Tyus Up

The new mayor, in backing a winner, likely will end up a loser

One of the main maxims associated with the old Daley machine in Chicago was "Don't make no waves, don't back no losers." A book with that title was published as an "insider's analysis" of the political machine put together by Mayor Richard Daley, whose son is now mayor of Chicago.

Newly elected St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay apparently hasn't read that book, or at least he disagrees with its premise. Slay has a political background and makes no apologies about his family's calling, particularly his father's stints as recorder of deeds, state representative and longtime 23rd Ward committeeman. But in the current aldermanic-redistricting storm, Slay is indeed making waves, and in pushing the proposed redistricting map, he looks to be backing a loser.

Oh, there are likely enough votes on the Board of Aldermen to pass the redistricting bill, but Slay will have hell to pay and it will all end up in court. But before getting into the legalities, there are the personalities.

Ald. Craig Schmid's 10th Ward would move up the Hill if a proposed redistricting bill passes.
D.J. Wilson
Ald. Craig Schmid's 10th Ward would move up the Hill if a proposed redistricting bill passes.

The target here is Ald. Sharon Tyus (D-20th). Make no mistake: The bull's-eye is on her back. The plan is to move the ward she represents to an area south of Cherokee Street and east of Grand Boulevard, where the current 10th Ward is. Ald. Craig Schmid (D-10th) would see his ward move to the Hill. What had been the 20th, up around Kingshighway and Natural Bridge Avenue, would be carved up for the surrounding wards. On the new map, Tyus would be living in the same ward as Ald. Irene Smith (D-1st ), a longtime ally. To remain an alderman, Tyus would have to run against Smith or move to South St. Louis to run in the "new" 20th Ward.

North St. Louis has lost more population than South St. Louis, so the thinking is that a ward must move. But even if one accepts that concept, why pick on the 20th Ward? The answer is Sharon T. This is payback from the board -- and former Aldermanic President Slay -- for every in-your-face comment or fractious filibuster Tyus pulled on the floor during meetings, for all the times she dominated televised meetings of the board, for all the times she was her relentless self. If anyone doubts the dynamics, consider what took place two weeks ago at a meeting attended by Tyus, Slay, Smith, mayoral chief of staff Jeff Rainford and Ald. Irving Clay Jr. (D-26th), brother of former Congressman Bill Clay and uncle to U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1st). From several accounts, whatever benign intent existed at the start of the meeting dissipated quickly when Tyus and Rainford got into it.

Rainford says Tyus started off the meeting calling Slay a "double-crosser" and told Rainford he had no business talking during the meeting. "She said, 'I don't want to talk to you, I'm not talking to you, I don't talk to staff. You shut up, and you're not running the meeting, and you're not talking in the meeting.' So I said, 'Fine, if you don't consider me a person worthy of entering into a discussion, if you ever need anything, then don't bother to call me. If I'm not a human being, then when you need something, don't bother to call me.' Then she got huffy about that," says Rainford. "She accused the mayor of all sorts of other nefarious acts and then got back to 'Oh yeah, we really want to work with you,' then accused him of some more nefarious acts. She was sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all in one meeting."

That isn't exactly what Tyus recalls happening.

"While I was talking to Francis, Jeff Rainford interrupted, and I said, 'I'm not talking to you.' He started yelling and screaming and saying, 'You better never ask me for anything again.' He started threatening me, saying, 'You better call the mayor,'" Tyus says. "I looked at Francis and said, 'You're letting your staff member threaten me, and I don't appreciate that. I'm not talking to him.' Rainford made a big issue about how he was going to punish me and how I better never ask him for anything."

Tyus claims the first time she met "Mr. Rainford" was at that meeting. Then she delivers a response in classic Tyus style: "The only thing I know about him, and that is because others brought it to my attention, is that he is the one who set up the priest from Illinois and attempted to catch him with a male prostitute," says Tyus, referring to the 1993 sting attempt Rainford was involved in while working as a reporter for KMOV-TV (Channel 4). The report never aired, but Tyus' bringing it up shows that with her, no weapon goes unused. "I never needed anything from Jeff Rainford," says Tyus. "The mayor's chief of staff has never done anything for me. I've never asked him for anything. I thought it was real inappropriate." Tyus also says Slay "egged" Rainford on, telling his chief of staff, "'I told you you couldn't get along with Sharon Tyus.'"

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