Monday, January 23, 2017

Tishaura Jones and the 1990’s Redux

I was employed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 2003 to 2009. One of the most inspiring aspects of the job, was reading the words of its founder, Joseph Pulitzer, posted on the marble wall in the publication’s lobby. In part, Pulitzer said the newspaper would:

“…always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption…always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare…never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

"...always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare…" - Part of the St. Louis Post Dispatch's Platform

It didn’t take long for me to realize the betrayal of those laudable words, especially after Lee Enterprises bought the newspaper in 2005. This was the time of upheaval for newspapers across the country. The Internet was proving to be a major advertising competitor for print media. Widespread fear of losing revenue led to layoffs, retirement deals and it created a shift in how the Post-Dispatch presented news.  From my vantage point, it placed the concerns and wishes of the Red-State readers, the “privileged class,” Mayor Slay, downtown developers and “public plunderers” way above the concerns of liberals, ordinary citizens and “predatory poverty.” Not only does it tolerate “injustice and corruption,” the PD promotes the concerns of the powerful with puppy-like zeal.

A 2002 Take Five Magazine article I wrote that examined Slay's role in a racially-divided city

Take for example its recent hit jobs against only one of the slate of mayoral candidates-city treasurer, Tishaura Jones. Let me say up front that I have no dog in this race. Although I have big respect for some of the other candidates, I can’t help but question why so much emphasis has been placed on destroying Jones’ campaign. The treasurer has been singled out for taking 50 trips since 2013 that has cost taxpayers about $27,000.00. The newspaper admitted she has modernized public parking, saved the city at least $5 million dollars and, in fact, increased city revenues. Yet, in typical fashion, it goes out of its way to paint another black politician as unqualified and corrupt.

Although I have big respect for some of the other candidates, I can’t help but question why so much emphasis has been placed on destroying Jones’ campaign.

With no credible sign of malfeasance, despite her obvious transparency and ability to publicly defend her expenses, the newspaper wrote a biased, if not sexist editorial urging voters to “Bring the high-flying St. Louis treasurer down to earth.” Keep in mind, this is the same newspaper that in 16 years, has never questioned the trips, business or family connections or “taxpayer money” Mayor Slay’s spent traveling, lobbying, wining & dining or profiting off rich developers and downtown interest's donations. Because the mayor slurps from the same trough as the newspaper, he gets an automatic pass. The predominantly white and predominantly male editorial board at the PD just makes the insulting assumption that Slay, the white mayor, is always doing the people’s business without question.

Because the mayor slurps from the same trough as the newspaper, he gets an automatic pass. 

There’s a benefit to being born and raised and writing about this city for more than 30 years. I remember the shenanigans of politicians and the newspaper’s slave-like attempts to protect the interest of big business and the white power structure. In order to really understand the motivations of the establishment press, we have to take a 24-year trip back to a time when a similar, possible power play caused outright panic in the hearts of St. Louis' oligarchy.

Virvus Jones (left) Mayor Freeman Bosley (right)
The year was 1993. Because two prominent, white mayoral candidates split the white vote, a black candidate, Freeman R. Bosley Jr. won with 83 percent of the black vote. Prominent, white city leaders freaked out. For the first time in St. Louis’ history, a black mayor and a black comptroller, Virvus Jones, held two of the three-person seats on the Estimate and Apportionment (E&A) board, the uber-influential entity that oversees the city’s purse strings.

In order to really understand the motivations of the establishment press and elite players, we have to take a 24-year trip back to the time when a similar, possible power play caused outright panic in the hearts of St. Louis' oligarchy.

Ray Hartmann, former publisher of the RFT, summed up the quandary confronting whites in his Feb. 2001 commentary:

“But the first time -- the very first time -- whites faced zero representation on the city-governing board, race mattered. It turned out whites had a racial quota (one) for whites on E&A and, further, that they had no problem taking affirmative action -- as an openly organized caucus for whites -- to achieve a race-conscious remedy.”

Ray Hartmann, former RFT publisher
Jones came under investigation for mishandling campaign funds during the 1993 Democratic primary race for comptroller. He was convicted in 1994 for cheating on his federal income taxes and sentenced to one year in federal prison. To the chagrin of many powerful whites, Bosley turned around and appointed another African American, Darlene Green, who still serves as comptroller today.

