Short Cuts

SILENCE TO THE STATE OF THE CITY: One barometer that network drones use to analyze a State of the Union address is how many times members of Congress are so moved by the speechifyin' that they spontaneously erupt into applause, interrupting the speech. So after the routine standing ovation Mayor Clarence Harmon received on entering, how many times during his seven-page, single-spaced State of the City speech last Friday did the assembled aldermen, as they say, burst into applause? Not once. Zilch. Nada. Not at all. Zip.

The two spins go this way: One alderman, a Harmon backer, sees no great import in the indifference. Speeches are no longer directed to the audience at hand, according to the alderman, they're directed at the cameras, so the audience is ignored. (Yeah, but who watches Channel 16, the city's version of C-SPAN, other than the desperate or the truly addicted?) Another reason? "Or nobody was paying attention, which would be typical of the Board of Aldermen." This Harmon backer also thought the speech was totally typical: "All of these great, good things are happening and the mayor gets credit for all of them. It was a typical state-of-the-whatever speech." But the lack of response might be more a sign of ennui than of animosity: "Nobody was disrespectful; nobody booed. But at the same time, this is the third time he's given this sort of speech. The newness has worn off."

For the dark side, an anti-Harmon alderman sees the mayor this way: "He just tells you what you want to hear. There's no follow-up or execution. It's whatever you want to hear and sounds good. He has a real problem taking something from the 'in' basket and getting it to the 'out' basket." From this perspective, year three of Harmon as mayor has the former police chief retaining the approval among "typical citizens" but facing a "growing frustration with the people who do business with the city on a day-to-day or project-by-project basis."

Naturally, none of this perspective was in Harmon's speech, which was titled "Seeds of Success." Most of the State of the City was perfunctory political gruel, with sweeping statements of positive signs and few details in sight. One specific that was mentioned is that the number of building permits issued in 1997 and 1998 was up 21 percent over the previous two years. Just what Clarence did immediately upon taking office in April 1997 to boost the demand for permits, other than not be Freeman Bosley Jr., is unclear and unstated.

To be upbeat, Harmon mentioned St. Louis' being in the national and world spotlight because, in case you forgot, Mark McGwire hit 70 homers and Pope John Paul II visited. Then there was the defeat of Proposition B on concealed weapons. He went on to use the phrase "Some people say" to preface claims that City Hall is more responsive, that property values in neighborhoods are increasing, that downtown is "coming back to life" and that the city's "neighborhood character is becoming more clearly defined in a proud and positive way." Some people may be saying this, but some people aren't, too.

The long-planned convention-center hotel, which, along with the Arena site, is a potential Waterloo for Harmon, was handled in one phrase: "The new Convention Center Hotel, which we expect to have a deal to move forward soon." ConnectCare? Not mentioned. The Arena? That was a "tough decision." The site "holds the promise of a major urban campus to draw business."

Local media picked up on the three paragraphs of the speech that dealt with the city's lawsuit against gun manufacturers. That may have been news, but the rest of the speech wasn't.

BOB BROEG, WE HARDLY KNEW YE: As grocery shoppers wait in line on Saturday, a glance at the early Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will reveal something that they won't see again the next morning: Bob Broeg's byline.

Former sports editor and current "contributing sports editor," Broeg continues to write his column, but readers who get home delivery or wait until Sunday to buy the paper won't see it. Anyone snapping up the early edition -- people perhaps more concerned about the classified ads or what momentous question "Walter Scott" will answer in Parade magazine this week -- will be able to read Broeg, who, among other achievements, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame for his writing.

Broeg is to St. Louis sports what Plutarch was to ancient Rome -- a chronicler, a historian. The snide may say that Broeg is about as relevant as a breaking news account of Cicero's last speech, but, gee, you'd think there would be some space for him in a Sunday sports section.

Just a breakdown of some recent headlines should tweak the interest of a sports fan. A few samples include: "Guerin, Frisch, Among Others, Were Top Hands"; "Stumbling Blocks Kept Mizell from Being Better"; and "Despite Gloom, Still Some Cheer Amid Depression." Yes, that last piece was about sports during the Depression. It ends with this classic Broegian sentence: "Selfishly, I remember the tough times fondly, but certainly sympathize with those who recall the Depression depressingly." In a piece about opening day, the second paragraph starts off with "Back in 1926, Rogers Hornsby's first and only full season as field foreman...."

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