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.


DoeHands said...

I would love the links to these stories mentioned in the first paragraph so we can catch up on this news!

DoeHands said...

I would love to see the links to these news stories mentioned in the first paragraph so I can get caught up on this news that didn't get enough play!

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

The links are embedded, DoeHands, just move your browser over the words. If that doesn't work, here are the links: St. Louis Magazine:

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

I suggest you look up the meaning of the word "racist," my friend. There's nothing in my commentary about using racial superiority to oppress or subjugate another race. If you read the entire article, you might have noticed that I'm talking about 100 years of segregation that's still being practiced in our city. I'm surprised you don't consider this "asinine." What candidate in the current mayoral race would you suggest we elect to address our current situation? I'm all ears.

Sarah Griesbach said...

I completely agree with you, Mr. Brown. I've lived in Lyda Krewson's ward for all her decades here. Her signature is all over the Delmar Divide.
I know time is short, but I am as hopeful as I know how to be that Tishaura Jones will be our next mayor.

Chris said...

We need to stop focusing on race and realize the problem is one of class. The working class of all races are suffering. Why do democrats continue to ignore poor whites?

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

Perhaps you have the luxury of ignoring race. Chris but I don't. I was born and raised in the city of St. Louis and today I work with impoverished city youth. The fact is, city leaders are focusing on "race"-the white race, white wards and white developers. Is it too much to ask, after 100 years that there be equal focus on improving the conditions and investing in black neighborhoods? Then "Democrat" comment is completely out of the box. I don't consider myself aligned with any party nor do I promote voting for Democrats. Perhaps your focus is a bit biased.

Monte Abbott said...

Absolutely. We have given enough of the city's equity and capital to the developers. It's well past time to start holding that in reserve and putting it to work for the citizens. Instead of giving all these tax breaks we need to be charging premiums and higher taxes to developers to fund our city schools and services. They will build here anyway because they want to make the money.

Craig Riggins said...

Brother Brown, the more I read and follow your thoughts the more I believe that we are kindred spirits. The very thoughts and opinions you espouse are the very ones I talk about on a daily basis. I, too, was born and raised in St. Louis and I have seen this city deteriorate over the last forty years or so. St. Louis was once the world headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies. The Big 3 American automobile manufacturers had plants here. I mention this because those companies and auto plants did provide good paying jobs to a significant number of black people in St. Louis. Of all the ails that face the black community in St. Louis, jobs that pay livable wages is the main spoke missing in the wheel that represents equity. I vividly remember the thriving working class black neighborhoods in North St. Louis in the 1960s up through the mid to late 1970s. All of the thoroughfares in North St. Louis that have negative connotations today - Union Avenue, Easton/Martin Luther King, Natural Bridge, North Kingshighway, West Florissaant - were all thriving residential and commercial thoroughfares. Is racism the cause of this seismic shit that has taken place over the last 40 plus years? Absolutely. However, the BIGGEST cause has ben APATHY within the black community. Until those of us in the black community who actually DO care can solve that problem, the gentrification, marginalization and re-segregation of the city of St. Louis will continue to grow and prosper.

Sylvester Brown, Jr. said...

Craig, you're absolutely right, we are kindred spirits. Your analysis is also spot on. A good starting point that speaks to the socio-economic ills we face today would be the early 1950's. With federal money the city of St. Louis launched an aggressive plan that included public and affordable housing. Pruitt-Igoe was taunted as a "solution" for housing the poor and clearing the way for major redevelopment downtown. Therefore, Mill Creek Vally that housed 20,000 black people and 800 businesses was razed. What the city leaders didn't plan on was the mass exodus of white, middle-class workers due to affordable housing in the suburbs. Between 1950 and 1980, the city lost more than half it population, mostly whites. At the same time the industrial economy was crashing, which meant less property and business tax revenues for the city and more in county suburbs. City leaders have been soley focused on two things for the past 60 years, using tax revenue to bolster white-owned businesses and neighborhoods and desperately finding ways to entice whites back to the city. The NGA, Paul McKee and Cortex districts are all part and parcel of their long-range goals. Criticism aside, these endeavors are based on creative public financing, the re-use of vacant land and certain powerful individuals working together. In brief, there is nothing stopping black politicians and leaders from doing the same thing but guts, vision and the ability to plan and work together. Therein lies my frustration with politicians. I'm working with many individuals and nonprofits to create an economic engine in North St. Louis based on procuring land for regular folk, massive collective food growing and creating a North St. Louis brand. Everybody eats. Why can't we be the supplier of fresh food and food-based products that spins off into coffee shops, restaurants, grocers and more. This stuff isn't brain science. Hope it makes sense to you. - Peace!