So It's Come to This

Our fair city is overrun by presidential contenders; plus, other St. Louis follies and foibles

Mar 8, 2000 at 4:00 am
Both appeared on a local college campus. Both spoke without notes or a TelePrompTer. Both came off better than expected. Neither of them said anything surprising or, in the end, worth remembering. One of them is going to be president. Oy vey.

Neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore is evil or stupid, just the lowest common denominator. As stated previously in this space, it's the battle of the fortunate sons: a president's son, Bush, the friendly frat brother who can be a bit of a brat, up against a senator's son, Gore, the well-intentioned overachiever whose ambition has outstripped his purpose. By the time both reached Missouri for supposedly Super Tuesday, they had honed their acts. Bush spoke last Wednesday at St. Louis University, a Catholic venue chosen in part to counteract the grief he got for speaking at anti-Catholic, anti-interracial-dating Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Gore spent Monday night speaking to a similar-sized crowd -- less than 1,000 -- at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Both crowds were tame and clearly made up of boosters: no hecklers, no tough questions. The one good thing that can be said about the UM-St. Louis gathering was that it was a more diverse, interesting crowd -- though, in a markedly nonegalitarian tactic, the crowd was divided into elected officials and VIPs in the bleachers behind Gore; the privileged, holding red tickets, standing on the gym floor in front of the podium; the not-so-privileged, holding blue tickets, in the bleachers nearby; and the truly disadvantaged, with white tickets, in bleachers partly obscured by a curtain. (Parenthetical aside: The Rev. Cleo Willis, who was hanging around the fringes of the red tickets, said he just got back from Decatur, Ill., where the good news was the Rainbow Coalition is providing him a lawyer to help with his bust during Jesse Jackson's protest of the expulsion of the fighting high-school students. Willis did not attend the Bush pep rally.)

What can be said about Gore? The Gore at UM-St. Louis appeared to be a body double for the Gore of old -- that, or someone had dropped some meth-laced Prozac into his barbecue. Gore seemed so happy, so peppy, so unlike Gore. If he once had a board lodged somewhere in his anatomy, it must have been surgically removed. First thing he did onstage was take off his sportcoat, revealing an olive polo shirt and pants. He talked about prosperity. Clearly the drum he planned to beat was the economy, promising bigger chickens for bigger pots.

At SLU, Bush was a bit more formal, keeping his tie tight and his suitcoat buttoned, but he has this habit of waving his arms outward from his side, palms facing the crowd as he speaks and bending his knees a bit as if strutting in place. He was glib and affable, and why shouldn't he be? He's rich, he's running for president and he's raised an eye-popping $70 million to fuel his run for the White House. His strategy? At SLU, he never mentioned Sen. John McCain by name, mostly passing him over. When Bush spoke of the presidency, it was in terms of the "fundamental question," which, he said, is whether or not he "would bring honor and dignity to the office." He said he would. He never mentioned Monica, or Bill, by name -- didn't have to.

In an inadvertently revealing remark, Bush referred to the late Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor who was responsible for most of the legislation in Texas that Bush points to during his "reformer with results" pose. "Like my friend, the old lieutenant governor, said, "If we agreed with each other 100 percent of the time, one of us wouldn't be necessary,'" Bush told the crowd. Many in Texas would say that in that equation, Bush was the one who wasn't necessary.

But in the upcoming contest, which seems to be all that matters, both Bush and Gore are tuning up. Former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary, who is running for Jim Talent's congressional seat, says that after hearing Bush speak he felt better about Bush's campaigning abilities. Still, the debates concern him: "Because I've watched Gore," McNary says. "I watched him debate with (Dan) Quayle, and I watched him debate with (Jack) Kemp, and there is no question Gore is a mean junkyard debater."

