Despite all the silliness in comments, something positive did come out of my critique of Maida Coleman’s website. The original complaint – the blog – still remains essentially unused, but the issue sections are fleshed out with more content and hyperlinks to articles backing them up. And Maida has her Senate record posted on the front of the website. There’s still a lot of problems, like the fact that half the landing page is taken up with a giant slogan and picture of Maida, instead of setting aside a space for links to a volunteer page and a contribution page, but I’ll give her credit for improving it.
I got a couple of e-mails in response to my snarky comment about Maida Coleman’s campaign blog the other day. The first, oblivious to the sarcasm, thanked for giving Maida some attention in her bid for Saint Louis mayor. The other, oblivious to the fact that Maida has an awful website, accused me of being a Republican in disguise trying to knock down the true progressive in the race. I think the readers here know that I am no Republican, and I don’t have to knock down a candidate who’s doing that all by herself. But perhaps it would be more constructive to explain why it’s awful, rather than just offering an offhanded remark. And it is indeed awful, independent on what you think of the candidate herself.
The website design itself is actually not bad at all. A lot of content is on display without it looking too busy or confusing. The colors are nice, and the graphics are all relatively crisp. A lot of campaign websites get this entirely wrong, the campaign apparently thinking that they have to throw a lot of link, buttons and headers at the visitor right off the bat and hope that something sticks. So on first glance, there’s some promise.
Below the flip, I’ll explain what’s wrong with the website.
That quickly fades once you actually start looking at content. The campaign blog that I mocked has only five entries, one in January and four total in March (each one posted several days apart.) The whole point of a blog is to record your thoughts for a public audience, and in a campaign context, to give your campaign website a little more personality and possibly even interactivity, if comments are allowed. To host a blog on your website but fail to regularly update it, well, that tells readers that you either don’t care or that you’ve got nothing to say. You’ve got to update each and every single day, even multiple times a day. If the candidate doesn’t have time to do it, she can use a staffer to write something in their own voice (not the candidate’s) that focuses on the themes of the campaign.
The problem isn’t just with the blog. The website as a whole has little substance for someone who stops by to see where she stands on the issues. She actually promises at one point to offer a “detail-specific” plan to in the future fight crime in an issues section littered with platitudes and lacking any detail or reference to Maida Coleman’s record as a state senator.
This isn’t a trivial point. Coleman is a challenger fighting an uphill battle – she needs everyone she can get. If someone stops by her website to see what she’s all about, there’s less specifics to drive someone into her camp than there might be on a campaign brochure.
I’m not saying she needs to list a 20 point plan or overwhelm the reader with paragraphs detailing your record, but at least something should be there, something the reader can take away and even persuade friends and family with. A few hyperlinks to news articles about specific proposals that Maida carried through the Senate, or two or three bullet points specifically outlining what she would do as mayor would help to make it more convincing.
The other side of this is that it serves as a poor vehicle for supporters who are already convinced that Maida is a better choice. The lack of specifics about Maida’s record and her plans for the city keeps supporters from being able to tell others those same specifics.
And this website isn’t a hub. There are two links to how you can contribute, one for donations and one for volunteering, but there’s nothing even driving you to that point on the front page of the website, which is dominated by a giant banner with a slogan and picture of Maida. You have to scroll down the front page to find the links to contribute and volunteer. And once you get to the volunteer page, you click off boxes denoting how you can help out, add your contact information, and wait for the campaign to contact you when needed. There’s nothing on the website that tells people where to go or how to help out when they have time, not just when the campaign comes calling.
Nor does it allow supporters to contact each other to find out how they might be able to organize something themselves, if they have different skills and ideas that the campaign might be overlooking. This last bit I can’t really single Maida out on, because it’s rare that campaigns actually encourage this kind of behavior. But the guy who was just elected president (you might have heard of him) owes his election in part to building this sort of functionality into his own campaign website. You think others might start catching on.
I’ll do a review of Slay’s website later this week, as it certainly isn’t perfect, either.
Hotflash and I had the opportunity to see the Democratic candidates for mayor up close late last week at a meeting of the 15th Ward Democratic Club. (Many thanks to Jan and Greg for organizing the event!) And I do mean up close – I was up in the front row, close enough to see the mayor’s leg twitching nervously as he delivered his opening statement, and Maida Coleman sat down right behind me, I suppose just to take in the show and research the opposition. Despite just wrapping up service as the Democratic leader in the Senate, Maida is an independent candidate for mayor and was not allowed to speak at the forum.
The 15th Ward Democratic Club held an open candidate forum for Democratic candidates on a night where the temperature hovered in the single digits. Despite this, a good 20 or 30 people turned out, not including the entourages of the various candidates. I didn’t take very accurate notes on what each candidate said, and a couple of problems with the camera prevented us from getting all of the gory details down on film. Hopefully Hotflash will have some YouTube clips for us soon so you can see for yourself at least some of what was said. All in all, though, I was more impressed with each of the candidates than I was going into the meeting.
