Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Reducers & Reformers and Black Political Power (Part 1 of 2)

"Never question another man's motive. Question his judgment but never his motive."

The Reducers & Reformers

In September '12, the formation of a new campaign committee, Reduce & Reform StL, was duly filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Reduce & Reform StL's purpose was to campaign in support of Proposition R which, if passed on November 6, '12 with at least 60% of voters in favor, would reduce the number of City of St. Louis aldermen from 28 to 14 effective in 2022 (after the 2020 census). 28th Ward Alderwoman Lyda Krewson was treasurer of Reduce & Reform StL, and 8th Ward Alderman Steve Conway was the committee's deputy treasurer.

Over the life of the Reduce & Reform StL campaign committee, from September '12 until its termination in December '12, the committee brought in a total of $15,450. $10,750 of the total receipts, 70% of the money, came from standing incumbent aldermanic campaign committees:
Joe Keaveny for Senate (in addition to serving as a state senator, Keaveny serves as 28th Ward Democratic Committeeman) kicked-in $500 to Reduce & Reform StL.

Three other entities made notable transfers to Reduce & Reform StL of $1500, $1000 and $1000, respectively:
  • Chameleon Integrated Services, a Midtown-headquartered company that "provides IT services to federal government agencies, state agencies, and private industry"
  • EMB Development, a Downtown-headquartered "real estate development firm focused on innovative adaptive reuse of historic structures, and on Leed-certified, high-quality new construction"
  • St. Louis Police Officers' Association PAC Account (their hall is in Southwest City and many consider SLPOA to be the "white" police officers' organization, for whatever that's worth)
The transfers made to Reduce & Reform StL from these 11 standing incumbent campaign committees and from these 3 corporate/PAC entities total $14,750. This was 95% of the money brought in by Reduce & Reform StL during its life as a political campaign committee.

Corporate/PAC entity donations aside, if you map the 10 donating standing incumbent aldermanic campaign committees' wards, you get a rather Central-Corridor-Southwest tilt:
(Click on the pic to embiggen it.)

The "Good First Step": 4 North + 4 Central + 6 South = 4/14

One week before the November 6, '12 election in which Prop R was to be decided, Jo Mannies wrote a pretty decent article on the subject in the Beacon. Mannies put North Side's 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French on the "con" side, and Central Corridor's 7th Ward Alderwoman Phyllis Young on the "pro" side. The "policy" discussion was actually quite thorough (on the "policy," I personally agree with Alderman French), but the "politics" discussion was, for me anyway, the more salient issue:
[S]ome also were concerned about [Prop R's] effect on African-American representation.

French said that the likely division of a smaller 14-member board would mean only four aldermen from the predominantly African-American north side. Six of the new wards would likely be in south St. Louis, while four would be along the central corridor, he predicted.

As it stands, the 28-member board now has 12 aldermen in its Black Caucus.

Young said that reducing the size of the Board of Aldermen could be the first step in a longer process to revamp various city operations.  About a decade ago, city voters rejected proposals to do away with the city’s independent, so-called “county offices,’’ such as recorder of deeds and collector of revenue.


Young said the fact that the aldermen – pro and con – voted to put [Prop R] before voters is a good first step, win or lose on Nov. 6.
On November 6, 2012, Prop R passed with one percentage point of yeses to spare: 61%.

On December 4, 2012 the Reduce & Reform StL campaign committee was terminated and its surplus funds ($929.16) were transferred into the newly-formed and still-active Reduce & Reform StL PAC. Alderwoman Krewson and Alderman Conway, respectively, are treasurer and deputy treasurer of the Reduce & Reform StL PAC.

On March 5, 2013, Christine Ingrassia won the Democratic Primary for Central Corridor's 6th Ward Alderwoman (a de facto winning of the seat). Alderwoman Ingrassia replaced out-going 6th Ward Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, thus decreasing the Aldermanic Black Caucus from 12 to 11.

According to the 2010 Census, 49.2% of the citizens of the City of St. Louis are African-American. Currently, 39% (11/28) of the City's aldermen are African-American. If Alderman French's prediction of just 4 black aldermen among a reduced 14 aldermen is accurate, then the percentage of black aldermen will drop to 29%. (I think it highly unlikely that, by the next census in 2020, African-Americans will comprise just 29% of the citizenry of the City of St. Louis.)

"Independent" Offices as Avenues to Black Municipal Political Power

In her Beacon Prop R article, Mannies describes the City's "so-called 'county offices'" as "independent." By independent, I suppose that Mannies means that such political offices are independent of (e.g. separate from) the City's municipal government. Though while such offices are independent, it has historically been the case that, by or through offices independent of City municipal government, black politicians have achieved the highest executive offices in City municipal government.

Two and one-half examples:

The first example involves a white incumbent mayor yet again seeking re-election and the white incumbent mayor's courting the endorsement of a black North Side U.S. congressman by the name of Clay ... but I'm talking about 1989 here, not 2013! I'm talking about the Great "Job Swap":
Racial arithmetic is always part of the equation in the race for citywide office. But local politicians believe that [Mayor] Schoemehl defused the race issue last November by deftly engineering an unusual job swap among top city officials.

Virvus Jones, who is black, became city comptroller, a job that automatically brings a slot on the powerful Board of Estimate, a three-member panel [Mayor and PotBoA are the other two members] that approves all city budgets and contracts. And Paul Berra, an aging white politician, agreed to switch to Jones' former job of assessor.

