New Kid, Old School

Francis G. Slay wants to push a troubled city to the future, and he doesn't think "politics" is a dirty word.

"It wasn't like I was planning this for years, to run for mayor," says Slay. "The thought had crossed my mind, but it wasn't like I was planning on what would be the best time for me to do it. I didn't start thinking about it seriously until I saw Clarence Harmon in office and got the distinct impression that he didn't enjoy the job."

Of course, relieving Harmon of the anxiety of being mayor so he'll feel better is not Slay's goal. That Harmon swept in with 57 percent of the vote against Bosley and then revealed himself as someone who didn't have the taste for the funky vagaries of City Hall just meant that Harmon was vulnerable.

Because Slay was unopposed in the primary and general elections of 1999, he had $160,000 left over from that noncampaign. To get a running start on the mayoral campaign, Slay announced his candidacy 18 months ago, in his father's backyard at 6532 Scanlan Ave.

Mayor Clarence Harmon says Slay has no record of accomplishment: "Tell me one thing he's done in 15 years on the Board of Aldermen. One thing -- not five things but one thing."
Mayor Clarence Harmon says Slay has no record of accomplishment: "Tell me one thing he's done in 15 years on the Board of Aldermen. One thing -- not five things but one thing."
Mayor Clarence Harmon says Slay has no record of accomplishment: "Tell me one thing he's done in 15 years on the Board of Aldermen. One thing -- not five things but one thing."
Mayor Clarence Harmon says Slay has no record of accomplishment: "Tell me one thing he's done in 15 years on the Board of Aldermen. One thing -- not five things but one thing."

The location was symbolic: Slay was making it clear he will not run away from his family's past, that he will be focusing on his South Side origins and his rich political heritage. Francis Slay isn't just running as his own man, he is also bringing the family. That's a mixed blessing. Whereas his father, though a throwback to old-fashioned ward politics, is highly regarded, a cousin, businessman Eugene "Gene" Slay, is often described as a political power broker whose past history includes a federal conviction in 1985 for fraud and influence-peddling related to the awarding of a cable-television franchise for the city. Eugene Slay's legal cloud disappeared in 1987 after the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in a separate case in Kentucky, overturned the law on which he was convicted and the U.S. Attorney's Office decided not to retry the case.

Thanks to his family and political connections, Guilfoil's network and his own years in City Hall, the money flowed to Slay. As the campaign enters the final month, Slay has raised just over $1 million; Harmon has brought in about $700,000, and Bosley's late start looks to be limiting him to less than $200,000. Slay's financial support is widespread, coming mostly from the usual suspects. Some, like developer Richard Baron, businessman William Maritz, hotel developer Don Breckenridge and HRI Inc., the developer of the downtown convention hotel, gave similar amounts to Slay and Harmon. There are many donations to Slay from restaurateurs, unions and Realtors. Southwestern Bell, which was in tune with Slay on the open-access bill, gave Slay $1,125. Lobbyist Lou Hamilton and John Bardgett & Associates, a firm lobbying for the Cardinals' new stadium effort, each gave $1,125. Blues president Mark Sauer kicked in $500. Pulitzer Inc. chairman Michael Pulitzer and his wife, Ceil, each gave $1,125 -- noteworthy because the company's flagship Post-Dispatch is widely expected to endorse Slay.

As Slay quietly built up his campaign war chest, his working relationship with Harmon deteriorated. Before he announced his intention to run for mayor, the Board of E&A functioned without controversy, with little public friction between its three members. After Slay announced, the spats with Harmon went public. Slay publicly criticized Harmon for awarding John Fox Arnold, a campaign contributor to the mayor, with a no-bid contract to represent the city in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Slay criticized Harmon about the rising costs of the new city jail and the debacle at the City Living Foundation, which spent hundreds of thousands in city funds to market housing in the city without ever producing anything. Harmon described Slay's criticism as politically motivated, and dismissed Jeff Rainford, Slay's campaign adviser, as a "sleazebag."

The campaign was on, even though it had yet to catch fire. Then, last month, Bosley, whose time in office was cut short at one term by Harmon in 1997, perceived an opportunity. Sensing that Harmon and Slay shared the same South St. Louis power base, the ex-mayor entered the race, hoping that his expected dominance among North St. Louis' African-American voters would be enough to give him a chance of winning the March 6 Democratic mayoral primary.


Ward endorsements don't mean what they used to, but it's better to have them than not to. So candidates make the rounds, reciting their five-minute condensations of why they should be mayor. On a recent Thursday night, Slay is giving his third stump speech of the night, this one at the 28th Ward meeting held at John's Town Hall, a bar in the lobby of the upscale Dorchester apartments on Skinker Boulevard, across from Forest Park. Slay concludes his speech using the same lines he used earlier that night at meetings in the 6th and 8th wards: "If I'm elected the next mayor of the city of St. Louis, I will not disappoint you. I will not let you down."

The closing mantra is both a promise and a reminder of how many in the crowded bar feel. Four years ago, city voters threw their support to Harmon, who promised to bring better management and restore integrity to city government. Today, Harmon's record at City Hall is mixed, and his ability to recognize and address the city's pervasive problems is widely questioned. Despite an until recently robust national economy, the city continues to bleed. Census data to be released in March are expected to show the city's population at about 333,000 -- a drop of 62,725, or 16 percent, over 10 years. Long-term debt problems loom on the horizon as the city's public schools teeter on the brink of losing accreditation. And a series of recent announcements by St. Louis companies -- TWA's bankruptcy, Ralston Purina's sale, the possible relocation of 500 Union Pacific jobs -- have added to the gloom. Nobody in any of these ward meetings needs to hear the litany of grief. They see it every day.

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