More below the fold.
Mayor Slay’s opening statement seemed to me to be the workmanlike speech of an accomplished technocrat, full of stats on investment and paint by the numbers accomplishments. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it’s good to have a public servant who is rational and data driven, and this is the way Slay presents himself. He delivered the speech crisply and smoothly. As for the data itself, I’m not an expert, but I’m sure we’ll see a variety of partisans putting it in a different light between now and Election Day.
The only time Slay seemed to be agitated was when asked about Sherman George. He definitely knew the question was coming (as I recall it was something along the lines of “Would you have done anything differently regarding the situations in the fire and police departments?”) as his answer was logical and direct. He didn’t get angry or overly emotional or sentimental about the situation, but at times, he failed to complete sentences before rephrasing the sentence in another manner, and he repeated several points almost one after the other.
Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman was almost the polar opposite of Slay. Instead of coming across as a technocrat, her speech was almost completely filled with her passions. She’s obviously never been a candidate before, as her speaking style is still very rough and she began very tentatively. She did find her stride at one point, and perhaps the most entertaining point was when she glared over my left shoulder, right at Maida Coleman, and stated that she was beholden to no other interest or politician except the ideals for which she is running. I would have given anything at the point to have been seated on the other side of the room so that I could have seen Maida meet that gaze!
There’s a lot for Denise to work on if she’s going to become a formidable candidate. She didn’t have details at her fingertips like Slay did, or even a factoid she could steer the answer to if she truly didn’t have an answer. For example, she was asked what she would do about rising homelessness in St. Louis, and she responded that there were programs in Saint Louis to deal with homelessness, and she would look into getting more programs. Not exactly the most specific answer there.
Irene Smith closed out the night. A bit rushed, as the library’s closing time drew near even as she began, Smith struck a sweet spot between Slay’s managerial prose and Coleman’s fire. Like Coleman, Smith’s opening statement was heavy on biography. (Slay didn’t have to mention his biography – clearly the last eight years of his career massively outweigh everything else he’s done in terms of this campaign.) But she transitioned smoothly from her own career to the specific problems the city faces, possible solutions, and how her own previous experience matches those solutions. She’s a good public speaker, too – she effectively managed dramatic pauses for emphasis and wove larger themes into her specifics.
From people I talked to right after the forum and in the intervening week, I don’t think Slay is the lock that his overwhelming financial and institutional advantage might otherwise signify. The people I’ve talked to – regular voters, not political junkies – are very open to looking at the alternatives to Slay. A couple even recalled Smith’s incident in the aldermanic meeting back in 2001, but didn’t seem to care. All the caveats about anecdotal evidence, of course. So while Slay looks to be an easy winner, it will be interesting if a challenger gets enough funding and/or grassroots support to get their message out.
A point of disclosure and a caveat. First, I’ve given advice to Coleman’s campaign on Internet outreach. I know some of the people who are helping Denise with the campaign, and I know how tough a race they are facing. The least I could do was give them a few pointers based on what I learned working on the Margaret Donnelly campaign. It’ll be up to them to make good use of them, if they can.
Also, apologies for posting so late about the forum. I’m swamped at work and had all the usual chores in the intervening week between the candidate forum and now, plus the inaugural celebration, so I wasn’t able to post in the meantime. So there’s the caveat that I have probably failed to recollect a personal story that Slay shared, or some relevant policy details that Coleman told, that destroys my neat little characterizations of their appearances. In that respect, you, the reader, should treat this less as a news article than the personal feelings of an average voter. Hopefully, hotflash can balance that out with some YouTube clips that can allow you to form your own impression.
A New York Times article reprinted in the Sunday Post-Dispatch was headlined: Banks aren’t using federal bailout money to make more loans. The writers hammered that point home with example after example:
Speaking at the FBR Capital Markets conference in New York in December, Walter M. Pressey, president of Boston Private Wealth Management, a healthy bank with a mostly affluent clientele, said there were no immediate plans to do much with the $154 million it received from the Treasury.
“With that capital in hand, not only do we feel comfortable that we can ride out the recession,” he said, “but we also feel that we’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves once this recession is sorted out.”
Last Thanksgiving, St. Louis ACORN activists made the same point as the Times article when they gave Wachovia the Turkey of the Year Award for not using bailout money to slow the mortgage crisis. Might I just point out the obvious: If none of the banks are willing to lend, then they won’t have a recession to get through; they’ll have a depression. And the luxury cruise ships of our economy, like Wachovia and Boston Private Wealth Management, will sink along with a lot of rowboats with peeling paint.
How does it happen that one of the most active Democratic organizations in the state is in Springfield, the buckle on the Bible Belt? Springfield has Missouri State University, but it also has Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Baptist Bible Graduate School, Central Bible College, and Evangel College. Tell you what else it has: an office building that is the Democratic headquarters in Springfield with a full time executive director. St. Louis should be so lucky.
