Jan. 16, 2019
By Sylvester Brown, Jr.
|State Senator Jamilah Nasheed and me|
Five years ago, State Senator Jamilah Nasheed casually parked her car in front of her home in the 4000 block of Olive Blvd. Seemingly out of nowhere, a wannabe carjacker pointed a gun at her head, demanding the keys to her car. Nasheed refused and according to the police report, the suspect threatened to blow her brains out.
“Do what you’re going to do," the politician stubbornly responded. Miraculously, the stunned suspect returned to his car and drove away.
That story from 2014 came back to me last week as candidate Nasheed and I met for lunch at River Lillie, a cozy little southern-style restaurant in the Old North neighborhood. Over salmon croquettes and fried catfish, Nasheed laid out her case for election in the upcoming president of the board of alderman’s race. With deep dimples that emphasized a smile uncoordinated with her intense glare, she told me:
“Syl, we simply have to change the leadership in this city.”
“Do what you’re going to do," the politician stubbornly responded.
As we talked, I was reminded of the then 41-year-old, stubborn, tough-as-steel politician who stood her ground with a gun pointed at her face. Probably not the smartest move in such a dangerous situation but Nasheed is no stranger to danger or death.
A few months before she was born, her father, a Vietnam War veteran, was killed in a drive-by shooting while playing dice outside the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. Two years later, her mom committed suicide. Nasheed was raised by her grandmother, Evelyn Williams, in the Darst-Webbe housing projects. She and her three brothers lived off $500 of government assistance every month. Before she became a Muslim and bookstore-owner, Nasheed was a teenage thug. She was a gangbanger, drug dealer and was even sent to juvenile detention for stabbing a young lady.
I’ve had my issues with Nasheed. In a commentary last month, I questioned her credentials to lead the board of Aldermen. Still, I was leaning in her direction. It was my “shero,” Treasurer, Tishaura Jone’s recent endorsement, that sealed the deal for me. I found myself agreeing with her assessment of Nasheed:
“We need someone who is going to be bold and effective,” Jones wrote. “She isn’t in this for herself. No matter what part of the city you come from, no matter your background, no matter how you grew up, she is here for all of us.”
I haven’t forgotten Nasheed’s role during the 2017 mayoral election travesty where three black candidates divided the vote which led to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s slim victory. Nasheed, who was the fourth candidate, dropped out of the race and suggested the others do the same. They should all endorse Tishaura Jones, she said because she had the juice to beat Krewson. Jones loss the election by a mere 888 votes. If only one of the black candidates dropped out, she’d possibly be mayor today.
“We need someone who is going to be bold and effective...” - Tishaura Jones on Jamilah Nasheed
I’ve always admired Nasheed’s moxie and her commitment to her constituents, black, white, common, influential, rich or poor. Of the three candidates running in the race, I believe Nasheed will be the tough leader we need in these tough times.
You see, I was born, raised and still live in the city of St. Louis. I’ve been writing about this place, its politics and people for more than 30 years. This has given me insight into what to expect. Right now, like the young folk say, the city is feelin’ itself. Once again, its arrogantly, bodaciously and recklessly making moves to rectify mistakes of the past.
More than 140 years ago, city leaders, tired of providing the lion's share of tax revenues to the county, established a new state constitution. “Home Rule” was designed to give the city control of its own destiny without interference from county governments. Because of its soaring population at the time, the city created boundaries that divided it from the county. As a result, it locked itself out any opportunities to expand its territorial reach. Home Rule also fueled the creation of duplicate systems: sanitation, public schools and fire and police departments throughout the region.
In the early, 1950s, once again confident that its population was going to exceed the one million-mark, city leaders sought to remove its black population from the downtown area for redevelopment. They failed to realize that new highways and new developments in the suburbs would lead to a dramatic loss of its white population.
For at least the past 30 years, they’ve used tax dollars and incentives to unapologetically shore up or rebuild areas of the city that has the potential to bring upper-to-middle-class whites back to the city. The Central West End, the Central Corridor, parts of south St. Louis and the downtown area surrounding the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) are all being primed for the arrival of the county’s “exodusters,” new age “gentrifiers” and high-wage-earning millennials.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with growth or expansion. Personally, I like the new breed of young whites who have migrated to the city. Some of them want to see a more progressive, more diverse, safer and more vibrant metropolis. Many are looking for ways to be a part of holistic change, but their enthusiasm is muted by division and the lack of a unified vision. The reality is that St. Louis has a long, ugly history of doing development in arrogant, unequitable, dismissive and racist ways. Just like in the old days of purposeful segregation today’s stale, stoic leaders are still insisting on investing in white neighborhoods while leaving black communities to rot and ruin. The city needs tough, visionary, young and diverse leaders to upset the apple cart of rich, mostly white oligarchs’ intent on territorial domination through cherry-picked, tax-dependent developments.
