The last couple months on Show Me Progress have been fascinating for me. Despite the fact that throughout all the diaries I’ve written against the reelection of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, no one has yet been able to provide one single reason why a progressive person would support Slay, I still have apparently not managed to weaken any of the enthusiasm for Slay among other commenters. Due to the nonexistance of reasons a progressive person would vote for Slay, the main response to me seems to be that I have not provided any concrete reasons for people to vote against Slay. For example, it was suggested that if I could show that Slay’s administration wasn’t very good at snow removal, well now that would be a real reason to vote against him, but I had yet to provide any compelling, trustworthy information that actually reflected badly on Slay. And, aside from the fact that I reported how Slay is clearly willing to destroy people’s lives for the sake of handing over large swaths of property to his rich developer buddy Paul McKee (which I would think any progressive person would care about), I have to admit that I thought maybe they were right.
But what an amazing discovery I made in the last week! It turns out that just a few years ago, there was actual reporting going on in this city! (I should note that I think the St. Louis American does good reporting even though others here think that the American has an ideological axe to grind that interferes with the reporting quality) And back when we had real reporting, as opposed to the Post-Dispatch’s Community Advisory Board pap and Richard Callow press releases, there was plenty of concrete information that exposed the kind of mayor Francis Slay really is. Below the fold, I present some of that information, and claim that there is no longer a good excuse available for holding your fingers in your ears and loudly saying “LALALALALALA!” whenever someone suggests that its time for a change.
I mentioned in a previous diary that Slay played a large role in the destruction of the St. Louis Public School system. In response, it was claimed that (1) at least Slay tried something and (2) what went wrong wasn’t really his fault. Since (1) is a pretty weak argument if (2) isn’t true, I am only going to focus on (2). I’m by no means an expert on education, but I can point to several things that reasonable people should all agree are wrong.
First, in response to the claim that Slay didn’t really play that much of a role in the school system, we have this story. In it, we find that the aforementioned charmer Richard Callow and Slay’s eduction advisor Robyn Wahby literally sent the members of the school board a list of talking points and a “frequently asked questions cheat-sheet” for a meeting after a controversial decision. The FAQ ironically instructed the school board members how to respond to the question, “Is the mayor’s staff working on this?” In other words, Slay and his staff were 100% responsible for the actions of that school board while pretending not to be involved, and to think otherwise is to deny reality.
Fine, you might say, so Slay was responsible for the board. But this was merely because he was acting on what he thought the public wanted. You would be wrong. During the next school board election, Slay again supported his slate of candidates, but that time they lost (their asses handed to them by the teacher’s union, who by the way endorsed Irene Smith in the current primary). Immediately after his slate lost, Slay began to support a state takeover of the schools. In other words, Slay does not give a shit about what his constituents actually want or have any respect for the democratic process; once he lost the power to control the schools, he immediately advocated for a state takeover that would put power in the hands of anti-public school ideologues like himself.
And if there is any doubt about what Slay’s intentions are, consider the recent news (of course, not from a reporter), that Slay is upset that the School Administration Board (SAB) won’t allow the city to close public schools and immediately turn around and sell those school buildings for bargain basement prices to charter schools. This is nothing but a wholesale attempt to dismantle the public school system and then sell it off to private school supporters, who by the way have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Slay’s campaigns.
II. The Century Building
The Century was a beautiful old building in downtown St. Louis:
Somehow, Slay and his rich developer buddies decided it would be a great idea (or maybe “profitable” is a better word than “great”) to destroy this 19th-century National Historic Building and put up a nice parking garage in its place. Not only that, but they cleverly figured out a way to do it and to get tax credits for “preserving” a historic building.
Despite protests and lawsuits from preservationists and urban advocates, Slay turned the Century into rubble, and then into a parking garage.
But the ugliness of this situation wasn’t just in it’s poor urban planning, but also in the dirty politics Slay and his cronies chose to employ. When a different developer proposed a plan that would preserve the Century, Slay and his hit squad launched a backhanded media assault on them, put unrelated permits on indefinite hold, and threatened to drive them out of business (see here for more). And, to top it all off, our good buddy Callow wrote the press release for the defeated developers, and, “insisted on the most humiliating language of the release.”
