She tells the audience how she got the local-control bill passed out of the Missouri House of Representatives for the first time in 150 years. She tells them how it never reached the Senate floor because it was "held hostage" by outstate senators with no stake in the issue who demanded tax reform. She tells them that the battle's not over yet and that the bill will pass if it's brought up in the special session in September. But she doesn't tell them that she cried that night in May when the bill died.

No, now is not the time to show weakness. These are her people, and she is their leader, fighting for them in Jefferson City against the overwhelming forces — Democrat and Republican — trying to keep their bootstraps buried in concrete.

The people trust her because they know she is one of them. She hustled and brawled and scrapped through the projects, got locked up in juvenile hall for stabbing somebody, dropped out of high school and then somehow reached political office, where she is now working to steer her people's daughters and nephews and grandkids away from the life she escaped.

Will Francis Slay be the first St. Louis mayor in 150 years to bring police control back to city hall?
Jennifer Silverberg
Will Francis Slay be the first St. Louis mayor in 150 years to bring police control back to city hall?
"With each passing day [local control] looks more and more likely," says Jeff Roorda, who was in charge of protecting police officers' benefits in local-control negotiations.
Jennifer Silverberg
"With each passing day [local control] looks more and more likely," says Jeff Roorda, who was in charge of protecting police officers' benefits in local-control negotiations.

So now she hustles and brawls and scraps through Jefferson City. She represents the most dangerous district in the most dangerous city in America, a district that is liberal and black in a state that leans conservative and white. Her loyalties lie only with those who can help her improve the 60th District, no matter what side of the ideological spectrum they fall on. She votes against party lines, calls the Republican Speaker of the House Steven Tilley one of her good friends and says things like, "I'm black before I'm a Democrat."

She's an outlier in American politics. In an era when partisan divides define the discourse, she is an ex-activist liberal black Muslim female who has built enough relationships across the aisle to pass the most improbable bill in Missouri history through a GOP-heavy House.

Her constituents have her back. She ran unopposed in her last reelection primary and took 75 percent of the vote two years before that. She explains to the audience how she voted against the Democrats in the U.S. Congress redistricting debate. How she was willing to let the Democrats lose a seat to ensure that Congressman William "Lacy" Clay Jr., who is black, keeps his.

"And after I did that, guess what? The progressive Democrats said, 'We're kicking you out of the caucus!'"

Oh no. Uh-uhhnnn...

"'We are taking your committeeships—'"

She pauses and nods as she sees Alderman Sam Moore in the front row pointing to his watch.

"Sam says wrap it up," she says. "Are y'all tired of listening to me?"

No ma'am...


There is a serious standing order from Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal to her staff: Call the police if Jamilah Nasheed ever enters the office.

"She has a different background than I do — less-civilized, I guess," Chappelle-Nadal says, before catching herself and rephrasing. "We have two different backgrounds. One is a little bit more cordial. And one is a little bit more street and aggressive."

Of all the Democrats who have beef with Nasheed, Chappelle-Nadal is surely the outspoken leader of the pack. She sits impeccably postured at Meshuggah Café in University City, which lies in her district. She's happy to explain why the Democrats have a problem with Nasheed.

"She confronts everyone," she calmly says, hands folded on the table. "This is her m.o. and that's how she tries to get things done. She tries to jump on people. It doesn't belong in the political process."

The women have a history. In 1998 Nasheed worked on Chappelle-Nadal's campaign. But once Nasheed got into office and started voting with the Republicans, their relationship disintegrated. It got so bad that, when the two ran into each other at a Lil Wayne concert in April, they exchanged verbal jabs. Nasheed claims (and tweeted) Chappelle-Nadal threatened to stab her, which Chappelle-Nadal denies. Nasheed calls Chappelle-Nadal "mentally unstable," which Chapelle-Nadal also denies. Tensions between the two have been particularly high since Chappelle-Nadal took a public and passionate stand against Nasheed's local-control bill, arguing that it didn't protect police officers' rights.

But to Chappelle-Nadal, Nasheed's gravest sin is "her alliance with the Republican party." She perks up as she prepares to list all those times Nasheed voted against the Democrats.

"It's just a preponderance of stuff," she says. "It's a whole bunch of stuff. Let me call Ron Casey real quick."

She picks up her Blackberry and scrolls through the address book, searching for state Representative Casey's number.

"So she's effective in the sense that she gets stuff done with the Republicans," she says, pulling the phone to her ear. "She'll say, 'Because I'm getting stuff for my people.' Her district is one of the poorest. I'm not too sure how much she's gotten...

"Hey, Ron, how are you?" she says. "I'm good, I'm good.... We're talking about Jamilah, your favorite person.... So tell me, I'm trying to remember all of the bad votes she's taken over the years.... OK, hold on, let me put you on speaker phone, hold on..."

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