The New Wisdom of Boz

A chastened ex-mayor says he's sorry and asks for another chance

Those comments by father and son, made at Comptroller Darlene Green's victory party, were the first assaults in a campaign that ended with Harmon winning with 56 percent of the Democratic primary vote to Bosley's 43 percent and Haas' 0.7 percent. That Clark dropped out of the primary to run as an independent and Harmon swept South St. Louis proved the stalking-horse charge to be off base.

Then there was Charles Mischeaux, then head of the local chapter of the NAACP, who said it was appropriate for Harmon to announce his candidacy on the steps of the Old Court House. Said Mischeaux: "Where blacks slaves were sold, on Sunday you'll see a black man sell himself" [D.J. Wilson, "Blacker Than Thou," RFT, Sept. 18, 1996].

Bosley the Elder promises the rhetoric will be cooler this time around. "I apologized to Clarence a long time ago for that," he says of the "rented Negro" line. That said, he doesn't think much of what Harmonious has done: "I don't think nobody is satisfied with his performance as a mayor." But the veteran alderman says he didn't try to talk his son into running or try to dissuade him.

Asked what burning-bush experience led him to decide to make another run at City Hall, the Boz sounds as if he couldn't stand the idea of being a spectator to a Harmonious-vs.-St. Francis campaign that might have given new dimension to the word "dull." Says Bosley: "About six months ago, I kind of realized neither of the guys who are running now had anything going. I just couldn't feel anything. The people around me couldn't sense anything. I just felt there was no campaign going on."

There is now.

At least one poll from Bosley's camp has Harmon garnering 29 percent of the vote, Bosley 28 percent and Slay 24 percent, leaving 17 percent undecided. Some charge this was a "push poll," conducted in such a way that it boosted Bosley's numbers, but any poll taken more than two months out is a shaky barometer.

The problem for Bosley is that Harmon and Slay combined will likely draw more than the 10 percent Harmon drew by himself in the 11 North Side wards four years ago. Facing two opponents who both do well in South City, Bosley will fare worse there in 1997, so his battleground is the central-corridor wards, including the Central West End, Midtown, Soulard and Lafayette Square. Harmon won that turf in '97, and it's hard to imagine Bosley faring better in a face-off with an incumbent mayor and another challenger who has been elected to a citywide post twice before. Anyone who doubts Bosley has little appeal in heavily white wards need only look at the 23rd Ward, Slay's own. In 1997, Slay endorsed Bosley but could only deliver 227 Bosley votes from his ward -- Harmon got 5,646.

Harmon's problem is that Southwest St. Louis has a homie to vote for this time. Four years ago, six Southwest City wards gave Harmon 29,852 votes, more than half of the 56,926 votes he received citywide. It took all 11 North St. Louis wards to give Bosley 29,995 votes. Harmon can't count on anything near that this time from Southwest St. Louis.

Assuming Slay does well in his home ward and those around it, he will need to stay even with Bosley and Harmon in the central corridor, which may be a challenge because some see him as retro, a descendant of an old-school political family.

Then there's money. Bosley is a late entry, but he's confident he can raise $400,000 quickly. "That's 400 people giving me $1,000," the former mayor says. "I've had 2,000 people give me $1,000."

Because Bosley knows whom he must target, he may need less money than the other two candidates. And though Harmon has the benefit of incumbency, Slay has the advantage of having the most funds. Slay expects to have raised $1 million for his campaign. Harmon will be lucky to reach $600,000.

As for issues, there don't appear to be any, unless you consider whether or not to sign a proclamation for Nelly an issue. The desire to restructure city government through home rule has all the candidates' support. The rest of the discussion will be about vague notions like commitment and leadership. Ultimately, it's about image and personality.

Four years ago, Harmon's main point was that he wasn't Bosley. This time around, Slay's main campaign issue is that he's not Harmon. Bosley says he's going to run a positive campaign and won't be slinging mud at Slay and Harmon. It might be he's doing that in the hope they'll return the favor. But Harmon and Slay will talk about Bosley's record. The Boz knows this, but he claims he won't attack his opponents.

"I'm not even going to get into it," says Bosley. "You know what? I can run a race and not even mention their names. They can't run a race and not mention mine."

Not anymore, Boz. Not anymore.

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