In a Class by Itself

Mired in decrepitude and money trouble, will St. Louis prove too tough for its next mayor?

The city's budget must be introduced to the Board of Aldermen by May 1. The budget bill must be passed by June 30, and the fiscal year starts July 1. For the city, there's not much time or money. "Things are going to hit pretty quick," Slay says.

When Siegel points to his city's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, or turnarounds in other cities, police work is often the key. As Slay knows, in St. Louis the mayor only has the power of persuasion over the police because City Hall finances the police but does not oversee them. Despite his campaign promises of "more police on the street," he knows that the current City Hall budget proposed to the Board of Police Commissioners offers no increase in funds. If that happens, it will mean fewer police.

One police commissioner is "very adamant about reducing the number" of police, saying the city could receive adequate protection with fewer police, Slay says. "What I'm interested in is getting more police on the street. I don't know how we accomplish that with these budget cuts but that's something I want to look at. One of the things I've noticed, there's been a little bit of a glitch, an upswing in violent crime in the city, and I want to make sure we don't start reducing police."

Francis Slay
Francis Slay

In a departure from the image of his predecessor, Slay says that on day one as mayor, he wants to set a tone of "energy" at City Hall, of being "engaged" and being out in all parts of the community. Saturdays will be workdays, he says, "and I don't mean running around the city cutting ribbons all weekend," Slay says. "I mean being in City Hall on Saturday with staff people talking about getting city business done."

Siegel points to Martin O'Malley of Baltimore as an example of a new mayor who's been effective. Baltimore -- which, like St. Louis, is constricted because it's a city and a county -- has seen slight increases in employment. Other cities losing population, such as New Orleans, are trying to attract twentysomethings and empty-nesters. Siegel says that because those two groups have a "higher tolerance for crime and poor services," they might fare better in the city.

Back in 1993, Siegel worked with Giuliani, but it didn't last. "Giuliani is a godawful asshole. He's not a nice human being," Siegel says. "He's also been a great mayor. He brought the city back from near death." That may be true, but does an abrasive, edgy persona go hand in hand with being an effective big-city mayor? "I think they do," Siegel says. "I think they're integrally related."

If that's the case, the Mound City could be in trouble with a mayor whose demeanor is more altar boy than asshole, but maybe that one-dimensional image is misleading. At least one Bosley campaign mailer described Slay as a "Roman Catholic, anti-abortion South Side attorney from an old-school, politically connected family." That conservative stereotype runs counter to a speech Slay gave to the fifth annual Pride St. Louis Open House on Feb. 3, when he told the supporters and organizers of the annual gay and lesbian PrideFest, "I grew up in South St. Louis with 11 brothers and sisters -- three of whom were gay." He then introduced his sister Monietta and his brother Ray to the crowd gathered at the Saturday-night event at City Hall, describing his siblings as "some of my family members who are also part of your family."

The cynical may have dismissed that act as a ploy for votes, but it's also a sign that just because Slay was an altar boy and a soccer player doesn't mean that every papist is a product of a Catholic cookie-cutter that churns out social bigots whose world is confined to fish fries and bingo and school picnics.

Slay says he made a public statement to show that "everybody has a stake in this government and the government needs people, dedicated people, whoever they may be and whatever their situation may be, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnic background, income level, age, whatever it is."

In other words, whether Slay is Clark Kent or Superman or someone in between, he's going to need all the help he can get.

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