White city leaders had only one hope for at least one white vote on the E&A Board. The third seat is held by the president of the board of aldermen. The white aldermanic President at the time, Tom Villa, announced he would not seek re-election in the 1995 campaign. State Sen. Lacy Clay (now a congressman) talked publicly about running for the seat-which meant, if he won, blacks would control all of the E&A seats.

It turned out whites had a racial quota (one) for whites on E&A and, further, that they had no problem taking affirmative action.- Ray Hartman

Hartmann’s editorial spoke of the “insiders” who darkly predicted that St. Louis would become “like East St. Louis” with whites fleeing the city in “even greater numbers than the current exodus” if there were no white representation at the highest levels of city government. He recalled the Nov. 19, 1994 emergency meeting where “white Democratic leaders representing all but two of the South Side's aldermanic wards convened a summit to ward off the danger of this all-black thing.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch-the region’s largest daily newspaper- got in on the frenzy by publishing an editorial directly asking Clay, in the name of “fairness,” to stay out of the race. The editorial boldly asked that Clay allow the E&A board to “…have representation from all segments of the city."

The Post-Dispatch got in on the frenzy by publishing an editorial directly asking Clay, in the name of “fairness,” to stay out of the race. 

Clay and Bosley succumbed to corporate, political and media influence. Clay, citing pressure from whites, decided not to run in the Aldermanic President’s race. Bosley chose not to back either of the two African American women candidates interested in the seat. The former mayor’s choice created a fissure in St. Louis’ strong black political machine that would soon crumble after the 2001 mayoral race. Instead, Bosley endorsed a white candidate-Alderman Francis Slay-who won the 1995 election and, six years later, in 2001, was overwhelmingly elected Mayor of St. Louis.

In retrospect, it’s clear to me why Jones has become the mainstream media’s major target in this over-populated race. The fact is, she’s electable. She’s proven to be transparent and more than capable of justifying her expenditures. She’s served four years in the Missouri House of Representatives. And, with an agenda of “reform,” she's won city-wide office twice.

Mayor Bosley infuriated the power-elite by
endorsing Darlene Green to replace
comptroller Virvus Jones
I will not be surprised if the Post-Dispatch endorses the single, high-profile white candidate in the mayoral race, Lyda Krewson. She’s a fine politician but she’s the one who’s marched in lockstep with Mayor Slay’s divisive, pro-big business agenda. Not to forget that Krewson’s ward has been the biggest recipient of tax incentives and select neighborhood perks throughout Slay’s terms in office.

In retrospect, it’s clear to me why Jones has become the mainstream media’s major target in this over-populated race. The fact is, she’s electable. 

Jones has gained the support of State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and white, far south side aldermen who’ve publicly exposed and challenged the old, south city, white establishment guard. Unlike, two of the notable black candidates in the race, Jones outspokenly trashed and refused to endorse the multi-million dollar football stadium deal. She’s expanded the role of treasurer with programs such as the Office of Financial Empowerment that teaches residents how to better manage their money. Jones also created the College Kids Children’s Savings Account, a program that will automatically enroll an estimated 6,400 city kindergartners in a college savings program this summer.

For me, the establishment media’s hit-jobs on Jones makes her a more attractive candidate. I personally like how she talks more about “equity” than “unity” as some of the other candidates prefer. The word “unity,” to me, seems like an attempt to address the fears and concerns of Slay and Krewson’s supporters. “Equity” means shaking things up to provide resources and political clout to long-disenfranchised voters throughout the city.  

Jones has gained the support of white, far south side aldermen who’ve been publicly exposing and challenging the old, white establishment guard.

This, plus the fear of another black mayor, is the stuff that scares the bejeebus out of folks that the Post-Dispatch and the old guard pamper. Tishaura Jones, as mayor, resurrects the fear of an all-black E&A board and threatens to break up the good-old-boy fiefdoms of short-sighted white aldermen. Her victory will also challenge the complacency of black aldermen who’ve allowed the city to re-segregate itself under their watch.

