Dollar for Dollar

The politics of Vince Schoemehl's fundraiser for Frankie the Saint

There's nothing like a master politician throwing a double message with the smooth delivery of a single pitch.

Former St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl, known to his poker pals as Vinny One-Game, did just that by holding a modest little fundraiser at the Bistro last week for current Mayor Francis Slay.

The booty wasn't all that bountiful. But the political points underscored by Vinny's little fête were. By putting some money into Frankie's political coffers, Schoemehl dampened speculation about his own mayoral ambitions and fears among Slay's handlers that he is the de facto head of the not-so-loyal opposition, a ready critic of a mayor who is about to cross the midterm of his rookie administration without having assembled a track record of accomplishment.

"You have to view it in the context of it being early in the mayor's administration, and this is a good way to show the mayor that he's a part of his team," says one former city official.

Of course, the short-term focus of this fundraiser is Vinny One-Game's newest enthusiasm -- a colossal Chicago-style tax increment—financing district for Grand Center, which is Schoemehl's current perch in the political arena, a position strongly backed by St. Louis University president Lawrence Biondi [Jim Nesbitt, "Terrible Twins," June 16].

Vinny needs Slay's support to shepherd this novel—to—St. Louis plan to pump a steady stream of dedicated tax revenue into a $300 million bundle of projects aimed at revitalizing Grand Center over the next fifteen years or so. Specifically, Vinny needs Slay's backing to help get his Grand Center dreamchild past city Comptroller Darlene Green, who prefers using TIFs on a project-by-project basis.

Slay, of course, needs a Big Win for an administration that has seen little but setbacks and stallball, including the dead-on-arrival effort to secure state money for a new Cardinal baseball stadium and the troubled plan to renovate the Old Post Office.

But Frankie doesn't need that win badly enough to hand another laurel of civic action to a suspected critic and potential rival, particularly Schoemehl, a one-man dynamo of vision with moves as smooth as an Isadora Duncan pirouette. So Vinny needed to convince Frankie that he really isn't that bad a guy at all. And what better way to do this than with the green milk of politics -- money -- and a strong public statement of support backing the mayor's shaky play?

Vinny, who loudly denies any ambition to be mayor again, says his fundraiser was not quid pro quo for Slay's support of his plan.

"The mayor was committed to this long before the fundraiser," Schoemehl says. "The purpose of this was to send the message that I'm supportive of his efforts to revitalize the city. I think it was a successful event, and people expressed their gratitude to the mayor for the leadership he's providing the city."

Slay allies such as License Collector Gregg F.X. Daly are also making nice.

"You got a former mayor and a current mayor, and it's a great idea for them to come together," Daly says. "They share a wealth of knowledge and a vision for this city."

Proud members of Vinny's old court privately amplify this message, noting that although Slay still needs a big-ticket project to put on his résumé -- hell, at this point, he needs anything he can get -- the current mayor is still way ahead of the game simply because he isn't Clarence Harmon or Freeman Bosley Jr.

"There is sort of this comparative benefit that Francis is getting versus Harmon and Bosley -- the feeling that at least there's a serious effort afoot to do business in St. Louis," says a Vinny One-Game acolyte. "Francis needs one big score, but you got to remember that organizationally, City Hall just had its gloves down. You can't imagine how much catch-up he's had to do just on organization."

Other sharpies who aren't in Vinny's camp trot out a similar line, noting Frankie's tireless appearances at neighborhood meetings and other civic gatherings.

"People are seeing him," says one veteran of the aldermanic wars, "and that's significantly different from Harmon and Bosley."

And this from another veteran pol: "Is Slay a 100 percenter? No, but you know what? He is infinitely better than the last two guys."

To put it politely: Horseshit. This city is nearing the end of the second year of Frankie the Saint's administration, and the best argument that can be made on his behalf is the same one he campaigned on -- he's the Un-Harmon and the Anti-Bosley?

That and the fact that Frankie tirelessly shows up at every dog-christening and calf-birthing in town, including a recent ribbon-cutting on South Grand Boulevard for the new Kabob International restaurant, are not the keys to building a sterling record.

Frankie the Saint has yet to get untracked.

True, he's established a derelict-housing program, devoting cops and a special court to the ceaseless task of chasing down slumlords and forcing them to fix up their eyesores. But he hasn't tackled major issues such as taxes and schools. And when he has made an attempt -- most notably on crime, which he tried to pin the problem on lenient judges -- it's blown up in his face [Nesbitt, "Crime Story," July 24].

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