The Wright Stuff

Mayor Adrian Wright knows what's right for Pine Lawn. If folks don't like it, that's just tough.

Metts was also denied a place on the ballot last April because she had an unpaid trash bill. Metts says the bill is under the name of her husband and his first wife, who died several years back. "I don't care if her name isn't on the bill," Janet Wright says. "Everybody knows she lives there and hasn't paid her trash bill for years." So Metts had to go through the county and register as a write-in candidate. "When you are a write-in candidate," she says, "right from the beginning you are already at a disadvantage."

At the same time, Janet Wright certified candidate John O'Kain, even though he didn't live in Pine Lawn. According to personal-property-tax records, O'Kain lived at 3437 St. Olaf Dr. in Berkeley as late as May 22. And even though O'Kain ran for Ward 3 alderman, the county's voter-registration records show he lived at 3743 Sylvan Pl., which is in Ward 2.

Mayor Wright says the conflicting addresses were just technicalities, but assistant St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bart Calhoun didn't agree. Calhoun told Pine Lawn's city attorney, in a letter dated March 13, that O'Kain didn't meet the residency requirement to be a legitimate candidate in Pine Lawn. But Janet Wright left O'Kain on the ballot after he signed a sworn affidavit saying he lived in Pine Lawn. The mayor, who swore O'Kain into office, explains: "Now, he is a single young man -- I don't know where he sleeps, but he has been registered to vote well over a year. If he says Pine Lawn is where he lives, then I believe him."

Danny Hellman
Rose Griffin: "People were tampering with the write-in ballots. I saw them doing it, but nobody from the election board ever came."
Jennifer Silverberg
Rose Griffin: "People were tampering with the write-in ballots. I saw them doing it, but nobody from the election board ever came."

So familiar are the political antics in Pine Lawn that the mere mention of the city's name is enough to elicit an audible groan at the St. Louis County Election Commission. "We were just saying we hadn't heard from Pine Lawn in about two weeks," says Judy Taylor, commission director. "I guess we spoke too soon. You can count on every April there will be a few people coming in here because the city clerk won't take their filings. The last two years, it seems like it has gotten worse."

Even when they manage to get on the ballot, it seems, Wright's opponents are not satisfied. Horskins, Metts and Griffin all charge that election irregularities sway the vote in Wright's favor, even though the election commission has never found any evidence supporting this claim. "Oh, I know there was voter fraud," Griffin says. "I called the Board of Elections seven times during the election, telling them people were tampering with the write-in ballots. I saw them doing it, but nobody from the election board ever came."

"The election judges are picked by the mayor's wife," Metts says. "I was a write-in candidate, and a number of people voted for me and the judges told them, 'You can't do that,' and wouldn't put the ballots with my name on it in the box."

Horskins says that more than 130 ballots weren't counted: "We had our own Florida here, I am telling you. If they had counted those ballots, I know I would have won. I never got a really good reason why they didn't count them."

Taylor groans at the exaggeration. She has explained this before but patiently goes over it once again: Of the 499 ballots cast in the mayoral race, 475 were tabulated. The other 24 ballots were disqualified. Even then, Wright was the clear winner, with 283 votes to Horskins' 192. Metts had 24 votes to O'Kain's 83 -- so even if the 42 disqualified ballots had been counted, she would have lost. Taylor says, "Some people in Pine Lawn get it in their minds that something is going on and nothing can sway them from that, not even the facts."

The fact that Wright and his allies keep winning, over and over, evidently doesn't matter to Pine Lawn's vocal dissidents, says Sylvester Caldwell, an alderman since 1994. "Let's be for real," he says. "What you have here is a handful of people; it is just 12 folks. If it was more than that, how come Adrian Wright just got re-elected? Most of the citizens of Pine Lawn are satisfied."

Leroy Brown is one of Pine Lawn's satisfied residents. On a crisp Saturday afternoon, Leroy's Barber Shop is humming with activity. The whir of razors mixes with steady hip-hop beats and conversation. All 11 barber chairs are full. More customers wait their turns. "Most of them don't vote," Brown says as he surveys the shop, which is overflowing with young people. Brown, who has lived in Pine Lawn most of his life, does. He doesn't know enough details about the state audit to offer an opinion. He doesn't know whether he even cares. As far as he is concerned, Wright is doing a good job. "He helped clean up the mess on Jennings Station Road," Brown says. "The crime was getting really bad, but now it's safe. He sincerely seems to care for the city. It is a tough job, but he is doing an excellent job with what he has to work with."

William Parks, another resident, agrees: "I had problems with him before because of the trash bill, but now I think he is doing a good job. I voted for him again, so that says something." He shrugs. "But really, you don't know how good that guy is until you see someone do it better."

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