The move won Schoemehl the powerful endorsement of Rep. William Clay (D., Mo.), the city's most authoritative black leader.
By the power of a black-held office independent of City municipal government, the office of U.S. Congressman, the powerful City municipal office of COMPTROLLER became black-held in 1988. The Comptroller's Office has been black-held ever since (even if, on one occasion, it meant facing federal fraud charges in order to ensure that it remained that way).

The second example involves the first (and, some in quiet quarters on both sides of town would argue, only) black MAYOR of the City of St. Louis: Freeman Bosley, Jr.. From 1982 (with an initial assist from the mysterious Clara Jo Roddy) to 1991, Bosley, Jr. held the independent Office of Circuit Clerk for the 22nd Judicial District. At the same time, Bosley Jr. worked the City Democratic Party, first as (his father's) 3rd Ward Committeeman all the way up to Chairman of the City Central Committee and then to Chairman of the St. Louis Democratic Party (Bosley, Jr. was the first black chairperson of each). Interestingly, Bosley Jr.'s ascent to Chairman of the St. Louis Democratic Party involved collaborating with another "county officeholder's" committeewoman who had South Side party clout:
I decided to run for chairman of the St. Louis Democratic Party. This undertaking was more than a notion. I was the vice chairman. Only when the chairman moves on does the vice chairman move up. Not to my surprise, white committeepeople didn't want me to have it and black committeepeople wondered why I wanted it.

I made an alliance with Marie Lammert, Sherriff Jim Murphy's committeewoman. They controlled, and still do, a lot of the politics in South St. Louis. Marie wanted to be vice chair and brought eight South Side wards to the table. With my 11 North Side wards we ran over the obstructionists like a hot knife through butter.
Bosley Jr. then parlayed his St. Louis Democratic Party Chairmanship into organizing black politicians:
It was at this time that I began to think about running for mayor. I began to raise money and convince other black elected officials to support other people running for office in the city and county. Several of us began to bring the black elected officials together. We formed an united front called the Council of Black Elected Officials, and they made me chairman.
On March 2nd,1993 (with a very special and at least half-collaborative assist from Tony Ribaudo), Freeman Bosley, Jr. marshaled the black political organizational power accrued through ten years of holding multiple offices that were, functionally, independent from municipal City government into the first (and, some would maintain, only) successful black bid for MAYOR.

The one-half example is recently-former License Collector and recently-appointed President of the Urban League Mike McMillan. McMillan's first political job was Administrative Assistant to then-Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr.. In 1997, McMillan was elected North Side/Central Corridor 19th Ward Alderman (historians of the Board say that, at the time, he was the youngest alderman in the City's history). In 2006, McMillan successfully ran for License Collector (one of those independent offices) and handily won re-election in 2010.

McMillan long has been heralded by many as "The Great Black Hope" for MAYOR. He's almost prodigiously young (41 years old) for a City pol of his stature. As alderman and then furthermore as Citywide License Collector, McMillan has developed strong relationships and rapport with interests both north and south of the "Delmar Divide" (many casual political observers don't know that McMillan is African-American ...). Perhaps most importantly, McMillan has a penchant for deliberate and collaborative political organization not unlike his old boss in Room 200. McMillan's new position as President of the Urban League is somewhat like Bosley Jr.'s Council of Black Elected Officials, but on the proverbial steroids:
The Urban League has been around for 95 years. It provides social services and advocates civil rights and self-reliance for African-Americans and others in the city and St. Louis and St. Clair counties.
As the longtime leader of the organization, [out-going president] Buford helped expand the budget from $2.5 million to $23 million.
The office has been a highly sought-after position because of its size and connection to the business community.
McMillan is a one-half example, because he's half-way there ...

"This Good Governance Goal": Closing the Avenues

Not soon after Mike McMillan left the office by which he accrued a good deal of his black political organizational power, Reducer & Reformer Alderwoman Donna Baringer (16th Ward) announced her intentions for the now-vacated office:
A St. Louis alderman says she would like control of the city's license collector office so she can eliminate it.


"The only way to make this good governance goal come to life is to have a license collector who agrees that blending license collector duties into another office makes the most sense for St. Louis taxpayers," Baringer told the Post-Dispatch.

Such a task would require approval from the state legislature and changes to the city charter.
It's up to Governor Jay Nixon as to who serves the remainder of McMillan's License Collector term. Given Nixon's, at times, strained relationship with North Side's black community and his dependence on strong African-American St. Louis turnout should he seek, perhaps, a U.S. Senate bid in the future, I bet that Nixon will appoint someone other than Alderwoman Baringer.

While eliminating the elected office of License Collector would require both state legislative action and City Charter reform, eliminating Circuit Court Clerk as an elected position requires just state legislative action. Last year, the Missouri Legislature took such action. It's now the judges who will appoint the clerk:
The judges have wanted to curb the power of the circuit clerk’s office for at least 20 years, saying that it was unseemly that a job set up to serve the courts had become an elective post in which the officeholder often wielded far more clout than those on the bench.
The next Democratic Primary for License Collector will occur roughly 11 months from now on August 5th, 2014. Time will tell whether the office remains a target of the Reducers & Reformers. Time will tell whether Charter Reform is the "good second step" toward "this good governance goal." Is November 4th, 2014 too early to take the shot for Charter Reform? The last time Charter Reform was on the ballot was 2004, which, being a Presidential year, was a high-turnout affair. Perhaps the Reducers & Reformers see a better shot in a November '14 mid-term. This, too, is a matter of judgment, not motive.

(Part 2 of 2 is here.)  

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