St. Louis is already stuck in the past. It’s still relying on big-ticket projects and shoring up already stable white neighborhoods. The newspaper, city leaders and Mayor Slay's main agenda is to lure the children of the white flighters (1950s-1980s) back to the city at any cost. 

It will take new vision and gutsy leadership to drag the city into the 21st Century and make it a more eclectic, diverse and modern metropolis.

I am not endorsing or supporting Tishaura Jones’ campaign…not yet anyway. However, as I watch biased, racial politicking and the same old dirty, media tricks from 25 years ago, I feel compelled to share what  I know from decades of writing about our city. 

Let us not fall for the okey-doke. Let us not be misled by a mainstream media that’s reliant on business-as-usual.  Since the Post-Dispatch has seemingly abandoned Pulitzer’s Platform, apparently it’s up to the voters, to: “...fight for progress and reform." It's the role of an informed electorate to "never tolerate injustice or corruption and always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers.”

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Steve Harvey and that “Coon” Thing

One of many negative characterizations of Steve Harvey after he met with Donald Trump

Sometimes celebrity-hood can be a fickle and cruel beast. One day a celebrity can be loved by all and the next, hated by many. Take Comedian, talk show and Family Feud host, Steve Harvey. After meeting and participating in a photo op with President Elect, Donald Trump, he became the target of immediate condemnation. Charges range from labeling him a “sell-out” to dismissing him as an outright mediocre “coon.”

The latter is the ultimate insult from black folk aimed at black folk. Think Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or Trump’s confidante and soon-to-be public engagement officer, Omarosa Manigault.  Harvey, the most recent high-profile African American banished to “Coonville” is understandably upset.

"A lot of y'all hurt me. I didn't expect the backlash to be so fierce,"  Harvey told listeners of his radio program, the “Steve Harvey Morning Show.

"A lot of y'all hurt me. I didn't expect the backlash to be so fierce..." Harvey said on his radio program

Before I address the “backlash,” let me say this; Steve Harvey-putting it bluntly-is a grown-ass man who has the right to meet with whomever he chooses. Yes, he met with a politician whose stereotypical comments about black people and black neighborhoods has repulsed millions. But that doesn’t justify the automatic revocation of the mythical “black card” nor does it rationalize questioning his loyalties to black people.

That said, Harvey did sort of set himself up for wide-spread criticism. He was the one who emerged from the meeting gushing about Trump’s character and goals:

“I walked away feeling like I had just talked with a man who genuinely want to make a difference in this area,” Harvey wrote on Twitter. “I feel like something really great could come of this…I would sit with him anytime.”

Harvey underestimated the level of distrust blacks have about Trump. The comedian stood before media cameras detailing how, before they got to the crux of the meeting, he and Trump talked about golf and the celebrities they know. Then he explained how Trump got Ben Carson, his new secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on the phone to talk about housing.

Surely, Harvey knew blacks would scrutinize a telephone meeting between a comedian and a brain surgeon who both have no experience in public or affordable housing. Harvey is no fool. He’s media savvy enough to know that Trump has been meeting with a bunch of high-profile Negroes to offset the perception of racial insensitivity.

Marc Lamont Hill, the Morehouse College professor and frequent CNN commentator spoke to this.  Trump’s “outreach” meetings with black celebrities and athletes, like Harvey, Kanye West, Jim Brown, and Ray Lewis, Hill said on CNN, are "condescending" and "demeaning."  The professor pulled no punches in defining black celebrities as "a bunch of mediocre negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo op for Trump’s exploitative campaign against black people.”

"...a bunch of mediocre negroes being dragged in front of TV as a photo op for Trump’s exploitative campaign against black people.-Marc Lamont Hill on CNN

Harvey’s feelings are justifiably hurt. But it’s his own fault. He struck a conciliatory tone with Trump at a time when his fans have no interest in reconciling with him based on the stereotypical things he’s said about blacks and their neighborhoods. Harvey spoke highly of Trump around the same time Trump was demeaning prolific civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis and the fifth district of Georgia he serves.

Trump suggested Lewis spend more time “fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results.” 

