That Mike Jones Is Good, But He's No Caesar

Is the deputy mayor's wife beyond reproach, and who started these rumors, anyway?

In various contentious predicaments as development czar and deputy mayor for hizzoner, St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, Mike Jones has resorted to the same tactic. When folks wanted to save the Arena, Jones said the Barn had to be demolished or he'd quit his job. This time, when heat was directed his way because of charges that his wife did insurance business for the convention-center-hotel project, or the airport, or ConnectCare, or fill-in-the-blank, Jones said that if it came down to which of them would quit, he'd leave his post at the right hand of the mayor before he'd ask his wife to quit peddling insurance.

That was last Tuesday. Contacted in his office late Friday afternoon, Jones takes a slightly different tack, blaming Aldermanic President Francis Slay's mayoral campaign for leaking the "deputy mayor's girlfriend or wife benefits from contracts on city projects" story to the press. Long rumored to be leaving the mayor's staff to pursue a private job or to head the St. Louis Development Corp., Jones says this recent flap has steeled his commitment to stay on with Harmon. Jones believes that no matter how much Slay denies it, the story was planted by Slay's campaign.

"He would say no, it didn't, and I know better. There's no point in getting into that. But that's really where it came from," says Jones, noting that when he became engaged in March 1999, he warned his future wife how politics could be. "We talked about it. I told her, 'I've been doing this a long time. I don't know who and I don't know when, but one day this will be an issue.' I would say Francis took his best shot," Jones says. "He just got my attention. I'm planning on staying the deputy mayor. Whatever I do in the capacity of development, I will do under the auspices of deputy mayor for the city of St. Louis."

Slay, for the moment, is unfazed. "So he's punishing me? I don't know what that means," Slay says of Jones' pledge to stay with Harmon. "I'm not running against Mike Jones, nor do I dislike Mike Jones."

What Jones' statement does mean is, in an administration that has seen more than one lifeboat fill up with people who have then either dived or been thrown overboard, one much-rumored exit looks as if it won't happen. Jones, the point man for the $242 million convention hotel and other development projects, says he's staying put, at least through next spring's election. About one-third, or $80.7 million, of the hotel project is a direct commitment of city funds or future Community Development Block Grant dollars.

As for the allegations about the deputy mayor, the story as reported was that the insurance firm providing the "wrap around" insurance for the convention-hotel project, Willis of Missouri Inc., had in the past used Kathy Conley Jones as a broker. Conley Jones married Mike Jones in September 1999 and, according to the Joneses, notified the insurance company that she was removing herself from the hotel project on April 1, 1999, a few weeks after the couple's March 15 engagement. After the initial report, Conley Jones was said to be working as an insurance broker for Lambert Airport and for ConnectCare, the city medical program on whose three-person board of directors Mike Jones serves. Jones says Chester Hines, chairman of the ConnectCare board, made those decisions. In the cases of both the airport and ConnectCare, the insurance deals occurred before the couple became engaged.

Jones concedes that in politics, Caesar's wife is often judged harshly: Not only must she be innocent, she must appear above suspicion. "But that's at the point in time she becomes Caesar's wife, not before. They were talking about Caesar's wife, OK?" the deputy mayor says in his defense. Jones says he didn't make any of the decisions about the insurance for ConnectCare or Lambert and that his wife never profited from the convention-hotel project. "When we took our relationship to another level, she withdrew herself from any consideration. We weren't even married. The law doesn't even recognize engagements. But at that level I will agree with you about the analogy of Caesar's wife. Obviously with somebody you're planning to marry you have a different relationship than with somebody you're dating."

As to whether the couple were living together before their engagement, Jones says, "That would come under the category of 'nobody's business.'" He dismisses much of the current criticism as an "ass-backwards compliment," saying he believes the attacks come because he's an effective member of the Harmon administration and is therefore a target. If this has been the strategy, he believes, it has backfired. "This took me from 'I'll be glad when this is over' to 'Well, no, now I ain't ready to go,'" Jones says.

Slay contends that the rumors linking Jones' wife and the hotel insurance were widespread and that many believed Jones' wife was involved in the deal. "It was well known in the industry and throughout politics. I heard it from so many people I got tired of hearing about it. It was something that was flying around for a long time," says Slay, who has called for a "third-party" investigation.

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