Slay Bells Ring

Are you listening? The RFT goes stumping with Francis.

At 10:45 the car arrives at New Mount Missionary Baptist Church on the city's north side. Slay has come not to worship but to merely say a quick hello. He waits in the hallway as devotions are read.

"I'm surprised to see you here," gushes a churchgoer on her way into the sanctuary. Slay then moves into the Reverend Donald Hunter's spacious office, where he emphasizes that there will be no note-taking -- "out of respect." Callow engages Hunter in small talk while Slay circles the room, inspects its eclectic accoutrements and glances at his watch. He seems preoccupied.

At Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church half an hour later, worshippers greet Slay with murmurs and "yes'm"s. Slay at last reveals a toothy smile. The mayor recently named Pleasant Grove's pastor, Courtney Jones, to the St. Louis Airport Commission, and Jones thanks Slay for the job. Jones remembers a morning several years ago when picketers stood outside protesting the church's renovations. "Within an hour of my call to the mayor, they were gone," the pastor says. Slay, meanwhile, elicits a standing ovation after paraphrasing John F. Kennedy's line about serving one's country.

The man who would be mayor (again): Francis Slay 
isn't too worried about the election.
Jennifer Silverberg
The man who would be mayor (again): Francis Slay isn't too worried about the election.

Several hours later Slay arrives for the day's final appointment, at the Central West End apartment of Toby and David Newburger. Up on the eighth floor, the art is modern and the napkins a bright Democratic blue. David, an attorney, is a member of the Tax Increment Financing Commission and a former chairman of the Advisory Committee on Disability Law Compliance for the U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri. Many of his guests -- leaders from the disability-rights community -- air concerns about certain city employees, which prompts Slay to repeatedly block bystanders with his backside. Tim Embree, a preppy Marine reservist and the campaign's number-two fundraiser, doesn't mind whoring for press: "Hey, I'll take you to the Cardinals' opener if you're nice to us."

The following morning, February 28, a dozen folks listen to Slay tout his record of increased downtown development. Hosting the fundraiser at the Coronado Place apartment building on Lindell Boulevard are developers Amy and Amrit Gill. Movie magnate Harman Moseley, who got home at midnight after an Academy Awards party, stands in the back of the room, complaining of the early hour and chomping on some bacon. "You have to be brave to wear this," he adds, pointing to his lime green-and-pink plaid shirt.

Slay is rattled by the day's news that Federated Department Stores Inc. has bought the St. Louis-based May Department Stores Company, a merger that could result in the loss of up to 4,000 jobs. The mayor turns his unhappiness on the media -- the Riverfront Times in particular. He says he doesn't read the RFT anymore, owing to his displeasure with the paper's coverage of the early years of his administration. "They had trashy articles," he says.

Slay waits his turn at the city-hall security checkpoint, then sprints up the grand stairway with the police detail in tow. Talking points must be reviewed. A press conference awaits. Various city employees and leaders have already gathered inside the mayor's lair. Reverend B.T. Rice stands next to framed portraits of First Pooches Riley and Sophie. "I didn't see my name on the endorsement list in the St. Louis American, and I thought, 'Oh, no, I wonder if the mayor's mad at me,'" he says when Slay approaches.

"Naw, that's....." Slay gropes for a response and pats Rice's elbow.

At noon Slay disappears for a private strategy lunch. "The mayor is meeting with someone who could be an important campaign ally," confides Callow. The mayor has already bagged the endorsements of 27 aldermen and a slew of city and state government officials. Who might the potential ally be? Nelly?

Callow has no comment.

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