Charles County. De-industrialization also hit St. Louis County hard which outside of West County was mostly a blue-collar middle-class economy based on good union jobs. On top of that this entire nation is witnessing a phenomenon of double-migration. Mostly young, socially-liberal, mostly single, secular, affluent and often gay, people moving back into the city fueling gentrification sometimes and other times rejuvenation of declining neighborhoods. The other migration is that of middle-class and upper middle-class families out to exurbia (St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, Franklin and Jefferson Counties).  This leaves the inner-suburbs with an older housing-stock, newer and poorer residents priced out of cities, and an aging population. A very difficult terrain to navigate. Yet, Charlie Dooley has managed to steady the ship.

This is also a new St. Louis County. A diverse County with a growing African-American population. A Mexican-American community in the Ritenour School District larger and more vibrant than Cherokee Street in South City. A county with a rapidly growing Muslim population with new mosques opening in north, south, and west county during the Dooley Administration. A county with one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the Midwest.  A county with an emerging Chinatown in University City, Bosnian neighborhoods emerging in South County and Russian clusters emerging in West County.  Some may remember a bland and vanilla county. That’s in the history books if it ever existed. These days a weekend trip to Queeny Park in West County will have you seeing Indians and Pakistanis playing cricket and at a trip to St. Ferdinand Park in Florissant you’ll see Nigerians playing soccer. At every step, at every opportunity, Charlie Dooley has let it be known that he fully supports diversity in St. Louis County and sees it as a blessing and not a problem to manage.

Charlie Dooley has also strongly opposed right-to-work and strongly defends the right to organize and labor. He deserves the full-support of Labor Unions and as Dooley has always stood with labor it leads me to question why some in labor aren’t returning the support.

In the race for St. Louis County-Executive I strongly encourage voters to re-elect Charlie Dooley.