Declaration of an Independent

Jan 6, 1999 at 4:00 am
My ex-wife told me to get a real job, and because I've always followed her commands, I decided to cast about. Turns out there's an opening in city government. The job pays at least $26,709 a year, and you get to work in a palatial office. The downside is you have to dress up to go to work and maybe get a shoeshine now and then, but I guess that's what a real job is all about.

Aldermanic elections for even-numbered wards in the city of St. Louis are looming. Curious, I went to the Board of Elections to see what's involved in running as an independent candidate. It's not difficult. To get one's name on the ballot, the aspiring nonpartisan must get the signatures of 2 percent of the people who voted in that ward during the last mayoral election. In my 6th Ward, that equates to just 55 people. I could walk to the corner tavern, Kilabrew's, and bag those signatures in one jolly afternoon. The elections folks were helpful, providing petitions along with cautionary hints: Be sure to number the pages, watch out for made-up names (Harris Tweed, I.P. Freely, etc.).

I have no delusions about the race. An independent candidacy is a boil on the body politic, a gatecrasher. I asked around and learned that in the last 30 years there have only been three successful independent runs at aldermanic office: Nellene Joyce in the 23rd Ward, Marit Clark in the 6th Ward, and Ken Jones in the 22nd Ward. Clark and Jones are incumbents. Clark is now a bonafide Democrat but ran her first election as an independent. After that, like Uncle Ben's Rice, she converted. Likewise for Jones, who has doffed his independent frock and will run the '99 election as a Democrat. Apples don't fall far from the tree.

Democrats have long had things sewn up in this town (26 out of 28 aldermanic seats are occupied by Democrats, with the 12th Ward's Fred Heitert serving as the lone Republican), but things are changing. The ward organizations built up by stogie-chomping pols of yore don't pack the clout that they once did. Machine politics in this town died with Cervantes and Poelker, and people don't follow party lines as they used to. Further, party affiliation is no longer reckoned by the color of one's collar -- or one's skin, for that matter.

Although the independent candidate has no ward organization to back him, at least he is above the fracas, unbesmirched by the shenanigans and petty in-fighting of either established party -- the judgmental elephants and the willy-nilly donkeys. If elected, he will besmirch himself with the best of them, but meanwhile, as tyro challenger, he is a pillar of idealism: JFK announcing the formation of the Peace Corps. Of course, charm and good looks alone do not a bureaucrat make. One needs a platform, and so I have put my brain to work and offer the following:

1. More parades and festivals. As alderman, I would propose civic celebrations focusing on themes that are appropriate yet perhaps overlooked -- e.g., Old Sot's Day or the Show Your Tattoo Picnic for Peace. There are any number of historic events that could be re-created to the delight of the populace. For example, Halloween in the Central West End, 1983: Guys Wearing Only Sequined Jockstraps and Dog Collars Being Led on a Leash. You see, the city would have no choice but to liven up. We have the Annie Malone Parade in North City each year. Bravo! Why not more parades to honor other beloved civic figures? How about Gussie Busch Day (free beer!) or Vess Jones Day (free sody!) or J.B. "Jet" Banks Day (free rides to the airport!)?

2. No handguns shall be permitted within the city limits. Not even cops will carry one. However, the head of each household will be issued a sword with which he or she may elect to gird themselves. Sheaths will be available at reasonable cost. Swords may be employed in the settling of feuds, but only under strict protocol set up by the newly established City Armaments Division.

3. July 27th of each year shall be designated Barenaked Day. From 8 a.m.-8 p.m., no city resident shall appear in public wearing anything more than shoes, hose and hat. The hat shall not extend lower than the chin, and hosiery shall not exceed midcalf. This ordinance serves the purpose of permitting our bodies to "air out," while allowing us all to get to know each other a little better.

4. Tripe shall be the city's official vendor snack, replacing the long, straight pretzels. Sadly, tripe is the most misunderstood food item. My pal, McTague, says that Redd Foxx once took him to Mr. Eddie's Steam Table on Delmar, where they gorged on crispy tripe. "It was delicious," says McTague, "but at the time I thought it was fish."

5. Last, I would propose that St. Louis establish a designated outdoor forum for public debate. I recommend pastoral Lafayette Park, either its northeast entrance (Park at Mississippi) or the gazebo by the old police station. This is based on the famous Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park, which every Sunday since 1866 has hosted a panoply of cranks and crackpots who spew vitriol from a soapbox perch, all while being heckled unmercifully. Anyone may say anything short of blasphemy, obscenity and incitement to violence. Such a site would become a Mecca for firebrands and a great tourist attraction. However, all swords would need to be checked at the park entrance.