In addition to the dirty politics that self-proclaimed progressive city dems turn a blind eye to, there remains the bugly fact that Slay’s urban development is always shortsighted and often disastrous. Destroying a historic building for a parking garage is exactly the wrong way to create an urban downtown. We constantly call on national politicians to end our oil addiction, but what can they really do when local politicians like Slay try to turn urban downtowns into giant automobile-centric suburbs?
And don’t forget Slay’s willful blind eye to the destruction North City neighborhoods (which I covered here) and the disaster of ballpark village. You say Slay is good for development? I say puh-lease!
III. Dirty Politics
There have already been some gems of dirty politics mentioned above, so I’ll only throw out a couple more.
First, Slay’s Chief of Staff once gave tacit approval to one of Slay’s employees accusing an opponent of the new stadium of racism.
Second, as I’ve already diaried about, Slay allows his crony Lou Hamilton drive around illegally with police sirens and lights, and to have a parking pass that allows him to park in normally restricted zones in front of schmancy-pants restaurants.
This sort of Machiavellian politics and showboating display of power does nothing to help the Democratic Party. It would almost be like the Medici family, except Slay tends to destroy beautiful buildings rather than create them.
IV: The Present
St. Louis is the tenth-most miserable city, has the 4th-highest crime rate, is #1 in gonorrhea, has a giant hole next to the baseball stadium, has terrible public schools, and lost Anheuser-Busch to Belgians. Of course, none of this could ever be suggested to have anything to do with Slay, and if snow removal got bad enough, it would cease to have anything to do with Slay as well. On the other hand, we obviously can give Slay all the credit for the redevelopment of St. Louis that has started to occur since he’s been in office, right? Well, not really. A new report by the East-West Gateway has shown that all of Slay’s beloved tax breaks have failed to actually create economic growth. The credits do nothing but push money around. That argument for Slay is a giant FAIL.
V. The Future
Finally, if people don’t really care about the fact that Slay screws over half the city while he helps out his buddies and gives just enough to his base, I have two forward-looking reasons for why Slay’s election bodes poorly for the future: it is commonly known that Slay has aspirations for higher office. With all of the (justified) complaining on showmeprogress about how McCaskill is too much of a centrist, how could there be such unadulterated support for a guy who is clearly more corrupt and more in the pockets of big business and the ultra-rich than McCaskill ever was? By putting Slay in office, we are increasing the likelihood of his running and winning for a statewide office. And why should we be confident that all of the people who unquestioningly support Slay would do otherwise when he runs for statewide office? How long do we really think it will take for Slay to run even further to the right when he runs for statewide office knowing that St. Louisans will uncritically support him no matter what his actual positions are?
Furthermore, Slay’s contempt for democracy is apparently rubbing off on younger generations. The Executive Board of the St. Louis Young Dems recently broke with tradition to endorse Slay in the Democratic Primary. Not only that, but they didn’t even give their membership an opportunity to vote or the candidates a chance to speak. They simply started sending out messages asking if people would like to get paid to work for Slay. BTW, their rationale for this move was that since they didn’t have a meeting since September, the exec. board would have to make a decision without allowing a vote in order to remain relevant. However, they started sending out messages for Slay on January 17 while their next meeting was scheduled for January 26th(!), so this claim quite simply does not make sense. In a city so bitterly divided, would it really have been so hard for them to at least have heard from the other candidates or to have allowed members a chance to speak? Slay’s machine has apparently been successful in convincing younger Dems that power and money are more important than sticking to archaic notions of “de-mo-cra-cy.” Supporting Slay’s candidacy does nothing but further the machine style of politics that have held St. Louis back from becoming an actual meritocracy.
I have presented my concrete reasons. Now it’s up to Slay supporters to either keep their heads buried in the sand, or to attempt to provide some of their own concrete reasons why a progressive person would vote for Slay. Irene Smith had her “incident,” but she is a highly qualified candidate and a far better speaker than Slay. And, like her campaign says, she is working to represent all of St. Louis, while Slay even on the most optimistic estimates only tries to represent half.