"All talk and "no action" was the way Trump defined political icon John Lewis in a recent Twitter War

Not only is it insultingly dismissive to describe an icon of the civil rights movement since the early 1960s as a no-action politician, it’s blazingly ignorant to define his whole district as “crime-invested” simply based on its black population. As writer,
Jamiles Lartey, wrote in a the Guardian, Trump’s definition of Lewis’ district falls way short of reality:

Lartey interviewed Nikema Williams, co-chair of Georgia’s Democratic party and Atlanta resident: “Not only is it unreasonable to say – it’s false and a flat-out lie. Atlanta is a booming city. People are moving here from all over the country,” Williams said, adding, “It (Trump’s rhetoric) speaks to the disconnect he continues to have with the black community. Any time you want to ask him about the [community], he refers to the inner city. Not all black people live in the inner city!”

Harvey failed to address or bridge the disconnect between blacks and Trump. In detailing his meeting, Harvey spoke of what Trump told him but gave no indication of what he told Trump (other than their mutual love for golf and celebrities, of course). It seems Harvey allowed Trump, the ultimate flim-flam man, to pull him out of his lane. Harvey and Trump are both entrepreneurs. Harvey knows influential black people. He knows where they live and what they’re doing to help people of their hue. The comedian who once lived out of his car in his early years knows a thing or two about struggle and opportunities afforded to those with talent but no resources.

It seems Harvey allowed Trump, the ultimate flim-flam man, to pull him out of his lane. 

Much of the criticism would have been muted if Harvey spoke to his and Trump’s mutual strengths and talents. Things would be different if he said something like: “Look ya’ll, we discussed your concerns. We talked about the power of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and I’m going to do my best to recruit the talents of those I know and seek the government and private resources to get the job done.”

Still, I’m giving Harvey the benefit of doubt. Maybe he was caught off guard when he visited Trump Tower. He stated that Trump is open to his mentoring efforts across the country. He added that he, Trump and Carson have just started their dialog and they will look for programs and housing that help “our inner cities."

Harvey knows influential black people. He knows where they live and what they’re doing to help people of their hue. 

On his radio program, Harvey reminded his fans that he’s from “the hood” and has a long history of doing his “part for years for boys and girls.” That’s true. The mission of his charity founded by Harvey and his wife, the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation, is to provide outreach to fatherless children and young adults. According to “Look to the Stars” a website that provides information on celebrity giving, the Harvey’s foundation “promotes educational enrichment, one-on-one mentoring and global service initiatives that will cultivate the next generation of responsible leaders.”

So let’s try to be optimistic for a moment. Harvey could be a part of historic change in the civil rights movement. Let’s assume Trump is really interested in more than just “talk, talk, talk” and diversionary photo ops with high-profile black people. Let’s believe that Harvey will be prepared to talk about what he really knows the next time (if there is a next time) he meets with Trump. Let’s imagine Harvey showing up with a long list of celebrities with charities aimed at uplifting youth and minority groups. Let’s imagine he’s accompanied by folk like John Legend (Show Me Campaign), Alicia Keys (Frum Tha Ground Up), Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions and Leadership Academy for Girls).  

Let’s try to be optimistic for a moment. Harvey could be on to historic change in the civil rights movement. 

Harvey could flip the script and become a pioneer of black entrepreneurism in politics if he introduces Trump to black entrepreneurs and philanthropists with social and economic empowerment experience and real, substantive plans. Some participants could include Eddie C. Brown (Brown Capital Management), Robert F. Smith (Vista Equity Partners), Richard D. Parsons (Time Warner; Citigroup) or Charles Phillips (Phillips Charitable Foundation).

Harvey could become a pioneer of black entrepreneurism if he introduces Trump to black entrepreneurs and philanthropists with social and economic empowerment experiences and substantive plans.

Harvey deserves a little slack.  I remember a day back in the 1980s when two, fresh-faced St. Louis comedians-Cedric the Entertainer and my nephew Chuck Deezy-stopped by my house to say “farewell.” They were heading to Hollywood to hook up with Steve Harvey. A couple years later, I saw them on TV, in movies and living the LA La Land experience. I could be wrong, but I attribute their ascent to Harvey’s help and guidance.

