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.

Harmon intends to pound away on what he sees as Bosley's bad record and Slay's lackluster one. "They don't want to talk about their past records," Harmon says. "Slay's got a record; they both do. They're not going to talk about it. They're going to talk about what their "vision' is and all that other stuff. What was their record? The relevance is, "What have you done? Not what you want to do, but what have you done to qualify you to be mayor?' Francis has never operated in anything larger than several people in a law office."

Not surprisingly, Guilfoil sees that legal experience as a way to predict Slay the mayor. As a litigator in class-action suits, product-liability cases and other civil matters, Slay has had to negotiate complicated issues where the stakes are high.

"I've seen him as a lawyer," Guilfoil says. "Underneath that baby face there's a real core of toughness. There has to be. You can't succeed in this business without it; you're gladiators. He's been very successful for us. We don't get down and wrestle on the floor; it's a toughness of mind. You know how much to give and when not to give. Sometimes it's very difficult, if you've got an offer on the table, to turn it down, because there's always a chance you'll lose. It takes a lot of inner toughness to say, "To hell with it; we'll not take, we'll go ahead and let the court decide.' You're taking a lot on your shoulders for somebody else, and that requires a good deal of toughness."

Jennifer Silverberg

Guilfoil says the city needs a mayor who's on top of what's going on now. "We always stand at a crossroads, but it really is true this time. There has been more movement in St. Louis by individuals than I've seen in my lifetime," says the 81-year-old lawyer. "It's not government-sponsored, and it doesn't have all the admirals and generals of Civic Progress doing it. It's individuals going out and doing it on their own, which is a very healthful sign. A political leadership that encourages that and ties it together, then you really do have a chance to reinvigorate the city of St. Louis."

Because city government is a political entity in need of help from other political entities, Slay backers think it only logical that a skilled hand in the art of the deal be given a chance at this critical time.

One public official active in attempts at regional cooperation thinks whoever the new mayor will be, he will have to come up with an agenda he wants to accomplish and work urgently to fulfill it: "The city is flat on its ass here. It's not like the mayor doesn't have responsibility for anything. You got a real problem. Tell us why you want to be mayor of this place that's going down the shit tubes. You got to have a good answer to that," the official says. There is financial trouble ahead. "The key thing for the city is, they can no longer do it on their own. They have to reach out. They have to get more from state, more from their surrounding neighbors. They can't do it alone anymore."

For the next mayor, that means having to deal on an intergovernmental basis with many entities. To the extent that Slay can convince voters and the rich, the influential and the involved that he is able to pull off those types of alliances, he could become mayor.

Looking at this mayor's race, it's easy to slip into fuzzy math, or old math. Historically, for Democrats -- in the city, the only party that matters -- the primary colors are black and white, with election results often determined by race. On the surface, 2001 offers the same dynamic, but scratch that surface and things get weird.

Even though more than 50 percent of city residents are black, whites retain about a 60 percent share among registered voters. A newcomer to the city would look at the three major candidates and see a black incumbent mayor, challenged by a white president of the Board of Aldermen and a black ex-mayor. The conventional take is that two blacks split the African-American vote and the aldermanic president coasts in, carrying the white vote. But that's no longer certain, or even likely. Ideally this would be untrue because candidates are judged on the content of their character. But this election may be as much or more about parochialism as pigmentation. Where the candidate lives, his résumé and his style may trump ethnicity and race.

The main power base for Harmon, who lives in Compton Heights, is predominantly white South St. Louis. Four years ago, he drew the bulk of his votes from where Slay lives, the 23rd Ward and the southwest city wards surrounding it. So if the focus is shifted from race to geography, the political base of South Side residents Slay and Harmon could be split on March 6 and Bosley -- who is expected to clean up in North St. Louis -- might be seen as having the edge. But there aren't enough votes in North St. Louis to carry the day, so Bosley will have to do well in the racially mixed central-corridor wards.

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