As far as Nasheed is concerned, her major opponent, current Aldermanic Board President, Lewis Reed, has been compromised by the power barons. She also asserts that he has not “leveraged his power for the benefit of all constituents.”
The “power” Nasheed referenced is his seat on the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment (A&E), the city’s chief fiscal body, along with the mayor and comptroller.
For example, Nasheed says Reed is playing “footsy” with the powers-that-be intent on privatizing the city’s biggest asset, St. Louis Lambert International Airport. She questions why they are doing so without public input.
Lately, local media has been fixated on what I deem “silly news,” regarding what individuals were fired by recently elected black politicians or the hours State Rep Bruce Franks (District 78), worked with youth as part of his part time job with a city agency. All this nonsense while a bigger, dare I say, more unethical scam is being perpetrated by fat cats and politicians involved with privatizing the airport.
Nasheed says Reed is playing “footsy” with the powers-that-be intent on privatizing the city’s biggest asset, St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
The St. Louis American and a few other news outlets have provided in-depth analysis of the situation but here’s a brief summary: Shortly before leaving office, former Mayor Francis G. Slay initiated the process to seek federal approval to study the prospect of putting Lambert under private management. A year later, he and a slew of his former staffers were hired as consultants for the Madrid-based company that’s one of three top contenders in the bidding process. Slay has teamed with “Grow Missouri” a nonprofit funded by Missouri billionaire Rex Sinquefield to submit the application to the Federal Aviation Administration. According to news reports, Grow Missouri is paying the consultant fees at the tune of about $800,000 a month. If the city goes through with its privatization efforts, taxpayers will reimburse Grow Missouri.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Melody Walker’s piece explores the possible conflict-of-interest concerns and violations of Missouri statutes involved in this boondoggle. Alderwoman Cara Spencer (D-20th Ward) and Alderman Scott Ogilvie (D-24th Ward) have sponsored a bill requiring a public vote on any airport privatization plans. Mayor Lyda Krewson does not support the idea and, along with Reed, voted to allow the privatization study to go forward. Comptroller Darlene Green, who also sits on the E&A board voted “no.” Meanwhile, Spencer and Ogilvie’s bill is being held up, without a vote, in the Board of Aldermen’s Transportation and Commerce Committee.
This is the sort of political thuggery that calls for new, aggressive leadership. Nasheed is in favor of giving citizens the right to vote on the issue. She’s also publicly called for the removal of Grow Missouri from the Airport Privatization Advisory Team, even though she’s received campaign money from Sinquefield.
This sort of political thuggery calls for new, aggressive leadership.
I like and respect Lewis and the other contender in the aldermanic president’s race, Megan Ellyia Green. However, of the three, I feel Nasheed has the passion, community connections, street cred and experience to shake things up at City Hall. During our lunch, we discussed development in black communities that would be on par with years of tax-paid developments in already stable, white communities. Nasheed immediately went to “empowerment,” saying we should find, support and empower up-and-coming black developers and nonprofits already doing the hard work of stabilizing, reenergizing and revitalizing long-ignored and underfunded neighborhoods.
|Candidate and State Senator Jamilah Nasheed|
The St. Louis region needs serious political reform. The outdated, narrow-minded, good-ole-boy system here needs a challenge in the form of the female surge that swept Congress during the midterm elections. The name “Jamillah Nasheed” has that same culturally-refreshing ring as other firebrand newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Gina Ortiz-Jones and Jahana Hayes.
If the endorsement of an old dude who’s been chronicling St. Louis’ adventures and misadventures forever has any weight, I’m throwing it behind Nasheed. We need fresh blood, we need more bold, female elected officials, we need someone to challenge the greedy, unchallenged status quo in this city. We need someone who can face a symbolic gun to her head without blinking, someone who will gird her shoulders for the fight and say: “Do what you’re gotta do! I’m gonna protect what I hold dear.”