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.

Now, in 2001, Bushmeyer is an administrative aide to Aldermanic President Francis G. Slay. Bushmeyer worked briefly as Harmon's press secretary early in his administration. Shrewsbury backed Harmon in 1997, and his ward delivered 6,678 votes for Harmon, the highest ward total in the city. This time around, Shrewsbury says, he will support whichever candidate his ward organization supports. The 16th Ward last week endorsed Slay.

From his perspective, Shrewsbury says neither Francis Slay -- father or son -- should be linked to their cousin Eugene. "Personally, I don't know anything Francis R. Slay or Francis G. Slay has ever done that would cause me to question their honesty or integrity," Shrewsbury says. "While they're related to Eugene Slay, they are not closely politically tied to him. Eugene Slay's political allies were people other than Francis the aldermanic president and Francis the committeeman. Gene Slay had closer relationships to Aldermanic President Tom Zych, Gov. Joe Teasdale and JoAnne Wayne more than either Francis."

Eugene Slay, 73, still pops up in Jerry Berger's Post-Dispatch column fairly often, usually in relation to fundraising for the Boys Club or related charities. His business, Slay Transportation, still dominates the riverfront. He has the largest share of mooring privileges along the Mississippi River -- 9,838 linear feet, or 32 percent of the total available space. And his company's 740,179 square feet of riverfront lease agreements represents 16 percent of the available square footage, which is the second-largest amount.

Francis G. Slay, as an alderman and as aldermanic president, has taken great pains in his official capacity to distance himself from Eugene by avoiding voting on anything remotely connected to him. But when asked about his cousin, particularly in relation to the federal conviction related to the cable-television fiasco in the '80s, the mayoral candidate bristles.

"That was thrown out. He was charged with something that wasn't a crime, basically, is what they found," Slay says. "But I'm not going to defend him on that at this point. I understand what the issues are. The fact is, he's a legitimate businessman with a number of quality businesses, including warehousing, transportation, and fleeting and harbor services on the riverfront. He should not receive any favoritism at all, and he will not under my administration. But he should not be penalized by the fact that I'm the mayor, either."

People connect other ghosts with St. Raymond's -- for instance, when organized-crime boss Jimmy Michaels was killed by a car bomb in 1980, he'd just left St. Raymond's; the killers nearly blew up the car in the church parking lot. Much of the violence and political scandal in the St. Louis of the 1970s and early '80s was associated with Lebanese-Americans such as Webbe, Leisure and Michaels. Guilt by ethnic association -- no matter how unjustified -- is a shadow that continues to dog some political families. It's something that Francis G. Slay, the squeaky-clean attorney, may have to contend with. One alderman yet to take sides in the mayor's race, speaking on background, says it could hurt Slay in some areas of the city: "Francis has his baggage, too. He won't do well in the corridor. They connect Slay with Gene Slay."

And the accusation of old-style St. Louis politicking is a theme the incumbent is playing as well. In fact, Harmon has not only described Slay and Bosley as old-school politicians but suggested that his two opponents have worked in concert for years. "They represent the style of politics that has failed the city," Harmon says, using the term the "Bosley-Slay years" to refer to Bosley's mayoralty. "For 15 years, Slay's been on the Board of Aldermen. He and Bosley were hand-in-glove. The arrangement was, in my understanding from several well-placed political people, that Bosley was going to run for this term in '97, then it was going to be Slay in 2001."

According to that theory, Harmon's win in '97 upset the rumored Bosley-Slay pact. The alleged deal was that Bosley supported Slay for aldermanic president in '95 in return for Slay's endorsing Bosley in '97 for mayor. Despite Slay's endorsement four years ago, Bosley did not receive any substantial vote from South St. Louis. The idea that Slay supported Bosley in '97 as a payback is a drum that Harmon continues to beat: "After four of the absolutely most terrible years of any administration in the last 40 or 50 years, Slay endorses Bosley and campaigns for him."

Harmon goes so far as to suggest the conspiracy continues to the current race, with Bosley entering the race late to take North St. Louis votes from Harmon, thereby helping Slay.

"I think that was initially arranged," Harmon says. "Then I think Bosley did a poll and thought he had a chance. That's what has changed the dynamic. Certainly that's what I'm saying. I think they're both wary of each other."

Slay denies any deal was cut with Bosley for him to stay out of the race. Slay says he didn't run in '97 because he had just been elected to his first citywide office in '95 and wasn't ready professionally to leave his law practice. "Freeman had supported me for the Board of Aldermen; I wasn't going to turn around and run against him in two years," says Slay. "That wouldn't have been the right thing to do anyway."

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