Former state Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks will probably make at least $36,000 a year as a retired felon

Jefferson City isn't exactly Athens on the Missouri River. Let's face it -- Mel Hancock rules, not Pericles. Being a state legislator has seldom been a lofty ambition, even years before J.B. "Jet" Banks copped a plea, resigned his Senate seat and became a convicted felon.

Take the example of Roy Toma, who many years ago was a precinct captain in the South Side's 12th Ward. A bartender by night and a patronage worker by day for the city license collector's office, Toma's real gig was working his precinct for the Democratic Party, but those in charge didn't feel he exerted himself much in that capacity. He was so bad at it that he was called in and told he would no longer be a precinct captain. Instead, the party bosses wanted him to run for state representative, with the party endorsing him. But this was Toma's response: "Why are you picking on me?"

Another tale, perhaps apocryphal, has Tom Villa telling his dad, legendary Ald. Red Villa, how he was qualified to be a state representative, to which Red replied, "Why you want to do that? We send all our bums up there."

State Reps. Paula Carter and Ron Auer, along with Steve Chalmers, don't see it that way. Apparently they all want to follow in Banks' footsteps. Well, not exactly in his footsteps, but they want his Senate seat. Early conventional wisdom, which often turns out to be more conventional than wise, had Carter a favorite, with Auer close behind. Word now is that, depending on a couple of factors, Chalmers is the man.

The Democratic nominee will not be determined by any Athenian plebiscite; he or she will be chosen in a smoke-filled room when the party's committeemen and committeewomen gather to vote. It's that simple.

One of the questions that remain is how the Democratic committeemen and committeewomen in the 5th Senate district will vote. If the votes are weighted on the basis of how many precincts are in the district, Carter could be hurting, because only one precinct of her ward is in the district. If each ward committeeperson gets one vote, no matter how many precincts are in the Senate district, that changes the arithmetic. The vote is expected to be taken Dec. 27, with the primary election scheduled for March. Whoever gets the nomination from the Democratic Party is the virtual winner, so how the votes are weighted is of critical importance.

But for those who moaned about Banks' behavior or lack of achievement, the new field doesn't get them excited, either. "Look at the three people who want to succeed Banks," says one political veteran. "None of them have a vision where this state or this city is supposed to go. It's just incredible."

Banks' best accomplishment may have been funneling state money to upgrades for Harris-Stowe State College. He may have been run out of office, but it took the wheels of government more than 30 years to get him, so he shouldn't be too crabby. Yes, he has his health problems, even though the Post-Dispatch keeps saying that "Banks says" he has heart disease. (Guess he needs a note from his doctor.) But living well, if not long, may be his best revenge. A senator's salary is $29,082 a year, and it's certain he'll be making more than that from his pension. Just how much isn't certain yet, according to Gary Findlay of the Missouri State Employees' Retirement System board. "We're waiting for his proof of date of birth," says Findlay of Banks, who is notorious for being unclear about his age. But with his years of service and the deferred cost-of-living adjustments he'll receive because he didn't retire at age 65, he'll be probably making at least $36,000 a year as a retired felon, which beats the money he was making as a senator. In that way, at least, it beats being a precinct captain.

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at shortcuts@rftstl. com, faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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