First District's only congressional forum centers on Clay legacy | St. Louis Public Radio

First District's only congressional forum centers on Clay legacy

Jul 27, 2016

In their only forum before Tuesday’s primary, Missouri’s major-party candidates for the 1st congressional district seat were civil and concise. Both attributes were required by the area’s League of Women Voters, which conducted the forum at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis.

The star participant was U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, who has held the seat for 16 years.  He succeeded his father, Bill Clay Sr., who served for 32 years. That long tenure was a key topic for one of Lacy Clay’s Democratic rivals, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.  She told the audience, “You must ask yourself a question: Is 48 years too long for one family?”

Clay sought to dispel such thoughts in his own closing statement, where he read a recent endorsement by “a friend:”  President Barack Obama.  

Wrote the president, in part: “Lacy Clay has been a fearless progressive voice with backbone who stood with me against the Republican assault on Medicare and Social Security, and who defended women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions…”

U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, looks toward the other candidates at Tuesday night's forum.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In general, Obama has rarely endorsed in a Democratic primary. The fact that he’s weighing in on the 1st District fight, said Clay and his staff, was a sign of how effective Clay has been in Washington.

Chappelle-Nadal disagrees. But under the forum rules, she and the other Clay rivals refrained from any direct attacks. Democratic rival Bill Haas was a brief exception, but he was interrupted by a moderator and ordered to desist or sit down.

Chappelle-Nadal’s closing statement did include some veiled jabs, such as her promise that she wouldn’t be in the district only on weekends.

Bill Haas listens as other candidates answer questions from the crowd.
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

For the most part, the three Democrats agreed on most issues. All promised to encourage private development around the planned federal NGA site in north St. Louis, all called for improving public transportation and all emphasized their support for improving public education.

Chappelle-Nadal emphasized her concern about the radioactive waste at the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton, and the neighborhood’s fears about the underground fire in the neighboring Bridgeton landfill.

Republican candidate Steven G. Bailey gives an opening statement.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

She and Clay appear to share the same sentiment, that the federal Army Corps of Engineers needs to take jurisdiction over the sites, replacing the oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency.

All three Democrats also share similar views on health care, such as supporting a “public option’’ in health insurance coverage, and backing the chief tenets in the Affordable Care Act.

Audience members listen as candidates answer questions.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Clay was arguably at his most passionate as he lamented that “the state of Missouri has blocked 700,000 people from getting expanded Medicaid under the ACA because of the hatred that flows from the Republican leadership in Jefferson City. That they would punish their own people, close their economic engines – their  hospitals – in those rural counties, all for the sake of denying Obama a legacy. Shame, shame.”

Paul Berry III addresses the crowd at Christ Church Cathedral.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Joining the Democrats at the forum were the two Republicans on Tuesday’s ballot: Paul Berry III and Steven G. Bailey. Both emphasized their support for free-market solutions for various problems, including healthcare, education and transportation.

The Republican and Democratic victors will face off in November. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect last name for Steven G. Bailey. We regret the error.