Open Season

You donít need a single reason to recall your alderman, especially in north St. Louis

St. Louis is not alone in the recall game. Cities across the nation have seen a surge of "copy-cat" efforts following the well-publicized ouster of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003.

This past February, Kansas City Councilwoman Saundra McFadden-Weaver survived what was thought to be that city's first recall election in 80 years. Like the north St. Louis aldermen facing recall, McFadden-Weaver represents a predominately African-American district of Kansas City known for its unemployment and crime. Partially in a response to that recall, the city council of Kansas City is considering a change to its charter that would require people seeking a recall to state specific grounds for recalling the elected official.

Like St. Louis aldermen, Kansas City council members can be recalled without reason.

Privately, several St. Louis aldermen complain the city's recall process should be reviewed, if not revamped completely, but they're reluctant to address the topic for fear of appearing self-serving. They argue the specter of a recall compromises their ability to effectively serve their constituents. They also believe the city's decline in population -- from 856,000 in 1950 to 348,000 in 2000 -- has made it easier to mount a recall, which requires signatures from 20 percent of the ward's registered voters during the previous mayoral election. In Boyd's ward, that's 1,600 signatures. In Bosley's case, it's 1,400.

Saint Louis University political science professor Ken Warren says recall petitions throughout the nation generally require signatures from 12 to 45 percent of registered voters. But regardless of whether they succeed or fail, Warren argues, recalls never miss their mark.

"Most recalls are not successful, 'cause most are bullshit," says Warren. "They're trying to remove an official without waiting for an election as a way to tarnish that person in the media. It's a dirty way to sully someone's reputation."

The spate of recalls has not escaped the notice of Board of Aldermen President Jim Shrewsbury, who says the people's right to recall must be maintained but questions the motives of several recent petitions.

"Most of the recalls have simply been continuations of political campaigns or battles between various factions in the ward, and that's what you see with Bosley and Boyd," says Shrewsbury.

Others say it's simply a matter of race and class.

"Why are these recalls occurring predominately in north St. Louis? Because African Americans are more sophisticated in the application of the political process," maintains Jones. "Because of the historic repression they've endured, they've had to find ways to address their issues and concerns in a more sophisticated, calculated manner."

But for Boyd, who's spent much of his term fending off attacks from Jones and Ozier, it's the people -- not the system -- who are being manipulated.

"In my mind, you're able to take advantage of people in north St. Louis because they're more concerned about jobs and getting bills paid than they are with politics," says Boyd.

"When someone goes into a bad neighborhood and points to the vacant homes lining the streets and says, 'We need to get rid of these vacant homes and the alderman isn't doing anything about it,' you're going to be easily seduced. But the reality is as an alderman you can't do something on every block. You get a few hundred thousand dollars in block grants to work with, and your ward has $100 million in need. Now how are you going to please everyone?"

Echoes Bosley: "Why are these recalls going on in north city? 'Cause we're fighting over the scraps."

Bosley estimates north St. Louis has lost $37 million in private investment and federal aid since 2003, when shifts in the city's population moved the Twentieth Ward from north to south city. The political shift left a power vacuum in north city that's yet to be filled.

"There's always someone lurking under the table. That's just human nature," muses Bosley. "But the redistricting of the wards, that took away some of my best voters."

Still, when it comes to defending his home turf, the inveterate alderman doesn't shy away from a game of political hardball every now and then. In June the home of his political adversary, Jeffrey Hardin, was foreclosed upon by the bank. Bosley says he plans to purchase the house with neighborhood block-grant funds and resell it to a stable homeowner.

"I'm not doing it out of spite," Bosley insists. "It would simply be a mistake on my part as an alderman to let some speculator get ahold of it and turn it into Section 8 housing. I'm doing it for the betterment of the neighborhood."

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