It’s too early to toss Harvey into the trashcan of coonerism. For me, the jury’s still out and Harvey has the chance to negate the negatives. Hopefully, he won’t let his hurt feelings distract him from his stated goals of helping Trump help black people.

Who knows, in time the backlash may turn to backing and wide-spread support. The Family Feud may end and the savvy King of Comedy may reclaim his role as a trusted and beloved ambassador for the people who cheered him on for decades.  


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Black Mayor Part II: The Other Part of the Equation

Earlier this month I posted a commentary about the need for a black mayor in the upcoming election. As expected, some folk took offense to the premise. “Race doesn’t matter,” they protested. It obviously does. As I noted, throughout Mayor Slay’s term in office, politicians have been re-segregating the city with tax perks designed for already rich developers in already stable, already majority white neighborhoods. The voices, needs and concerns of black residents have been rendered irrelevant. The city has been consistently ranked as one the most violent in America and the current mayor has been MIA in the fight to address poverty, black unemployment and all the other societal and economic ills that fuel disproportionate crime, high school drop out rates and hopelessness.

Most of the push-back came from whites. I respect their sentiments but it left me wondering who these people are and whose opinion they represented. Yes, our region is polarized but many whites I know seem to be equally as passionate about building strong diverse neighborhoods. They comment affirmatively and share what I write. They donate and/or volunteer to help my nonprofit, the Sweet Potato Project (SPP). They don’t outwardly flinch when I express the need to invest in black communities or find ways to empower black people to address disparities that impact their lives, children or neighborhoods. In fact, I find it stunning that some white, far south side aldermen seem to be doing more to inform the public and dismantle the established system of white privilege than some black aldermen who’ve allowed the city to basically ignore their wards and constituents for years.

So, yeah, in this election, at this time, I think a black mayor is needed in a city that’s grown comfortable operating under a segregated umbrella.  However, I emphasis again, voters shouldn’t base their opinions on skin color alone. We should support the candidate who has the moxie to shake things up and convince white voters that black social and economic progress won’t harm them. In fact, it may help us become a more diverse, eclectic, safer, and culturally relevant region.

With that said, we should discuss something else. African Americans don’t have the luxury of waiting for the president, Congress, state representatives, aldermen or a new mayor to come up with a plan to save us. Those of us busting our butts to educate and employ at-risk youth; address homelessness, build affordable housing, develop stronger, safer neighborhoods or those trying to create a powerful, healthy food system in the city need to come together. We need to demand-not ask-that the next mayor provide the same opportunities and resources to us that they've gifted to rich developers, sports officials and tony, segregated neighborhoods.  

We need to demand-not ask-that the next mayor provide the same opportunities and resources to us that they've gift to rich developers, sports officials and tony, segregated neighborhoods. 

Why is this important? Well, maybe it's best to answer with a short story:

The year was 2009, months after the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I was still a Metro Columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Through my union reps, I learned managers were manufacturing a case to fire me. I won’t go into all the sordid details here but I will admit their actions led to a huge opportunity that wound up planting the seed for SPP.

During the madness, I received a call from Tavis Smiley. The public TV commentator also owned his own book company. Tavis was familiar with my work. He asked if I’d be interested in working as a researcher and consultant with one of his writers, Tom Burrell, author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority.  With the offer in mind, I instructed union officials not to fight for my job. With the help of my ex-wife and my activist friends we held a press conference. I resigned from the PD and accepted Tavis’ offer.

Brainwashed by Tom Burrell

Working in Tavis’ world, to me, meant that I’d be in the midst of the nation’s top black thinkers. Keep in mind, this was right after the country elected its first black president.  Finally, I thought, great, positive change was about to happen in America’s urban areas.

I couldn’t have been more naive or more wrong. At the time, Smiley, Al Sharpton and a bunch of other black leaders were embroiled in a huge, petty fight over whether Obama should say the words “black agenda”…or not. I was Burrell’s guest at the 2010 Chicago symposium Tavis hosted that included, Dr. Cornel West, the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan and other prominent, black intellectuals.

2010 "We Count" forum participants

I was beyond frustrated that this influential group spent more time defending the need for a “black agenda” than defining or articulating their own agenda. Surely, this group could come up with a plan based on their expertise, connections with black people, their knowledge and outcries about the centuries-long plight of African Americans.

