The Resurrection of Carl Officer

East St. Louisí prodigal son is back ó but is he the man to save Sin City?

Carl Officer the boy mayor had a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules. Critics love to dredge up the time he was pulled over by state troopers on Interstate 57 for driving in excess of 100 miles per hour in a buddy's Jaguar, citing the incident as proof of Officer's impatient tendency to put his own self-interest above the greater good.

Moore, a long-time friend of the Officer family, offers a more nuanced theory. "It's not that he doesn't care about people," she says. "He just cares about Carl more."

Jennifer Silverberg
When people speak of the change that's occurred in 
Carl Officer, they inevitably circle back to his wife, 
Lisa, and his four-year-old daughter, Carli.
Jennifer Silverberg
When people speak of the change that's occurred in Carl Officer, they inevitably circle back to his wife, Lisa, and his four-year-old daughter, Carli.

"If we didn't have the financial problems," says Chamber of Commerce honcho Norman Ross, "his flamboyance would have been a positive asset."

A trip from city hall to inspect a firehouse in a neighborhood near downtown reveals that the mayor's lead foot still rests heavy on the gas pedal. He's not red-lining his Cadillac on State Street, though; it glides past motorists and pedestrians just slowly enough to put its driver on the receiving end of countless honks and admiring waves.

At 14th and State Officer points to the corner where he got in his first primary-school scuffle. The way he tells it, his father made him take accordion lessons, for which young Carl was subjected to an endless amount of ridicule from his schoolmates. When at last he resolved to throw down with his belittlers, he realized his instrument had a fringe benefit. "After wearing a couple brothers out with that accordion case," the mayor punch-lines, "I didn't have another fight until high school."

Still, Officer subsequently switched to the (much cooler) saxophone.

Engine Company 422 looks deserted as Officer pulls into the driveway. The firehouse suffered significant damage a few months back in -- irony of ironies -- a fire, and Officer has come with his friend and insurance agent, Chris Hudlin, to assess whether reconstruction funds are being spent wisely. Almost as soon as they shake hands, the firefighter in charge has Officer steaming about two municipal gaffes: First, the entryway isn't high enough to allow clearance for some new trucks the city has just purchased. And second, while the station is equipped with computers, the city has not yet supplied the software necessary to file reports electronically.

"What do y'all use them for, besides solitaire?" Officer inquires.

"Nothing," replies the fireman, proceeding to rattle off a rundown of what he sees as administrative shortcomings, among them a scarcity of grant money for staff development and recruitment.

"There's not a grant writer in East St. Louis," mutters the mayor. "But we have fifteen people in the TIF department. Belleville has one. We just create jobs for people, and they don't do shit."

This is part of what Officer sees as the city's ongoing inability to properly allocate staff resources, a situation he lays at the feet of Powell and Jackson and their handpicked city manager, Alvin Parks. To alleviate such problems, Officer is sponsoring an April 5 ballot measure that would eventually return East St. Louis to the strong mayor/aldermanic form of government.

The proposal stands a good chance of passing, which scares the heck out of Powell, who views the move as a potentially disastrous reversion to the maladies of the first Officer administration.

"Pick up and go," says the city council member when asked what advice he'd offer East St. Louisans if Officer's measure passes.

Officer's former deputy mayor, Lamar Gentry, sees both sides of this coin.

"Carl's got great ideas, but he has to have people around him who can bring him back to earth," says Gentry, who served as city manager from 1994 until 1996 under Mayor Gordon Bush. "He wasn't an administrator. He's a big-picture type of person. When he started trying to handle the meticulous stuff, that's what got him into trouble. He sort of lost focus and was frustrated."

Carl maintains he's not that Carl anymore -- a notion the likes of Charlie Powell, Eddie Jackson and John Baricevic flatly reject. So it should come as no surprise that Officer's main focus these days is convincing voters to boot Powell and Jackson out of office.

"We got to exorcise these brothers," he says to a crowd of about 50 at a pre-primary campaign rally masquerading as a town-hall meeting. "In the last two years, we've had 55 special meetings, which means 'stuff we don't want you to know about.' We're going to spend a couple million dollars on Thursday at noon that you won't know about. Is that the kind of government you want? Follow the money. We need city councilpersons who cannot be bought. They ain't gonna stop until you stop 'em."

As if on cue, a woman in the crowd shouts, "Beat the machine! Beat the machine!"

The results of the February 22 primary election provided evidence that Officer is getting his point across. While Jackson came out on top with 2,127 out of 4,981 votes cast amid light (20 percent) turnout, Marion finished a surprisingly close second (2,098 votes) ahead of Powell (1,995 votes). Anderson cracked the final four, with 1,529 votes. The four remaining candidates split 1,482 votes, the bulk of which will likely go to Officer's "Renaissance Team" slate. That gives Anderson an outside chance of trumping both Powell and Jackson come April 5. Marion is sitting pretty, and Officer would need only one of his chosen candidates to emerge victorious in order to tilt the city council's three-to-two majority in his direction.

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