This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: As St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay heads into the final lap of his historic bid for a fourth four-year term, expect to hear a lot more about “sustainability,” his top campaign issue for the general election
But “sustainability’’ – in a different sense – is also an apt word to describe the questions at City Hall, as the mayor, his allies and his political opponents recalibrate their relationships in the wake of his Democratic primary victory last week over Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
On the campaign front, Slay and his team say that his quest to make the city safer, greener and more inclusive are all part of his “sustainability’’ goal. Specifically, Slay says he would like to reduce crime, plant thousands of trees and reach out to the gay and lesbian community.
Slay’s general-election plans stem in part from his campaign’s assumption that he won’t face much of a challenge from his only rival in the April 2 election: Green Party nominee James McNeely.
McNeely, who could not be reached by the Beacon, has yet to show up at any candidate forums or hold any public campaign events.
Slay’s focus on “sustainability’’ also is seen as appealing to some city residents who might be attracted to the Green Party’s platform and its focus on improving the environment.
The mayor’s pitch also appears to reflect an acknowledgment that, unlike the March 5 primary, St. Louis’ contest for mayor isn’t expected to be the marquee issue on the April 2 ballot.
That status may belong to the Proposition P sales tax, on ballots in St. Louis and St. Louis County, to improve the Arch grounds and raise money for Gateway Greenways District. The largest bloc of the money raised – 40 percent – would go toward improving and sustaining city and county parks.
Slay supports the proposed tax, and his general-election campaign – while not focusing on the Arch tax – appears to be in tandem with its aims.
As for his inclusive aim, Slay has been upfront for more than a decade that he supports gay rights. Several of his relatives, including some siblings, are gay or lesbian. Still, PROMO – the state’s largest advocacy group for the LGBT community – chose to stay out of St. Louis’ mayoral contest.
PROMO executive director A.J. Bockelman said the group avoids city contests except for “strategic reasons.” However, to sustain the supportive relationship that the group already has with the mayor, Bockelman said that PROMO would like Slay to address certain issues.
Among them: “Training police cadets on common LGBT issues they might encounter.”
Bockelman said PROMO also would like to see continued financial support for community groups and perhaps naming a park for former state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford “or another notable LGBT individual who contributed to the welfare of the broader community.”
Changes expected in dealings with Carpenters union
Two of Reed’s biggest backers in the March 5 election were the two unions that combined represent a large segment of the city's workforce: Local 73 of the International Association of Firefighters and the Carpenters union.
The firefighters have been battling Slay for several years over his effort to revamp their pension plan, which the mayor contends is unsustainable.
Both sides are currently in court over some of the Slay administration’s proposals, which generally have approved by the Board of Aldermen, despite Reed’s opposition. The next court hearing is slated for later this month.
Demetrius Alfred, president of the St. Louis firefighters local, said he doesn’t expect to see much change in the two sides’ dealings, now that Slay won his primary and is favored to win re-election April 2.
“The mayor won the race. Congratulations to him,” Alfred said in an interview. “We’re at the same spot that we were before the election.”
The same may not be said of the mayor’s future dealings with the Carpenters, who represent about 1,000 city employees (half of whom are dues-paying members).
Slay's chief of staff Jeff Rainford said the mayor and his team expected the firefighters to endorse Reed -- but not the Carpenters, which ended up donating about $45,000 to Reed’s campaign.
“At some point, the Carpenters are going to have to explain to their members why they took $45,000 of their hard-earned money and flushed it down the toilet,’’ said Rainford.
“There’s no rhyme or reason why (Carpenters president) Terry Nelson took the position he did,” Rainford continued. “It’s puzzling. We had a two-year labor agreement with them.”
Rainford noted that the Carpenters union is engaged in some jurisdictional disputes with other unions regarding who should represent certain city workers. Alluding to the pro-Slay endorsements from the St. Louis Labor Council, Rainford observed tartly, “We know which side we’re going to come down on in those disputes.”
Jo Ann Williams, the Carpenters’ business manager, said she was concerned that Rainford’s comments reflected “personal politics’’ that she found unacceptable.
“This was a business decision, never a personal decision,’’ Williams said. “We expect to work with the mayor as we did in the past.”
Williams contended that the Carpenters’ active support of Reed came largely as a result of the flap over a newly worded document – now withdrawn – that new city employees had to sign. The document stated that all benefits, including pensions and vacations, could be changed or withdrawn at any time.
The Carpenters and other unions pointed out that unionized city workers are bound by contracts that require negotiations to change benefits. The Slay administration agrees and is changing the wording of the document.
Williams blames the mayor and his staff for the dispute and contends it affected how the Carpenters approached the primary. “We have no desire to engage in battles for no reason,’’ Williams said. “Had that addendum not been issued, we probably could have remained neutral.”
Slay bolstering relationships with members of Congress
Another fallout from the primary, aides say, is Slay’s stronger relationship with Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri’s two top Democrats. Both had endorsed the mayor.
In Nixon’s case, the support had been noteworthy because he and Slay had been at odds over several touchy issues – notably the state’s historic tax credits and Slay’s successful effort to end state control of the city’s police department.
The two now are on the same page on two issues of mutual interest. The mayor is supporting Nixon’s call for expanding the state’s Medicaid program, in line with the federal Affordable Care Act, and the two are opposing Republican efforts to curb labor rights.
Slay's longtime campaign manager and consultant Richard Callow said the mayor is likely to pay more attention to sustaining those relationships with Nixon and McCaskill, as well as with U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.
Clay and Nasheed had endorsed Slay’s re-election, and several of Clay’s top campaign aides from last summer had been hired by the mayor for his contest with Reed.
Nasheed said her once-cool relationship with Slay changed dramatically several years ago when the two forged an alliance in favor of local control of the police department. She now expects to work with Slay on other state-related issues, such as proposals to improve programs for criminals who have completed their prison terms and now seek to re-enter society.
Nasheed contended that the outcome of last week’s primary might have been different if she and Clay had chosen to back Reed. Instead, Nasheed said she had been willing to take some flak from groups who thought she should have backed Reed, a fellow African-American, because she believed that Slay had done more for city residents, including her constituents.
And she expects that relationship to be sustainable.