The Greene County Democratic Party Chairman has been Craig Hosmer. But he was recently elected chairman of the state party’s central committee, so his position as county chairman is being taken over by Art Kessler, a thirty year member of the local carpenters’ union. Kessler is just one of those working stiffs stepping up for the party. Here’s hoping he can maintain the terrific organization Hosmer leaves behind. And here’s further hoping that Hosmer is just as successful as central party chair as he has been in Springfield.
Former state senator Maida Coleman (SD 5 in St. Louis City) is mailing out from her former office in Jeff City a good-bye to her constituents–a twelve page color newsletter. She hopes to run as an independent, most likely against Francis Slay, in the April 7th mayoral election.
Term limits, as they are presently mandated, do as much harm as good. Certainly, the motivation for enacting them was understandable: citizens were fed up with a system where incumbents could scarcely be blasted out of office with anything short of an IED. But the eight-year term limit solution produced, at best, a situation where somewhat experienced lawmakers lead rank beginners through a complex process.
Uh-oh. Joint efforts of any kind do best with a mixture of newcomers with fresh ideas and people who’ve been around the block often enough to predict where the bumps and snarls will occur. Legislatures are no different. Let me invite any of our current legislators who read this posting–or anyone else, for that matter–to provide examples of problems that could have been avoided in recent sessions if a few old timers had been around.
And aside from creating glitches that should have been foreseen, the whole impermanency thing begets another problem: it contributes to the partisan fissures that cripple our state government. People who know what the lege used to be like say that reps could disagree on the floor and then go out for a brew together in the evening. Sure, I understand that part of the reason that no longer happens is the essential meanness of so many Republicans now. But part of the reason must also be that there’s little incentive to bridge the gaps when either you or the people you’re fighting with will be gone in a year or two.
Last spring, Senator Jolie Justus of Kansas City tried to overcome some of the sour aftermath of on floor bickering by arranging a weekly happy hour. That was a good idea, and perhaps she’ll follow through on it this January. It might help.
The problems that arise during legislative sessions because of term limits are only half the difficulty. The other half is what happens when people get termed out. The race in the fifth senatorial district is a perfect example: all four Democratic reps in Maida Coleman’s senatorial district (Robin Wright Jones, Rodney Coleman, Connie Johnson, and Tom Villa) are termed out–but not ready to leave state government. Two have announced for Coleman’s seat (she, too, is termed out), and the other two still might. It’s a mess.
Some legislators solve the termed out dilemma by turning to lobbying. Carl Bearden is the latest example. It’s good to let Dems have a shot at that yahoo’s seat, but when the short term limits were created, perhaps no one foresaw the unintended consequence that termed out reps would swell the ranks of lobbying leeches.
Meanwhile, in many districts, one or both parties are having trouble building farm teams good enough to keep supplying strong candidates to fill the frequent openings. Let’s see: how long has Albert Pujols been in the majors now–five years or six? I’d hate to see him shoved out of the sport in 2009. If baseball had term limits, it would hurt the quality of play. Few rookies can arrive from the minors and make an immediate impact on a team. Winning teams need a combination of seasoned veterans and up and comers.
The answer isn’t deep sixing term limits but lengthening the time allowed in office. And, in fact, the rumor is that a Republican, no less, plans to bring up the possibility this session of changing the limit for reps from eight years to eighteen. I’d cheer for that.
So much for rumors that Robin Wright Jones was holding out on announcing that she is running for Maida Coleman’s state senate seat (district 5) in hopes of getting some concession from Mayor Slay.
Robin is officially announcing her candidacy today at 10:30.
That means that two people are definitely in the race, Robin and Rodney Hubbard. Robin is a progressive straight down the line (as I’ve written here and here.) Rodney, popular in his district, is taking flack from lots of Democrats for accepting cash from Rex Sinquefield and for supporting pro-voucher legislation (as I wrote about here and here).
Robin has lined up endorsements from state senators Maida Coleman, Joan Bray, and Rita Days. Representatives endorsing her are Jeanette Mott-Oxford, Juanita Wilson, Pat Yeager and Esther Haywood.
Before Robin even got going good, Rodney had sewed up a big endorsement: Lacy Clay.
Everybody seems to assume that Representative Tom Villa, a socially conservative Democrat (pro-life, anti-stem cell) will run as a spoiler in that race, but who knows? He hasn’t said he plans to, and he’s likely to play it close to the vest, perhaps right up until filing time in February.
But his possible candidacy isn’t even the only other one to consider. Representative Connie Johnson is also taking under consideration the possibility of running. If she does, though, she too is likely to wait until the February filing date to announce her intentions.
If she and Villa both run, that would mean that all four representatives from Maida Coleman’s senate district are running for the seat.
Pictured above: top left–Wright Jones, top right–Hubbard, bottom left–Villa, bottom right–Johnson