I will always be grateful to Tavis for offering me the chance to get inside his head and contribute to some of his books as well as other authors under the SmileyBooks label. But I can’t get past the fact that black leaders absolutely blew the chance to present Obama with a detailed, budgeted inclusive agenda that would improve the lives of, arguably, America’s most disenfranchised demographic.  The experience led me to the conclusion that I should try, in my own way, to create a program aimed at empowering black youth and revitalizing black neighborhoods in my own city. Thus the birth of SPP.

On a much smaller scale, black mayoral candidates, along with white supporters, have a beautiful opportunity to change the trajectory of a segregated city. However, the onus isn’t just in the hands of a new mayor. If there is to be a real agenda for positive, inclusive change, those of us who are connected and concerned must design and articulate that vision.

In my Nov. 9th St. Louis American commentary, I  argued that the city already has dedicated, committed individuals and groups (black and white) working to make serious, sustainable change in North St. Louis. We’ve put in the sweat equity but have been basically ignored by short-sighted politicians. 

I’m pleased that there are ongoing debates that allow candidates to explain how they will lead the city in different directions. However, I’d like to see a different kind of forum. I’d like to have those of us working in the trenches tell the candidates what we’re doing and what we need to enhance our collective endeavors. After we speak, I’d like those candidates to tell us how our plans fit their platforms. I’d like to see them compete for our votes and/or support by telling us how they can bring us the same creativity, vigor and resources that’s been doled out to downtown, central corridor or other areas of development in the city.  

I will float this forum idea among the individuals I mentioned in the American commentary. Anybody interested in hosting such an event, please let me know. Despite push-back from some readers due to my call for a black mayor, I believe there’s enough progressive and engaged whites who aren’t afraid of the possibilities. They live or work among black people. Some south side aldermen and voters have and are supporting black candidates. I don’t want to see black leaders and voters blow an opportunity to do locally what we didn’t do nationally with the Obama administration. 

I’d like to see a different kind of forum....(where) candidates tell us how our plans fit their agendas. I’d like to see them compete for our votes or support by telling us how they can bring us the same creativity, vigor and resources that’s been given to downtown, central corridor or other areas of development in the city.  

As the title of Dr. West’s book reminded us, “Race Matters.” We can argue about this all day long but I prefer to work with those who get it. I want to collaborate with those who aren’t afraid to speak up for diversity in a racially-diverse city. I want to surround myself with those willing to inform and challenge mayoral candidates to rise above racial complacency and political impotency. I want to stand with those benevolent, engaged and enlightened individuals willing to challenge the status quo and do the hard work of ending the segregated mindset in our city.   

Monday, January 2, 2017

St. Louis Needs a Black Mayor but...

The biggest local story that wasn’t, was the news that throughout Mayor Francis Slay’s entire term the city has been re-segregating itself with public money. Thanks to a series of articles, starting with STL Magazine and followed up by the Riverfront Times, we’ve learned that politicians have exploited tax incentives and special rewards at the expense of public schools and real blighted neighborhoods. This was done to ensure the number of white residents rose in certain areas while black residents in those same neighborhoods decreased significantly. For instance, an Oct. 31st Riverfront Times (RFT) expose’ noted how politicians gave away $950,000 in tax incentives per resident to help a meager 5,000 people move into the already stable Central Corridor neighborhoods.

For me, this is the number one issue St. Louis voters must confront as they contemplate whom among the wide slate of mayoral candidates they will elect in March. Those politicians running, especially the black politicians who’ve been in office during the past 16 years must explain where they’ve been and what they’ve done to either enable or thwart attempts to re-segregate the city.  They must justify why they've supported Slay all these years and supported his agenda. How is it possible that some have signed off on bills and special tax perks that advanced downtown revitalization and investments in tony, white wards, while their constituents suffered socially, economically, and educationally?

We must determine if we’re serious about changing the trajectory of a segregated city that seems solely focused on doling out millions upon millions to already rich developers, “big box” projects and already stable neighborhoods. Throughout Slay’s four terms in office, St. Louis has been consistently ranked as “the most” or “one the most” violent cities in America.  Slay has been MIA in the fight to address poverty, black unemployment and all the other ills related to this societal cancer. Voters must decide if we’re ready to grow up and become a real inclusive metropolis that invests in all neighborhoods and all people no matter their race or class status.

