In a warning to area Democratic leaders, a number of north St. Louis County mayors and other African-American elected officials announced Wednesday that they’ve formed a political coalition aimed at increasing the clout of minority voters.
“Recent events have shown that our voice has diminished,” said St. Louis County Council chair Hazel Erby, D-University City, who served as spokeswoman. “That ends today.”
Erby said the coalition is “serving notice that we are not going to support candidates just because they have an insignia of a donkey behind their name.”
But Erby emphasized that the group is staying with the Democratic Party and that no decisions have been made about which candidates to support or oppose in November.
“We’re discussing that and we’re exploring our options,’’ Erby said during the news conference at Berkeley City Hall.
“We intend to make sure that our community is educated and knowledgeable about the people who represent us and who have their best interests at heart.”
Stenger is likely target
While Erby was circumspect, and mentioned no names, Berkeley Mayor Ted Hoskins spelled it out. County Councilman Steve Stenger, the Democratic nominee for county executive, “does not have the best interests of our community,’’ Hoskins said.
But when asked, Hoskins said he had not talked with the Republican nominee, state Rep. Rick Stream of Kirkwood.
Rumors have been rife for weeks that some black elected officials might endorse Stream, or call for voters to skip the county executive's race, to protest Stenger’s support from St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Stenger was given an ultimatum from protesters at Tuesday's council meeting to disavow McCulloch, which so far Stenger has declined to do.
Some officials, including Erby and Hoskins, have been calling for McCulloch to step down – or be replaced -- as head of the local investigation into the Aug. 9 police shooting in Ferguson that killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
Neither Stream nor Stenger offered immediate comment about Wednesday’s announcement. A Stenger spokesman said later that their campaign was eager to point out to all county voters their differences with Stream.
"I don’t think Democrats will be voting for Mr. Stream after they are reminded that he supported disenfranchising voters time and time again, voted to slash funding for Head Start and cut Medicaid," said Stenger campaign spokesman Ed Rhode. "Further, he cosponsored legislation which would have barred President Obama from being on the ballot in Missouri if he did not provide his birth certificate to the secretary of state. He is too extreme for St. Louis County.”
Still, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she has told Stenger that because of the Democratic discord over Ferguson, "he's going to be a political casualty of war."
Nasheed is not a member of the new coalition because she resides in the city of St. Louis. She has, however, been an outspoken critic of McCulloch.
Stenger and Stream have each visited Ferguson several times during the protests. Since then, they have appeared separately at various events that focused on the police shooting, Ferguson and north county’s minority population.
The coalition is named the Fannie Lou Hamer Democratic Coalition, in honor of the civil rights activist from Mississippi. Hamer is credited with first uttering what’s become an oft-repeated civil-rights quote: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Erby acknowledged that she and other coalition members feel that way about Gov. Jay Nixon, who upset many African-American elected officials when he declined to replace McCulloch with a special prosecutor. Their chief objection against McCulloch is that his father was a policeman killed on duty by a black suspect. Critics question whether McCulloch can be objective about the probe into the Ferguson police shooting, although he says he has been fair in dealing with such cases in the past.
Coalition says issues go beyond Ferguson
Erby also sought to broaden the coalition’s concerns beyond Ferguson. She said the coalition is just as upset about a lack of jobs for minorities, racial profiling by police, and the handling of the school transfer situation for students in the Normandy Schools Collaborative.
Erby said the coalition was formed as she and others became disturbed by “the lack of respect’’ awarded them and their constituents. The founding members include mayors from Berkeley, Normandy, Vinita Park, Cool Valley, Moline Acres and Greendale. Also joining Erby were local officials from Northwoods, Jennings, University City and Glen Echo Park and at least two state legislators: Sharon Pace of St. Louis and Courtney Curtis of Berkeley.
But those in the audience included two young men – Darren Seals of Ferguson and Jeremy Rhone of Normandy – who questioned whether the officials truly represented the protesters. The two noted that most of the officials were decades older.
“This is a young man’s war,’’ Seals said later. “Young men are doing the fighting.”
Erby replied pointedly that she and many other officials were present shortly after Brown’s death and have been active ever since. She also noted that young women were involved as well.
In any case, Erby said the coalition welcomed activists like Rhone and Seals. The two later were invited into a closed-door meeting with the elected officials.