Joyce Abusive

Nobody's ever voted for Joyce Aboussie, but the congressman, the governor, the mayor and the county executive don't do anything political without her.

Further payback came in loss of a lucrative consulting contract between Lacy Clay's sister and the city. Michelle Clay, an attorney, had assisted Lacy Clay in his efforts to resist the first Aboussie-designed map. Michelle Clay lost the consulting contract in May 2001, shortly after the redistricting flap.

Although there was friction on the state level with regard to redistricting, by far the biggest meltdown occurred on the Board of Aldermen. When Alderwoman Irene Smith (D-First Ward) filibustered to protest moving the Twentieth Ward to South St. Louis, she drew national media attention when it appeared that rather than give up the floor, she called staffers to shield her as she urinated into a trash can on the floor of the Board of Alderman.

Protests by Smith and Tyus proved futile. The map the board passed moved Tyus' ward to an area south of Gravois Avenue and east of Grand Boulevard, more than five miles from her home. Aboussie became embroiled in the struggle when Telephone Contact Inc. was paid $25,000 for data for a new map that was intended to be more legally defensible if the redistricting were challenged on racial grounds.

Richard Beckerman

The salt on an open wound was that Slay's office planned to ask the state Democratic Party to pay Aboussie's firm from its coffers. Tyus, whose largely black North Side ward has voted far more heavily Democratic than any largely white South Side ward, thought it outrageous that state Democratic funds would be used to justify a map that would obliterate her ward.

"This city is a pretend Democratic city," says Tyus. "If people would truly run as what they were, Francis [Slay] would be the Republican mayor that he is."

She wanted some answers. She didn't get any.

"Gephardt showed a lack of leadership," says Tyus. "He had a chance to sit down and show people it wasn't about race. If it's not about race and it's about Democrats, you don't touch the most Democratic ward in the city."

Feeling the heat, the mayor's office said that the $25,000 would be paid by donors and not by the Democratic Party, but complications involving donor limits put a stop to that approach. Aboussie's involvement and the use of state Democratic Party money sent a powerful message to African-American Democrats -- they felt their own party had turned against them in a racial rift that hasn't healed yet.

Tyus, who plans to challenge the aldermanic redistricting in court, says the map produced after Aboussie was hired "is even worse than the first one." Tyus is one of the African-American elected officials to write a letter to Democratic officeholders asking why they should support U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan in the upcoming election. Tyus and others are proposing "standing down" in that election by not voting or by voting for Carnahan's Republican opponent, Jim Talent.

Though that friction grew out of aldermanic redistricting and Aboussie didn't help matters any, Tyus still blames Aboussie's boss, Gephardt.

"She gets a bad rap," says Tyus of Aboussie. "She does her job. She protects Dick Gephardt. She does what Dick Gephardt wants, so if you don't like the things she's doing, stop blaming her and look at who the person is she works for."

"A lot of people are two-faced," says Tyus. "They grin in Joyce's face and then go behind her back and talk about her. Whatever I would to say Joyce Aboussie, I would say it to her face. If I didn't like it, I'd call Joyce Aboussie and tell her that."

Times have changed since Joyce Aboussie started her political career in 1976 as a volunteer in Dick Gephardt's first run for Congress. Times haven't changed, too.

Back in the '70s, Alex Aboussie was responsible for the fast-food joints and 7-Elevens sprouting up on the South Side. In recent years, he has been known for packaging lots and flipping them over to be QuikTrip gas-and-go stores.

Alex Aboussie was a member of the city school board in the early '60s and later held a seat on the Community Development Commission. He resigned that post after concerns were raised about conflict-of-interest issues because he profited from several land deals that came before the commission, although he always abstained from those votes.

Then as now, the Aboussie family has seemed to have someone in the political mix and someone in the mercantile world. In the '60s and '70s, when a developer or property owner in the Seventh or Ninth Ward needed a passport to get through the City Hall permit and zoning maze, the word was to hire Chuck Deeba as your lawyer. After paying a goodly sum for Deeba's legal work -- and his connections -- the permit, zoning variance or city inspection would be finagled.

With Joyce Aboussie, the dynamics are not so crass. If a person with a political jones wants to run for office on the Democratic ticket, it's best to get on her good side. One way to do that is to hire her company, Telephone Contact Inc., to do voter surveys and gain access to her famed frequent-voter lists. But before that happens, a candidate must schmooze his or her way to a position of being able to hire TCI.

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