Citizen Callow

The mayor names a PR wiz to a city board and ends up with a PR problem

"We need to preserve historic architecture and historic features, but not to the point that we're driving businesses and homeowners batty," says Rainford. "That's the mayor's position, and I would fully expect Richard and other members of the board to reflect that in their deliberations."

Rainford does not see the appointment of Callow to the Preservation Board as a gratuity for his behind-the-scenes work during Slay's mayoral campaign. "Payback would be a city contract; this is not exactly payback," says Rainford. "People are not beating down our doors to be on these boards."

Indeed, it appears that about 200 openings exist on the city's boards and commissions, fully one-third of the total. And it appears either that Callow was found during a dredging of the bottom of the barrel or that he's doing his civic duty by stepping forward to do a thankless, tedious job.

Despite this "Good Citizen Callow" talk, people who spend their waking hours pondering city politics needn't be called paranoid when they voice suspicion or incredulity about Callow's appointment. One former mayor who was singed by Callow's use of Berger's column has described Callow as a "flamethrower." It's clear that the Slay camp has decided to keep Callow inside the tent, even giving him an official position. Maybe Callow has tired of scheming in the shadows. Whatever the reason, giving the longtime political operative a seat and a title on a public board runs some political risks and raises legitimate conflict-of-interest questions.

Beyond Callow's political past, there is the issue of Callow's POSSLQ (person of opposite sex sharing living quarters). Barb Geisman,the mayor's development czarina, is Callow's significant other -- or is it the other way around? -- and she has already said that she recused herself from talks on the new stadium because Callow was a Cardinal hireling. Makes sense. But what about the convention hotel? What about anything involving Downtown Now interests? What about Callow's lengthy client list?

Rainford and Callow dodge that pie in the face by saying that Callow is a mayoral appointee and should do the mayor's bidding. "I regard it as a very important part of my job to do what the mayor wants," Callow says. "And he has an absolutely direct line to my house: It's Barbara. I see that as a qualification. I serve at the pleasure of the mayor. I was appointed by him." Well, all Preservation Board members are mayoral appointees.

Callow declines to say whether Geisman should recuse herself on other issues in which Callow has a dog in the fight. "I'm not going to answer for her; that's dangerous," he says. "That's how you end up sleeping on the sofa."

The Bevo Mill issue may be a blip on the radar screen, or it may be a preview of coming attractions. Both Rainford and Callow expect cultural-resources director Kate Shea to "reconsider" the tile issue. Rainford says similar synthetic tiles were approved and used on a church in Hyde Park. Callow says he will recuse himself from voting on any issue in which he has an active client. And although he has worked for the brewery in the past, he sees no problem voting on this issue.

"I love Bud Light, and it inclines me to listen to them. It makes me favorably inclined to them, as does the fact that they have a substantial economic presence in the city and they have a giant history of taking care of their buildings," says Callow. "I am neither a bubble boy or a virgin. I see what they do with their buildings."

Bubble boy, virgin, flamethrower. Whatever you call the man, it appears that for as long as St. Francis and the Rainmaker can manage it, they want to keep Callow on their crew. Early on, Callow backed Freeman Bosley Jr. and then Clarence Harmon before jumping off each sinking ship, though some would say he shot holes in the hulls and then jumped off those ships. So the urge to keep Callow on board is understandable but dangerous. But have they considered tossing him overboard?

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