Let me be upfront, St. Louis needs a black mayor. I know that statement may not sit well with many but it’s true-especially now. As it pertains to race, the biggest problem in the region isn’t really racism, it’s irrelevancy. For the most part, black people are rendered irrelevant in the city’s quest to be great. 

The recent passing of talk show legend, Richard “Onion” Horton, reminded me of a time when black voices were prevalent in the local public sphere. We talked, we listened and, thus, we gathered to hold politician accountable. Missions and messages may have pissed off many but they also resonated with white listeners. With an overflow of public information, we were able to debate, organize, protest and elect candidates from a more informed position.

These days, media outlets are too eager to sacrifice diverse voices to bow to the whims of Red-state audiences. Conservative and establishment viewpoints are mainstay in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, KMOX Radio and through other major local media outlets. After the death of Mike Brown in 2014, after all the reports of the region's racial disparities that merited balanced discourse, conservative talk show host, Jamie Allman, was awarded a show on the local ABC network affiliate. Even so-called “liberal” media outlets like the RFT and St. Louis Public Radio are devoid of independent black voices and perspectives. Other than the St. Louis American, the black-owned weekly newspaper, we are deluged 24/7 with conservative sentiments, passions and direction that bolsters establishment dogma and dilutes progressive, inclusive action.  

It’s against this backdrop that we must decide the future of St. Louis. Yes, we need a black mayor but not simply because he/she happens to be black. All the candidates must be scrutinized and challenged on their records and positions. They must be pushed beyond feel-good rhetoric and knee-jerk platforms. Those who offer jobs and opportunities in North St. Louis through the crumbs that fall from such mega-million dollar soccer stadium and Ball Park Village deals need to be checked for their lack of creativity and vision.   

I consider some of the candidates friends or colleagues but I’m looking to support the one who’s bold enough to articulate why it’s vital that we invest in communities that’s been ignored for the past 100 years. That candidate should be judged on his/her ability to sell voters (black, white and “other”) on the need to stem gentrification, provide balance to disproportionate public financing downtown and in all-white neighborhoods. Finally, I want to support the candidate that proves he/she will address the poverty/educational/crime/equity problems that's plagued our region for decades.

We should challenge those candidates who’ve done nothing while the city has been re-segregated under their watch. We must take those to task who are now talking “unity” after they’ve undermined or supported divisive attempts to punish their progressive colleagues who actually summoned the hutzpah to challenge Slay and/or other racially-biased, status quo politicians.

We must be wary of politicians backed by Slay or supported by his army of well-to-do donors.  To support them is to risk business as usual. I believe the recent elections of State Rep Bruce Franks (House District 78) and Rasheen Aldridge (5th Ward Committeeman) are signs of a departure from politics as usual in the city. Some black candidates are once again solely focusing on wooing white voters from the central corridor-a segment of the city that has overwhelmingly voted “white” since the late 1990s.

As noted in a 2015 nextSTL article, there’s an evolving progressive aldermanic caucus that includes candidates Megan Ellyia-Green (Ward 15), Cara Spencer (Ward 20) and Scott Ogilvie (Ward 24). These outspoken individuals have proven to be a thorn in the side of the establishment political structure. They also seem to have developed a diverse and activated cache of voters who organized and got Franks and Aldridge elected. They seem to be the engaged and activated block that’s unafraid of diversity and boldly demanding true equity.

It’s unfortunate that so many high-profile black candidates are in the mayoral race. By sheer numbers, they have given voters a difficult choice and, more than likely, ensured that the only viable white candidate will win the race.

To be blunt, the onus of real, progressive and inclusive change is in the hands of a scrutinizing and an informed electorate. The only way to thin the herd is to talk loudly and publicly about what a real, inclusive St. Louis can look like beyond sports stadiums and special perks for rich, white neighborhoods. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, folks. St. Louis can be a real, diverse, kick-ass metropolis if we can manage to break the segregated mindset of the rich and powerful who control or are controlled by the status quo.