She lays the Blackberry on the table.

"What else has she voted for in the past?" she asks, louder than usual as she leans toward the phone.

"You know what, the list is endless," responds Casey, his voice crackling over the line. "Her allegiance to — I mean, I really think that it's more to the Republicans than it is to us."

State Representative Jamilah Nasheed: I'm 
black before I'm a Democrat.
Jennifer Silverberg
State Representative Jamilah Nasheed: I'm black before I'm a Democrat.
State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal is one of many Democrats who question Nasheed's loyalty to the party.
Jennifer Silverberg
State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal is one of many Democrats who question Nasheed's loyalty to the party.

Nasheed started biting at the Democratic party her first year in office. In 2007 she was the only elected official to publicly support a recall of Mayor Slay, after he demoted the first black fire chief in St. Louis history.

A few months later she looked to pass her first piece of legislation, a bill to make students in the city's unaccredited school district eligible for the state-funded A+ Scholarship Program. It passed the House easily but was kicked back for another vote after the Senate added a provision that allowed the scholarships to be used at Ranken Technical College, a private vocational school. The teachers union protested what they saw as a "voucher bill," the Democrats voted with them, and the bill failed. Nasheed couldn't believe it. Her party had turned against her bill, turned against her.

But it was still early in the day. Using an obscure procedural rule, she had a chance to bring the bill back to the floor. She just needed to get the votes first.

So she called a friend, a lobbyist for Anheuser-Busch who had some pull with the GOP. The lobbyist made a few phone calls. Then the bill was voted on again. It needed 82 votes and passed with 90, with Republicans filling the holes left by the Democrats. But Nasheed was still pissed. She vowed to get back at the Democrats by voting against them on whatever bill was next on the agenda, which happened to be a controversial proposal to repeal limits on campaign contributions.

"It got to 81 votes, and there was a long pause, because they weren't able to get that 82," Nasheed says. "I said, 'Bam!' and pushed 82, and the Democrats go, 'Noooo!' I mean, it was just like a roar. 'No, Jamilah! Nooo! Don't do it! Don't do it! Don't do it!' And the majority leader was like, 'Change that! Change it!' I was like, 'Where were you guys when I needed you just a second ago?' That's when all hell broke loose with me and the Democrats. It hasn't been the same since."

Rumors swirled that Nasheed traded her vote on the campaign-limits bill for Republican support on the scholarship bill. She denies that this was the case.

"I swear to God no one came to me. I didn't cut any deals," she says. "At that point I was just mad."

The rumors, though, have never quite subsided. In April, the St. Louis American reported that anonymous Democrats accused Nasheed of giving Republicans votes in exchange for being named chair of the Urban Affairs Committee (which Tilley calls untrue and absurd). The American noted, "It is no secret that Nasheed... has been making deals with Republicans."

Her critics note that, while the vast majority of her votes align with Democrats, Nasheed went against party lines on three high-profile bills. She was one of fourteen Democrats to vote for a bill restricting abortions after twenty weeks (she is pro-life), one of eight Democrats to vote for a compromise on puppy-mill regulations and one of four Democrats to vote for the Republican-sponsored redistricting bill that would eliminate the seat of Democrat congressman Russ Carnahan.

The latter stirred the most trouble. Nasheed and three other members of the Black Caucus said that they were willing to lose a Democratic seat so long as they could protect Clay's seat. Nasheed famously reasoned, "I'm black before I'm a Democrat." Democratic leadership considered kicking them out of the party's caucus, but the membership voted it down.

Meanwhile, her ties with Republicans have been useful considering they hold a two-thirds majority in the state House and a three-fourths majority in the state Senate. In addition to the scholarships, she was able to secure more than $1 million in state funding for a dropout recovery program and a science and math tutoring center. And when local control reached the floor, her GOP colleagues across the aisle went to bat for her.


The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is run by the five-member Board of Police Commissioners. One member is the mayor. The other four are citizens appointed by the governor. While the city determines the department's budget, the police commissioners decide how the money gets doled out — from what new strategies should be enforced to who gets laid off.

Which is a problem for the man in Room 200 of St. Louis City Hall.

"If the citizens have a problem with the department, if something goes wrong, people call the mayor," says Mayor Slay. "And that's the way it should be. That's the way it is everywhere else. But I'm one of five members on a police board, and, in many cases where it counts, the mayor will get outvoted."

Slay describes one time when a board member (whom he wouldn't name) held the city's public safety hostage in order to squeeze more money from the budget for the department.

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