Mayor Francis Slay, (center) with family and supporters, celebrates his victory in the St. Louis Democratic mayoral primary election on Tuesday, March 5, 2013, at the Dubliner Restaurant in downtown St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Evelena Brown, once gave her son a bit of sage advice that he’s yet to really follow. Mama was fully aware of my rebellious streak and when I was a younger man just starting my hard-hitting publication, Take Five Magazine, I remember her words vividly:
“We don’t run it; we run around in it.”
Her words returned to me last night when I realized that Mayor Francis Slay had won his fourth term in office. The mayor with his more than $3 million in campaign donations-most of it from uber rich, powerful, right-leaning millionaires with a privatization agenda-still run it. The rest of us-the poor, the unconnected, the voiceless, the dreamers-those of us who bucked the status quo and believe that tax-supported development should be about people not the profits of the already rich…well, we’re destined to still run around in it.
I enthusiastically backed Slay’s opponent, President of the Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed. I stepped from the shadows of a relatively quiet life in the nonprofit and entrepreneurial sectors and wrote damning but factual, in depth commentaries and articles about the Slay Administration. I hosted a mayoral debate and mocked the mayor who was a no-show and I joined Lizz Brown’s radio program for a special weekly segment titled “11 Years of Slay.”
I allowed myself to dream of a St. Louis where African Americans along with rich, growing populations of Latinos, Asians and Bosnians would finally have a chance to work with a grounded visionary in City Hall. Together, I imagined us rebuilding and revitalizing our city and making it a truly inclusive and economically vibrant metropolis for all-not just the privileged few.
Instead, we have again empowered the powerful. With our votes we have sent an impotent message to the status quo that they can move full steam ahead with no questions or challenge. We are still the enablers of mayoral mediocrity, money-enriched half-truths about “progress” and we have validated convenient and suspect alliances built on political favors, nepotism and self-interests.
In essence, we’ve said that the horrid high school dropout rate, rampant crime, disproportionate unemployment and a serious health crisis mostly in the city’s lowest-income wards-are all perfectly OK. Future headlines won’t boast of the extraordinary, ordinary people who finally rose up and addressed these issues. No, our immediate legacy will be a sad rerun of tax-subsidized downtown developments, privatized schools and public services, slum neighborhoods and the incarceration of those who slipped through scissor-sliced safety nets.
However, I will never be comfortable with the idea that the powers-that-be will forever “run it” and the rest of us are destined to “run around in it.” For the first time in a long time, a diverse body of St. Louisians said “enough!” Old grudges were forgiven and new racial and economic alliances were forged. For a moment, we dreamed and boldly acted together. For a brief second, the powerless stepped up to power and said “it’s our turn!”
That, my friends, hasn’t changed. A seed has been planted and we cannot back track now.
This morning, I heard Lizz on the radio. She talked about the target on the backs of those who opposed Slay. The administration is known for vindictively vanquishing its enemies. I refuse to spend my days worrying about payback from a moneyed mayor. I am too old, too stuck in my ways and too hard-headed to compromise or speak quietly to power at this point.
Other than the fact that the same ole players and the same old elitist agenda is still in play, I have few regrets. I got involved with the mayoral race because I’m convinced there’s a mighty wave of change rolling through the region. There are blacks, whites, browns and “others” who realize that our concerns aren’t that disconnected and that together, we are stronger. It’s just a slow roll.
We may not “run it,” but we can still challenge and change the way it's run.