Mon April 18, 2011
New aldermen take seats at City Hall
Larry Arnowitz knew his campaign against Fred Heitert was a long-shot at best. After all, Heitert had served the 12th Ward on the city’s southwest side since 1979, winning eight elections as a Republican without the benefit of a Republican voting base. (He lost that in the 1981 redistricting, when the other Republican poached it.
But during his years as a city employee, Arnowitz got to meet Albert "Red" Villa, the longest-serving alderman in St. Louis history. He also served as a deputy sheriff at the pleasure of Red's son Tom, when Tom was the Board president. (The two will serve together on the board for the next two years. Tom is filling the seat of his nephew Matt, who resigned to focus on expanding Villa Lighting, the family business.)
Watching the Villa family doing constituent service made Arnowitz think about a second career in elected office.
"It wasn’t an issue against Heitert at all, it was just something personally that I wanted to do," Arnowitz says. "As an employee of 30 plus years, I have the perspective of the working end."
Arnowitz knew he had no name recognition, and he hates asking for money. So for nearly three months, he spent five hours a day knocking on doors of the ward. By his estimation, he hit more than 90 percent of them. That hard work paid off on Election Night, when he beat Heitert by 47 votes of the 2,600 cast.
Heitert clearly saw the historical parallels between his first election - in 1979, he beat a Democratic incumbent by 43 votes - and his last.
"My opponent surprised me somewhat," Heitert admits. "I will give him credit, he worked hard. And that seems to be ironic because that's what I did and my opponent back in '79 really didn't work that hard."
"I'm voting my constituency," he says. "They want local control of the police department, I'm going to vote that way and I'm going to think that way. The same way with the fire department. Everyone else is taking cuts in the budget, but not the fire department."
Arnowitz says he opposes local control because he’s not sure who at City Hall is qualified to run the department. He says police and firefighters may have to pay more into their pensions – but opposes layoffs.
A new "minority floor leader"
As the board’s only Republican, Heitert held the mostly ceremonial post of “minority floor leader." The board's second newcomer - independent Scott Ogilvie, will now fill that role.
The 30-year-old bike mechanic says he ran for office because his wife told him if he didn't, he needed to stop talking about it. He calls the 24th Ward - which covers Dogtown, Ellendale, and Clifton Heights, a beautiful area of the city where e-mails and phone calls to aldermen went unanswered.
"There was a lot of frustration about a lack of information on development issues because there's been a fair amount of new housing built in the last few years, but a lot of residents felt like they didn't know that it was happening until a bulldozer showed up in their next door neighbor's yard," he says.
Ogilvie says it will be his job as alderman to both make sure that his constituents know about development projects, and receive some long-term benefits from them. He also wants to improve sidewalks and make it easier for people to get to Forest Park, which sits just north of his ward.
But most importantly, Ogilvie says, he wants to do everything he can to increase the city’s population.
"We have a city that could easily support 450,000 people, and we have 320-some-thousand people paying for it right now," Ogilvie says. "And that's a big problem."
Ogilvie says he chose to run as an independent because the issues facing aldermen are non-partisan. He acknowledges that might make him vulnerable to a challenger, especially from the Democratic Party, in four years, becoming one of the smattering of incumbents that loses in every election.
But he says competitive elections are important. Both he and Larry Arnowitz think their victories will inspire more challengers.
(Unlike the 12th Ward, the 24th has been relatively competitive in the last decade. Tom Bauer, who served for six years, was ousted in a September 2005 recall. Bill Waterhouse won the special election that December. Less than six years later, Bauer turned around and ousted Waterhouse in the March 2011 primary.)
Former alderman Jim Shrewsbury hopes Ogilvie and Arnowitz are right.
"Ten, 15 years ago, I thought the quality of the board was much better than it is today," says Shrewsbury, who was the incumbent board president in 2007 when he was ousted. "And I guess the trend I see is fewer and fewer people participating in municipal primaries and municipal elections, fewer and fewer good people running, and more and more aldermen who aren't doing their jobs not being held accountable."
But, Shrewsbury cautions, new faces don’t always mean better. His advice to newcomers? Ask lots of questions, and pick your battles.