One of those debates will be back in St. Louis, at Washington University. That likely will focus more of a spotlight on the city than Super Tuesday did; Missouri was just one of 16 states holding a primary -- slightly larger than Minnesota, not as large as Massachusetts and nowhere near the size or importance of California or New York. New Hampshire it wasn't. What was perhaps the best one-liner of the abbreviated campaign here wasn't even uttered by a candidate but by Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). During a Monday-morning appearance on KMOX (1120 AM) to hype McCain, Graham sat by as host Charles Brennan started to shill for a telephone headset that allows the user to keep his hands free. Graham couldn't resist: "(Bill) Clinton would love that."

WHAT DOES FREEMAN KNOW THAT THE REST OF US DON'T? Guess ex-St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. couldn't resist. In writing a letter to the editor to defend his legal work on behalf of companies that once made lead paint, he decided to make a swipe at Mayor Clarence Harmon, who unseated him in 1997. But the gatekeepers of the Post-Dispatch editorial page cut 15 words from the 600-word letter. When the missive was published on Saturday, gone was Bosley's prediction of Harmon's political demise in which Bosley referred to the city's lawsuit against the paint makers as the start of protracted litigation "that will likely be going on long after Mayor Harmon leaves office in April 2001." Another shot, this one at the P-D editorial cabal, was published: "As I take my daughter to school every morning, through neighborhoods unfrequented by most Post-Dispatch editorial writers, I see hundreds of old homes in disrepair."

So will Bosley enter the mayoral free-for-all with Harmon, Aldermanic President Francis Slay and, possibly, ex-Mayor Vince Schoemehl? Contacted at his law office, Bosley won't say one way or the other. "The race is a year off. Did you ever see that sign that says "an emergency on your part doesn't necessarily constitute one on mine'? Everybody's running around wanting to know about the mayor's race -- it's important to them right now, but in my overall scheme of things it's not ranking very high," says the former mayor, who then adds, to make clear he's not blowing it off, "I can't rule it out; it's still early." A three-way race could have Slay and Harmon battling over South St. Louis and give Bosley a shot at winning the primary with a plurality of votes mainly from North St. Louis and the central corridor. Then an independent candidate could challenge Bosley in the general election, and -- oh, never mind. Twelve months and counting.

SUBURBAN JOURNALS COULD BE PART OF THE HOME TEAM: Now that the Journal Register Co. of New Jersey has put the local Suburban Journals up for sale, the obvious question is, would the Post-Dispatch want to buy the Journals? The potential for selling advertisements merging the two markets and possibly even some type of shared editorial coverage suggest that such a deal would be advantageous for the daily. There is, however, the little matter of the pay discrepancy between P-D reporters, who belong to the Newspaper Guild, and the notoriously low-paid nonunion Journals reporters and editors. At what point would the purchase of another newspaper or newspapers commit the mothership to bestow on it new employees similar benefits? It's a question with foggy answers, but they're answers that could affect the attractiveness of the buyout.

Herb Goodrick, executive director of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, says the question is whether an acquisition of the Journals by Pulitzer Inc. would amount to an "accretion," an absorption of a smaller entity by a larger company. "The biggest thing we're concerned about is an item called a "community of interest' between the employees, how much interaction there is between the employees and how much authority would the Post-Dispatch management have over the Journal papers," says Goodrick. "If they keep it under separate management and were very careful to keep the operations distinct from one another, it's a much tougher issue."

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM: Maybe Mayor Clarence Harmon was trying out a new mission statement for the hometown airline. When Harmon attended the announcement of new plane purchases by TWA last week, he offered this toast: "May your skies be blue, your planes full, and let's not worry about the bottom line."... Dan McCrary of Kirkwood, thank you. It seems that someone on the Post-Dispatch news side must read the editorial page, or at least the letters to the editor. It's clear they don't read The Riverfront Times, because more than a year ago in these pages we scoffed at the jingoistic claim that St. Louis boasted the third-largest Mardi Gras in the world. Clearly such hyperbole by civic types had been swallowed whole by local media, with no reference to Mobile, Ala.; Galveston, Texas; or Lafayette, La., among others. Finally, in Tuesday's paper, the truth leaks out. Bravo. All the news that fits, eventually....

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