Some mayors employ wily spokesmen who can land even the dullest of messages on a newspaper's front page. Others are quote-masters, with reporters scribbling down their every word.
Mayor Francis Slay doesn't bother with any of that to get his message out. He just blogs.
Our earnest, old-fashioned mayor hadn't heard of blogs a mere year ago. Then his campaign flack, Richard Callow, suggested he launch one while stumping in the last election. Slay got hooked. "I think more people ought to be doing it," he chuckles.
The mayor beefed up the blog (found at www.mayorslay.com) as soon as he reclaimed his office in April. Less gossipy than before, his mix of cheeky and do-good dispatches span the gamut from correcting Post-Dispatch stories to quoting from tomes of local interest to reporting on downtown ribbon-cuttings and flower-plantings.
"A lot of it is stuff that I would never get in the newspaper, at least my newspaper," notes Post-Dispatch city hall reporter Jake Wagman.
Political cyber-experts say that the blog confers Slay's membership in a small, eclectic gang of tech-savvy elected officials: Carbondale, Illinois, city councilwoman Sheila Simon blogs, and so does Los Angeles' new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
But Slay goes further than his peers with his Web site. He polls. He podcasts. And soon he'll stream live chats between himself and citizens.
The mayor professes he hasn't a clue what the latter two cyber-gadgets actually do. No matter, given all the content is dreamed up by the ever-clever Callow, who oversees the electronic show for free.
"How cool is it that there's this crowd of people out there who don't know each other but that the mayor talks to every day?" says Callow, owner of St. Louis public relations firm Public Eye. "The theology of it is what fascinates me. That's why I do this."
Critics carp about the "snarky" tone the cyber-items sometimes take. "I don't know if that's the image the mayor wants to portray," says Post-Dispatch business columnist Martin Van Der Werf.
But it's the mini-polls that have most people chattering.
"Check out the propaganda at the parking meter poll," wrote a member of one St. Louis listserv recently. "Are you telling me St. Louisans are voting for HIGHER meter rates, and that they don't want to get rid of some of the frivolously placed meters in the city?!"
"This is bullshit!" says Ken Warren, pollster and Saint Louis University political science professor, letting out a laugh as he scans the poll topics (eminent domain, downtown's Richard Serra sculpture, Slay's summer vacation plans). "Internet polls are misleading."
Not to worry, says Slay. Poll data doesn't get used to devise policy. Slay did see the Black-Eyed Peas play Fair St. Louis, thanks to readers' suggestions.
"We would consider doing a mini-poll on my wardrobe," the mayor deadpans. "Would I comply with the results? I can't tell you."
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