And You Thought the Presidential Race Was Going to Be Dry

As Senate rivals Ashcroft and Carnahan sling mud, gubernatorial contestants Talent and Holden gather dust

The John Ashcroft-Mel Carnahan senatorial wrestling match is bound to be nasty -- hell, it already is. But look for the gubernatorial contest to be more like a college debate or a chess tournament. The two leading candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R-2nd) and his Democratic rival, state Treasurer Bob Holden, appeared Saturday at the fifth annual St. Louis Neighborhoods Conference, sponsored by the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations. Naturally, both candidates focused on urban-neighborhood issues. After listening to Talent and Holden, few will be rushing to storm the barricades, but that's probably not what the candidates had in mind anyway. In caricature, Talent is a policy wonk and Holden a political bulldog who will be running on Gov. Mel Carnahan's record and the current irrationally exuberant economy more than anything that's happened in the, ahem, treasurer's office. In their talks and Q&A sessions with the several hundred in attendance, both tendencies showed through.

Somewhat surprising was Talent's answer to a question about health care for the indigent posed by Ald. Craig Schmid (D-10th). Talent says he prefers the "innovative aggressive use of a clinic-type" approach to the problem rather than the diversion of patients into health-maintenance organizations. "There are all kinds of advantages that clinics give you that you don't get when you're sending people to different practitioners or putting them in different HMOs," Talent says. "There can be a screening-out. It can be so difficult for people to figure out what it is they need to do or where it is they need to go, that they never get the care." Yes, this is a conservative Republican saying that the private sector may not be the solution. And yes, he says, "If our economy continues to be prosperous, I am convinced the state can do all this; the state can participate in this."

Of course, mixed in with the surprises, Talent's reliance on the wonders of capitalism didn't disappear. In talking about offering tax credits and breaks for those who do business in economically distressed areas, he says, "We won't disturb the basic initiatives of the free market. We just increase the profit potential." Then, by way of explaining that it's better to have than have not, Talent says, "The way out of poverty is asset accumulation." Oh, so that's how it works.

Holden gave more of a canned stump speech, even mentioning Hancock Amendment refunds, as if he had any real choice in that matter. Most of the speech was a litany of how Missouri is one of nine states with a triple-A bond rating and that Governing magazine ranks it as one of the four best-managed states. This is not the stuff that makes folks stand up and hoot. Holden even ended the speech with this clunker: "I say it's time for the Show-Me State to stand up and show the world that we're ready to march into the 21st century and make Missouri the great state it can become." At least he didn't mention crossing any bridge to the next century.

The two didn't share a stage -- that will come after the primaries. Both dwelled on education, taking the usual Republican-Democrat stands, though Talent eventually may score more points because he can bash the current public-school system more broadly. But to motivate the undecided or uncaring to vote for him, Talent must do more than quote Harvard professors and talk about microloans and his American Community Renewal Act's zero-percent capital-gains tax on investments in distressed areas. Somehow he needs to recall the fervor of the Republican Revolution that President Bill Clinton co-opted without reminding anyone of Newt Gingrich. That's a tough one.

AS COLE CAMPBELL HEADS OFF TO THE SEMINAR THAT NEVER ENDS: To avoid reading anything more about former St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Cole Campbell, skip the rest of this paragraph.... Anybody still out there? Well, in the rush to do last week's obit on Campbell's tour through River City, several miscues slipped through. No, rest easy: He remains a goner. Though the comparison of Campbell to the central figure in The Music Man may have been apt, said figure was misnamed. That character was Professor Harold Hill, not Henry Hill. No, this wasn't a mix-up with Professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady, just the wrong first name. Thanks to several of our faithful readers for telling us that, particularly the insightful Bill Motchan, who prefaced his comments by calling us "chuckleheads." Another misstep in that piece appeared in the boldface, all-caps lead-in to the piece (might that also be called a "chucklehead"?). It should have read "Did he jump, or was he pushed?" and not "Did he fall, or was he pushed?" In a failed attempt to appear evenhanded, we may have left readers with some uncertainty in regard to the answer to that question. Well, most polite folks don't discuss employment matters, either to confirm or deny, and P-D publisher Terrance Egger did not call back. Let's just say the betting line on this question favors the notion that the public/civic/whatever-journalism shaman did not jump of his own volition. His move to the Poynter Institute was sudden, and his new job pays less money and involves something that is, dare we say it, less prestigious. Had he ridden off into the sunset to eliminate world poverty or work in a leper colony, that would be one thing, but to give more seminars about journalism -- oh, the horror.

MORE THAN THE MARKET WILL BARE: The continuing devolution of Sterling's Market, though painful to watch for those who had hoped someone could mount a decent alternative to the we're-so-big-we-don't-have-to-be-friendly stores of Schnucks, at least has offered some, oh jeez, sterling quotes of late. In the March issue of Take Five, publisher Sylvester Brown asked Sterling Moody, who apparently is to finance what Evel Knievel was to motorcycle riding, this fundamental question: "When did things get funky with the bank?" It's a question many of us have asked ourselves. In Moody's case, the short answer to that question might be "early and often." Moody was forced to hand over his South Grand store to his currently estranged former partner, Zeyad "Steve" Abdel Jabbar, but he's trying to keep the Baden store open. The St. Louis American was hard to find this week, with readers snatching up copies, possibly to read the above-the-fold page 1 piece on Moody's being investigated by the police for passing bad paper. Just below the headline "Embattled Grocer Under Inquiry for Writing Bad Checks," there's this pull-quote: "I'm not aware of that.... What businessman hasn't written a bad check?" Boy, Sterling, did you have to ask that?

Elsewhere in the paper, the American's political column, "The Political Eye," lambasted Take Five's Brown for defending Moody in an April 7 op-ed piece in the Post-Dispatch. Brown had the temerity to suggest that the American's call for an investigation of Moody's finances was motivated at least in part because "the American's publisher (Dr. Donald Suggs) owns a small part of Schnucks City Plaza -- a competitor of Sterling's." Brown added that the Natural Bridge Avenue and Union Boulevard development "received more than $2 million" in tax breaks. "Mark Wilson" -- which most of us know is the nom de plume of a former St. Louis comptroller whose first name rhymes with "nervous" -- wrote in "The Political Eye" that Brown's allegations were "self-serving" and came from a "tiny, struggling monthly newspaper, that could largely be ignored as sour grapes directed at the larger more widely read weekly." Gentlemen, puh-leeze.

BASEBALL BEEN VERY, VERY GOOD TO THEM: With all the talk about the Redbirds' new Taj Mahal, a quote from a Bernie Miklasz column last year comes to mind. Leave it to noted social observer and scion of a great baseball family, Felipe Alou, to sum it up in one phrase. In describing the troubled financial standing of his Montreal Expos and their stadium, Alou said: "This is capitalism. There's no pity for the lame." In St. Louis, that translates into no pity for ConnectCare, struggling public schools or public transit, just a few of the beneficiaries of the tax dollars the baseball team's owners want to divert to finance two-thirds of the new stadium. The other line this recalls is from Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Because the Rams are diverting their amusement tax to build their own Xanadu practice facility in Earth City and they play in a totally publicly financed stadium that will cost taxpayers $720 million, why shouldn't the historic Cardinals get what the peripatetic Rams get? In Catch-22, the question was "If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?" The reply was "I'd be a fool not to." Makes sense.

Give us your feedback by e-mailing "Short Cuts" at [email protected], faxing 314-615-6716 or calling 314-615-6711.

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