Hit Parade

To my horror and disgust I pulled off one of the steam lids on the buffet line to see HAMBURGERS swimming in a mixture of water and grease. This was sacrilegious.... If I were at a Jewish celebration I would not expect to see a pig roast, just as I would not expect to see meat at a fish fry.

-- Letter to the Editor, (St. Louis) University News, Thursday, April 1

STEALTH CAMPAIGN: In the St. Louis aldermanic races this Tuesday, there were a handful of interesting twists. Independents ran in both the 6th and 22nd wards. Republicans were found on ballots in the 10th and 16th wards, and a Democrat ran against lone Republican incumbent Fred Heitert in the 12th. There was a widely held, ultimately false rumor that an independent was going to run against colorful Democrat Tom Bauer in the 24th. And a handful of contentious primaries among the Democrats added some early spice.

If the face of the board didn't exactly change this week, there were at least some threats to its Democratic complexion. Nothing would have modified the look of the city's most august body so much as a win by Libertarian candidate Mike Chesnut, running against incumbent Democrat Jim Shrewsbury and Republican challenger Matt Hoffman in the 16th Ward.

But Chesnut, a stock clerk at Grandpa Pidgeon's, ran a race so under-the-radar that even members of his party were unsure of his strategies and background.

"We don't know a lot about him, either," says local Libertarian leader Ken Bush. "He hadn't attended any Libertarian meetings. I called him up at his work this morning and spoke to him for a good 20 minutes. He didn't have an objection to some of the basic Libertarian platforms. I don't know what he's doing for the campaign. He spoke of a massive campaign to clean up litter, putting businesses rather than housing at the Darst-Webbe site. I wouldn't really emphasize those themes as being the most important.

"He thought the city needed an independent voice for a change, and I like that. In the city, even a Republican would be a change of pace."

Chesnut agrees with the ultimate-outsider status, in a backhanded way, by saying, "I haven't been to a whole lot of meetings. I just thought Libertarians were interesting; that's how I chose them. A lot of people don't think much of Republicans or Democrats. If they see a Libertarian, they'll check that out."

If Bush was uncertain about parts of Chesnut's approach, at least he spoke to him, unlike most of the possible voters in the candidate's ward. As of last Thursday afternoon, Chesnut's campaign had yet to hit high gear. "When I was campaigning, I went to four people's houses," he says. "They knew I wasn't Jim Shrewsbury. They thought I was a Republican. I told them I was a Libertarian. When I did that, one lady shut the door in my face."

Not wishing to meet for an interview in person (he also declined several requests to be photographed for this column), Chesnut sketched out some ideas in quick strokes during a short telephone conversation, in which he often referred to a handful of interviews he'd had with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Suburban Journals.

Chesnut doesn't like the idea of more suburban sprawl, and he wants police officers walking the beat. He thinks the city should pay residents for their recycling and believes the now-demolished Arena should've been used as an after-school center for youths.

In fact, he says, "The reason I initially ran was because of the Arena thing. Jim Shrewsbury sponsored the bill that got it torn down, and it wasn't even in his ward." He also had a pair of defining conversations that put the thought in his mind. Consider them coincidences or omens: Once, walking down the street with a woman, he noted the great amount of trash, whereupon she suggested he run for office; another time, at the Laundromat across the street from his apartment, he was holding court on several subjects when the other folks suggested he run for office.

It was advice, of course, he would eventually take. But without a budget. In fact, after his $287 filing fee, Chesnut didn't spend one thin dime in this run for the job. No fliers or yard signs? "No." No public meetings? "No." No last-minute get-out-the-vote, door-to-door drive? "No." As for the actual election day, any big plans? "The usual." So, just go to work, vote, watch the results? "Yes." Asked whether he'd taken anything of note from the campaign experience, he says he enjoyed the interviews and appreciated the six votes he received in the primary. Six votes?

"In the primary, mmm-hmm," he says. "And I was happy with the six votes, considering how little time and effort I had for it. If I got 50 in the general election, I'd be happy. If I got 55, I'd be jumping for joy."

On questioning Chesnut whether he would ever run again, the RFT enjoyed a response that hadn't been given to the Post or the Journals -- a scoop, of sorts.

Next Page »