Songs of Shame

Slay and Rigali arias soured by lack of decisive action and bully-boy politics

You might give some serious thought to the sizzle-but-no-steak similarity between two recently orchestrated events. Both featured major soloists of the city's leadership troupe, addressing splashy scandals in their respective fiefdoms.

The first took place during a Saturday Mass at Most Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florissant, a still-smoking crater in the priests-as-child-sex-predators scandal that has been smart-bombing parishes in Boston, here and elsewhere across the country.

On March 9, St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali stepped to the pulpit where the Rev. John Hess presided until FBI agents seized his computer as part of a child-pornography investigation.

In strong tones of churchly authority, Rigali read from a letter posted at parishes across the archdiocese. He condemned "this deplorable violation of those most innocent and vulnerable among us," promised heightened vigilance and action and defended a more stringent policy that prohibits the reassignment of any priest with a "substantiated charge of abuse of a minor" to any ministry where children are present.

Now punch your rewind button until images of a full-dress press conference by Mayor Francis Slay snap into focus. St. Francis of City Hall looked crisp and tough as he announced sharp punishment for seven corrections officers and managers he deemed responsible for the escape of five felons from the suicide-plagued, escape-prone city workhouse. Among the knuckle-cracked and suspended were public-safety director Ed Bushmeyer, one of the few truly savvy wiseheads in his administration, and corrections commissioner Dora Schriro.

On the surface, the separate solos of the city's top elected official and most important clergyman seem like note-perfect PR performances, straight from the crisis-management score -- get your principal out in front of a major scandal; have him make a strong, bold statement in the glare of the TV lights; apologize and promise to zealously clean up the mess in question; back it all up with decisive action; answer all questions in a full and frank fashion.

Ahem. Slight problem with this Pavarotti-and-Domingo PR act, boys.

Neither tenor was truly out in front of his scandal. Neither Slay nor Rigali answered any and all queries thrown his way. Both dodged tiny hang-fire issues of inquisition such as:

· The total number of priests who have been rehabilitated and reassigned after preying on children for sex in the past 15 years; full disclosure of their records to present-day parishioners, here and elsewhere; and the tally of major diocese bucks rolled out for lawsuit settlements during that time. Such candor would restore the trust of the faithful.

· The unsightly image of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce having to beg for a sit-down to make sure priests accused of sexual wrongdoing have not been improperly shielded from the full prosecutorial scrutiny given everyday citizens. Such groveling is unbecoming to Joyce and only reinforces the notion that the church is above the law.

· The idiocy of chopping the credibility of the very woman brought to City Hall to clean up the corrections department instead of having her up on the podium with you and giving her stern marching orders for the cameras to record. Such a daunting task demands the verbal prestidigitation of a Professor Irwin Corey.

As Riverfront Times writer Bruce Rushton notes, Slay blew a chance to look both mayoral and smart ["Getting What You Pay For," March 6]. Instead, St. Francis showed the jakeleg shakes of a media grandstander in search of a pixel fix.

Hizzoner's choir robe of purity was further muddied by the rank political overtone of the Bushmeyer whack -- dang that green-eyed monster that grips chief of staff Jeff Rainford every time he thinks about ol' Ed and his superior management chops [D.J. Wilson, "Perfect Attendance but No Presence," March 6].

But grudges aren't the only curdled melodies in the mayor's songbook. Since taking office, Slay has shown an unseemly taste for thugball politics. He has repeatedly let slip the leash on his dogs of sleaze and bullydom -- Rainford and the shadow golem of City Hall, Richard Callow, a.k.a. the Inside of Jerry Berger's Brain.

From the homosexual sinuendo of using the Rev. Maurice Nutt police-board scandal [D.J. Wilson, "Too Good to Be True," Jan. 16] to warn off closeted rivals of political allies to the race-baiting of Cardinal stadium opponent state Rep. Jim Murphy by Rev. Earl Nance, the mayor's part-time education liaison, there doesn't seem to be a gutter the mayor won't drag a rival through. Or a flea-ridden dog he won't curl up with.

In the midst of all this ceaseless political squalor, there are some truly delicious moments -- such as Rainford's defense to Speedloader last week of the tag-team game he and mayoral mouthpiece Ed Rhode recently ran on another stadium opponent, evangelist Larry Rice, when his shelter for homeless men caught fire.

Said Rainford, defending Rhode after Rice sued him for calling his shelter a firetrap: "We're sending a message to Rev. Rice and other bullies that we're not going to roll over every time someone holds their breath and stomps their feet."

Pot. Kettle. Black.

But it's hard to find any humor in the latest blood-letting that came to light last week -- the public humiliation of Craig Heller because he had the temerity to banner a rival alternative to the mayor's blueprint for renovating the Old Post Office. Heller, the darling of the downton loft-dwelling set, and his partner, Kevin McGowan, got blackjacked by a mayoral death squad led by Callow and his girlfriend, deputy mayor Barb Geisman.

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