St. Hatchet

Callow still feared despite backing another loser

Aug 14, 2002 at 4:00 am
Elections breed winners, losers and scapegoats, with only two of those labels being clear the day after the votes are counted.

In handicapping the Lyda Krewson-Jim Shrewsbury race for president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Shrewsbury had the main advantage of being the acting aldermanic president. Krewson was a CPA, a Central West End alderwoman and, obviously, a woman. Shrewsbury is old-school, dull and a two-time loser in citywide elections.

Many expected Mayor Francis Slay to support Krewson, overtly or covertly. It didn't happen. Slay's people backed off Krewson after an early poll showed she had meager name recognition.

She did have Richard Callow backing her.

For those who perceive Callow as a major player and a master of behind-the-scenes cause-and-effect, like the John Malkovich character in Dangerous Liaisons, the connection increased Krewson's chances.

For those who hate the ground Callow walks on, who expect to see him under every rock or on every grassy knoll, having him at the Krewson campfire was a major drawback.

Callow haters point to the Cardinals' hiring Callow and then failing to get their stadium wishes through the Legislature. They point to Krewson's loss despite Callow's plotting. They are anxious to piss on his political grave, but the burial appears premature.

The Callow players believe in him. They know he's tight with Jerry Berger and other Posties and that his POSSLQ is deputy mayor Barb Geisman.

It's not that Callow didn't try to help Krewson. Up to the last days of the campaign, Callow was trying to get the Post-Dispatch to pursue a story on Shrewsbury's use of employees of the aldermanic president's office in his campaign commercials. It's a routine story, and the issue was addressed briefly in one of the "ad check" articles published in the P-D.

Callow, as he often does, had internal assistance at the area's only daily. Carolyn Tuft, long a Callow confidante/lunch partner, was also talking up how the P-D should go after Shrewsbury on those grounds. Tuft, who's chiseling out an opus on ghost employees in the sheriff's office, lobbied her editors. Tuft's articles on cell-phone abuse during the Bosley administration addressed the use of public resources for campaign purposes.

Callow says that if Shrewsbury used his office workers for political purposes, he hopes that "news-gathering organizations" investigate the matter: "But I am neither a reporter nor a policeman. I am sure someone else can get this sorted out."

But the P-D didn't go down that trail. One of those who view Callow as something close to evil incarnate thinks he had a hand in the bad press meted out to Bosley and former Mayor Clarence Harmon, both one-termers. "He's not that bad, considering he dry-gulched two mayors," says a City Hall lifer, definitely a Callow hater. "When he's doing something positive, I don't think he's as good, but he's a good hatchet man."

Another political junkie sees Callow's value but doesn't think he's at his best helping run campaigns: "Name one race Callow has won. They brought him in for [Vince] Schoemehl for governor -- lost. Then he went to [Tom] Villa [for mayor] -- lost. If you look at his records with candidates: loser. Everyone kind of endures him, but he's not as smart as he thinks he is."

But that's not to say he's dumb. His most recent hire at the firm he heads, Public Eye, is Monietta Slay, the mayor's sister. His connectedness continues. He is perceived to have power -- those critical of him seldom want to be named publicly.

Callow counters that he doesn't see "how supporting a better and more progressive candidate, even in a losing effort, hurts anybody's reputation. I think Krewson did fine in her first citywide campaign. She didn't do better because she wasn't more like the white, middle-aged, anti-choice veteran pols the voters preferred last week."

And maybe Krewson didn't do so badly after all. In her first citywide run -- and nobody with any sense believes it's her last -- she got 45 percent of the vote and only lost to born-with-a-sample-ballot-in-his-hand Shrewsbury by 4,000 votes.

The Krew-versus-Shrew race was punctuated by numerous contrasts, which extended to the candidates' election-night parties. As befits a Central West End maven, Krewson had a much trendier, seemingly more energetic crowd at Humphrey's, one of the city's best bars. But not everyone was giddy or glad to see this humble narrator -- Short Cuts came up on the short end of a two-on-one fast break delivered by Alderwoman Jennifer Florida (D-15th Ward) and Philip Klevorn of the Southside Coalition.

Florida and Klevorn thought Short Cuts had been unfair to Krewson, crabbing about criticism of Krewson's bill exempting stock options from the city's 1 percent earnings tax. Apparently the first decrease in more than ten years in the earnings-tax take, a drop of $2.5 million, is of little consequence to those who back the exemption.

Being vilified wasn't the most annoying thing about Krewson's bash -- Short Cuts has lived with that for a long time -- it was the carping by Krewson's partiers that their party was so much better and livelier than Shrewsbury's, which convened a short distance away at Council Plaza, at Grand and Highway 40.

Well, yeah, the decibel level was lower and the median age higher at Council Plaza, but all those old white people over there voted. Elections aren't determined by vivacity or trendiness -- it's the votes, stupid.

And not all those present were of the Caucasian persuasion. Aldermen Mike McMillan (D-19th) and Greg Carter (D-27th), Comptroller Green and U.S. Representative William "Lacy" Clay all were hangin' with the homies at Shrewsbury's bash. Clay has not forgotten Krewson's idiotic move to testify for Representative Dick Gephardt and against Clay at a hearing on redistricting last year.

"Lyda had her reasons for doing it, but it surely didn't endear her with me," Clay said between handshakes at Council Plaza. "It was a factor in my decision on who I supported. Jim didn't testify against me, and I respect that. She shouldn't have -- she was my alderman. She is still my alderman. But people learn from their mistakes; that's the tough part of this business. You learn after the fact.... Sometimes they can be really deadly."

And maybe what doesn't kill you makes you wonder what you'll do next time, whether you're a winner, a loser or a scapegoat.