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Martin says he merely "cleaned house" in a "moribund" institution. Others called it a purge of experienced liberals.
Established in the '60s, the Human Rights Commission began as a band of priests doing civil rights work. It soon expanded to enlist lay people and broadened its scope to champion labor, immigrant and environmental causes. The commission enjoyed such broad autonomy during the '80s, in fact, that its positions didn't always align with those of the more conservative archdiocesan central office.
All that changed under Rigali.
In February 1998, the archbishop reached a compromise with disgruntled Catholic elementary school teachers: They could have more say over wages and benefits, but not unionize. But when the commission issued a statement supporting a teachers' union, it was rebuffed and muffled from public comment.
Rigali subsequently ignored the commission's written suggestions for selecting a new director and hired Ed Martin instead.
Martin was 28 years old. He'd never managed people before.
"They brought us all in, and Ed handed out his résumé," remembers Angie O'Gorman, then a Human Rights Office employee. "It showed a noticeable lack of work experience and knowledge of the social-justice teachings of the Church. There was widespread concern about that."
As Martin remembers it, the Human Rights Office had dominant personalities that were "grandstanding" for fringe labor issues, such as strawberry workers. "Not much was being done," he says. "It had gotten too far left for no good reason."
On one occasion, O'Gorman recalls, Haitian activists informed the staff that soccer balls exported from their Carribean island were manufactured with child labor. The activists pleaded for the archdiocese to stop buying them. Afterward, O'Gorman says, Martin expressed a reluctance to "rock the boat" with the procurement office, but promised he'd consult with the supervising bishop.
Nothing ever came of it.
"The desire to protect the procurement office from grappling with the soccer-ball issue was just one example of Ed trying to protect the status quo," explains O'Gorman. "Ed's allegiance was to — and Rigali's interest was in — protecting the business sector from demands of the Church's social justice teaching."
Today, Martin proudly ticks off his accomplishments as director. He increased funding for the pro-life programs, while defunding groups such as ProVote, a progressive political-activist coalition. He says he strengthened ties with the National Black Catholic Congress, and coordinated a meeting between Rosa Parks and John Paul II during the papal visit of 1999. (The Pope, he notes, remembered him.)
Martin also funneled resources to the prison ministry and Catholic Charities, which O'Gorman considered a good thing — but beside the point.
"The point of the Human Rights Office was social-change work, to help people become conscious of the way that society is organized to cause oppression," she says. "I'm not sure [Ed] understood the difference between social justice and charity."
As for the personnel changes, Martin says, "We didn't get rid of everybody. Some people moved on, and some people we pushed on."
O'Gorman says that Martin "decimated" the office, adding: "It was hard to tell what he was doing on his own and what he was doing at the request of the archbishop."
Today, according to the archdiocese, the tasks of the Human Rights Office have been absorbed by Catholic Charities.
In April 2002, U.S. Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond, the Missouri Republican, brought an English springer spaniel onto the Senate floor in Washington, D.C. Making the case for national election reform, he wanted all to meet Ritzy. She'd been registered to vote in St. Louis.
The city had a bad reputation for voting irregularities, but the November 2000 election was truly a farce. Hundreds of citizens showed up to vote but found their names had been mistakenly dropped from the rolls. When a judge ordered an emergency extension of voting hours, a higher state court quickly reversed it — but folks kept voting anyway.
By the end of Election Day, Bond was pounding his fist on a lectern, declaring the whole thing "an outrage." Yet the problems persisted into the next year, when two prominent aldermen registered to vote — despite being dead.
In 2003, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board blasted the Board of Election Commissioners as an "unconscionable mess," where patronage employees "who owe their allegiance to politicians have never been known for their devotion to long hours and hard work."
Enter Ed Martin.
He'd been busy since leaving the archdiocese, clerking for a federal appeals court judge, getting married, having a baby and practicing law at Bryan Cave. Governor Matt Blunt appointed him to chair the bipartisan board in May 2005.
Within three months, Martin and his two fellow commissioners had fired or demoted seven top staffers, including some Republicans. They refined the duties of those remaining with a clear message: Do your job, or lose your job. Martin also handed over evidence of voter fraud to the authorities.
Even Democrats who wouldn't dream of supporting Martin's current bid for Congress give him props for his tenure as chairman.
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