North Side Pitch

Jennifer Joyce crosses the racial divide to walk the streets and talk about crime

But she's also listening to a North Side mother who says she sleeps in a bathtub with her children so they won't get hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by. Such actions win her hard-to-get goodwill among neighborhood activists such as Mary Taylor and old political bulls like Bosley Sr.

In this culturally conservative town with deep Catholic traditions, she's also opened up investigations of priests accused of sexual abuse, although she also gets dinged for dragging her feet on the issue. And shortly after launching a probe into allegations of North Side vote fraud, she called a press conference to knock down rampant rumors that the investigation centered on Freeman Bosley Jr., the city's first African-American mayor and son of the 3rd Ward alderman. Most South Side pols would have let the rumors run on unchecked, leaving Bosley to twist in the wind -- just because that's how racial politics are played here.

Playing it different wins her unqualified praise from both Bosleys -- cause enough for teeth to grate on the South Side.

Jennifer Joyce hugs Mary Taylor, 3rd Ward Neighborhood Council president.
Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Joyce hugs Mary Taylor, 3rd Ward Neighborhood Council president.

"She's the best one we've ever had," Bosley Sr. said at the neighborhood meeting, serving up his predictable mix of colorful overstatement. "She's out here because she has heard the problems of the people who live here.... I have never seen the other ones [Joyce's predecessors] get out of the ivory tower."

In an earlier conversation with the Speedloader, he said: "She's seeing firsthand why people don't believe in the justice system and why people are frustrated and disgusted with the system. She's come out of her office and walked the streets so she can see it for herself and understand why this cry is coming so strongly from the community that things are not getting done."

This is what Bosley's son says: "She really stepped into the breach when she called that press conference and said I wasn't involved. That's something nobody white in this city has ever done.... As opposed to her siding with the white people, she stepped up and called it like it was."

But the Boz also notes that the Shark's North Side shuttles buy her some political insurance for the re-election battle to come. She won her first race by only a couple thousand votes and faced opposition from two African-American former assistant circuit attorneys, Jerryl Christmas and Rufus Tate.

"She hears footsteps, but it's a good political move for her to do this, coming up to the North Side," says the Boz, holding court at Big Jake's, his barbecue restaurant on Delmar Boulevard, and noting that St. Louis is 53 percent African-American. "It's not going to get any whiter -- it's going to get blacker.... Part of the potential of someone like her is the potential of expanding beyond her established base. If she can cultivate a little support in the central corridor and the North Side, you'd see a much more emboldened circuit attorney."

Political players say the Shark is swimming a very thin line: She needs to cultivate support on the North Side and take care not to be tagged as a tool of Slay and the South Siders, but she must not stray too far from her base and invite a challenge from her political backyard.

"The North Side is not monolithic," says one sharpie. "There are a bunch of people up there who want somebody to take care of business when it comes to crime. It isn't just about race.... If Jennifer just plays it straight -- 'My job is to be colorblind when it comes to justice; my job is to prosecute people who deserve prosecuting' -- she can sell herself."

The Shark recognizes the North Side liability of her South Side roots but rejects the notion that her visits are a political ploy.

"I faced some hurdles when I got elected, since I was raised and have spent most of my life in South St. Louis," she says. "People [on the North Side] viewed me with some suspicion. Getting to see me, me getting to see them -- it's important. They're initially surprised to see me, but then they're glad to see me."

She paints herself in even tones. She says her travels to crime-dogged areas of the North Side -- and not every street is in the crosshairs -- are just as important as her visits to other chaos-plagued neighborhoods.

"I'm the circuit attorney for all of St. Louis," she says. "The crime issue is like the Pacific Ocean -- I have no illusion that I'm going to eradicate it. But if I can alleviate it in some places where people are raising their children, that's important."

Lizz Brown -- lawyer, WGNU-AM talk-show host and frequent critic of Joyce and all things South Side -- sees the Shark's North Side trips as so much window dressing.

"The more accurate assessment of Jennifer Joyce's connection with and commitment to the community would be the people of African descent hired by her," Brown says. "Coming into the black community and saying 'I'm going to crack down on crime' plays well -- on the South Side."

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