Duncan Bauman is alive and well, and still trying to have the last word. Period.

Vince Schoemehl was running for mayor, courting North Side votes with a promise to reopen Homer G. Phillips Hospital, where the city's poor black residents went for medical care. It was one of the key issues of the 1981 Democratic primary election, one that helped Schoemehl beat incumbent Jim Conway. Later, as mayor, Schoemehl would abandon his campaign pledge, citing the failure of bond issues and a proposed sales-tax increase to fund the reopening.

If only voters had been behind closed doors at the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat with Schoemehl and former publisher G. Duncan Bauman. There, they might have learned that Schoemehl never meant to keep his word. In a soon-to-be-released book, Bauman tells how Schoemehl met with the editorial board of the Globe, where he was asked by newspapermen, "Where will you find the money to reopen and operate Homer Phillips?"

According to Bauman's account, Schoemehl asked to go "off the record," then said, "I do not intend to reopen Homer Phillips." The Globe endorsed Schoemehl, never reporting that the future mayor was telling its editors and voters two different things.

Duncan Bauman
Jennifer Silverberg
Duncan Bauman
Duncan Bauman averages two cigars a day instead of the 10 he once smoked while publisher of the Globe.
Jennifer Silverberg
Duncan Bauman averages two cigars a day instead of the 10 he once smoked while publisher of the Globe.

The tale, which Schoemehl insists is untrue, is vintage Bauman -- former confidante of billionaires, sometime custodian of the public trust and ultimate insider. Bauman, who by his own admission kept news from his own reporters, is bubbling with fascinating stories about the good, the bad and the ugly of the city he loves.

Bauman -- "Dunc" to his friends -- now averages two cigars a day instead of the 10 he once smoked while publisher of what was the city's largest newspaper. He's no longer welcome at Civic Progress meetings. At 87, he's become an observer -- and "off the record" apparently no longer applies.

Yes, retirement has been difficult, Bauman admits. He misses being on the inside, regrets not being able to act on the instant sense of indignation he sees as the most important job requirement for a journalist. But he's no less opinionated -- or conservative -- than he was when he ran the newspaper from 1967-84, served on countless public and private boards and pulled strings to help the right people rise to power in St. Louis.

Fifteen years after the forced sale of the Globe, Bauman remains unabashedly bitter about his beloved paper's going out with a whimper instead of a planned final edition on New Year's Eve that was to be a retrospective of 131 years of service to the community. In the end, Bauman had as little control of the Globe as of the rival Post-Dispatch, a paper he still excoriates.

Bauman regretted but agreed with Si Newhouse's decision to close the Globe. Because the paper was operated under a joint-operating agreement with the Pulitzer-owned Post, the Justice Department intervened in the planned closing of the Globe and forced a sale to Jeffrey Gluck, an undercapitalized entrepreneur from Columbia, Mo. Gluck ran the paper until he was ousted in federal bankruptcy court; the Globe struggled under new owners until finally expiring on Oct. 26, 1986.

"The Department of Justice told us they'd prosecute us on antitrust if we didn't sell it to Gluck," Bauman recalls during a recent interview at his Ladue home. "Well, I wasn't about to go to the penitentiary, and neither was Newhouse. Well, (Gluck) literally had no money. He had no money. And very little experience. And we never got paid a cent. He wrote 50,000 bad checks in one year."

A man born two days after the Titanic sank has plenty of time to accumulate stories. In his book Behind the Headlines, Bauman reveals morsels of St. Louis behind the scenes, how kings were made and overthrown, which public figures lied and which ones told the truth. The book is an "as-told-to" work, with former Globe reporter Mary Kimbrough piecing the text together from Bauman's taped recollections.

Bauman was no ordinary publisher, at least in terms of being remote from the events his paper covered. Bauman himself created news, though Globe readers rarely knew that. He delivered sensitive messages from governors to top city leaders. While personnel manager in the 1950s, he helped run elections as a member of the city's election board. He was privy to stories that would have made the front page, but he never told his reporters the secrets he heard in corporate boardrooms or Civic Progress gatherings. He says he even got advance word of unrest at the 1968 Democratic convention during an impromptu meeting with protesters.

"I had a rule," Bauman says. "I never told the office ever what I learned at any of those meetings. But I was a better publisher by far than if I didn't know what was going on around town. The Post-Dispatch once in a while allowed somebody to serve on a committee, and they'd run right to the office with what they heard. The result was they weren't welcome."

But the powers that be trusted Bauman. Some of them, like Schoemehl, may regret that trust when Bauman's book goes on sale.

Asked about Bauman's account of the "off-the-record" meeting with the Globe board, Schoemehl says it didn't happen that way. Not only didn't he say he had no intention of reopening the hospital, Schoemehl says, he never went off the record. "That just isn't true," Schoemehl says. "I certainly never would have said that, because it wasn't true. Even if what he were alleging were true, the last thing I would have done is go off the record and tell them that. The fact is, we had two active strategies to try to get that hospital reopened."

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