Could the mayor's uncanny habit of making enemies wreck the charter-reform effort?

"It depends how highly engaged the public becomes in this process," Jones says. "As a general rule, elected officials in America at any level are not profiles in courage. Generally speaking, they say, 'There go my people, let me hurry that I might lead them.'"

Virvus Jones, who now is a vice president with Roberts & Roberts and one of the authors of "The Political Eye" column in the St. Louis American, believes opponents of whatever proposal makes it to the ballot in November 2004 will make Slay the issue.

"It's easier to find a bogeyman in the mayor than find fault with streamlining city government, especially when it only affects politicians. The only people who will lose their jobs are elected officials," Jones says. "It could end up being a referendum on Slay. That's the easiest target for the opposition. It's difficult to say we need 28 aldermen in a city that has 348,000 people. It's difficult to say we need all these county office holders for a city that has 348,000 people."

Jay Bevenour
Mayor Francis Slay says his job would be easier "if I did not have to go to another board to make a decision"
Gretchen Saller Poag
Mayor Francis Slay says his job would be easier "if I did not have to go to another board to make a decision"

But politics is the art of the possible. Coming up with slick PowerPoint presentations on better government structure won't mean much if the proposal doesn't get 60 percent of the vote next year.

"You would be naïve not to expect that this public engagement process won't bump into political reality," Mike Jones says. "If home rule gets defined as a partisan issue, if it gets perceived by the public as either the enhancement or diminishing of a specific political personality, then I think we've got a problem. Our job is to keep it above that."

Schoemehl believes that if the process is worked thoroughly, the charter reform vote won't turn out to be a referendum on Slay.

"I don't think the proposal will be a referendum on any individual if we do this right," Schoemehl says. The former mayor and current school-board member must have learned something from the fractious attempts at reforming the city school system. "If we have enough community process and enough community buy-in I really don't think it will be a referendum on anybody, none of the former mayors and none of the current officeholders. Making sure there's enough community buy-in will be tricky."

Others aren't so sure supporters can pull it off.

One City Hall lifer says Slay's management style, as exhibited through his chief of staff Rainford, has endangered real charter reform. It makes people wary of giving the mayor's office more power.

"If you've got a mayor that is out taking potshots at people and trying to muscle other officials, whether it's the school superintendent or the comptroller, that could be the kiss of death for charter reform," he says. "People will make the connection of a strong mayor and here we've got one who is trying to be stronger, this will just enshrine the kind of things he's trying to do. People will confuse the personality with the principle and that could be the death of anything like real charter reform."

Rainford isn't worried about his boss or the prospects for reform. "The mayor is very popular. His approval rating is far higher than the 60 percent needed to pass charter changes," the mayor's chief of staff says.

"Francis Slay is going to be mayor for another six or ten years," he adds. "This charter is going to have to last decades."

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