City ward breakdown shows familiar racial voting patterns
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 8, 2009 - Like his predecessors, including the last three-term mayor, Francis Slay was largely elected by voters of the same race. The ward-by-ward results of Tuesday's St. Louis mayoral contest bear that out.
Despite Slay's huge advantage in money, endorsements and campaign operations, independent rival Maida Coleman - who is African-American - handily carried the 11 city wards deemed largely black.
In most of them, she garnered at least two-thirds of the vote. In two -- the 1st and 21st -- she got more than 75 percent of the vote.
But Slay did even better in the predominantly white wards and the mixed-race wards that make up the city's central corridor.
In the three predominantly white wards in southwest St. Louis that deliver the city's largest bloc of votes -- the 12th, 16th and 23rd -- the mayor snagged at least 90 percent of the vote in each one.
The mayor's campaign downplays the racial aspect, noting that the city's vote generally has split along racial lines for decades. What was even more significant, said campaign consultant Richard Callow, is that the turnout in the pro-Slay wards was much larger than in those that went for Coleman.
The citywide vote was 17 percent, just above election officials' projections. But in the 12th, 16th and 23rd, the turnout was almost 30 percent. Overall, 10 of the wards that went for Slay outperformed the citywide turnout.
By contrast, every one of the 11 wards that went for Coleman had turnouts below the citywide tally. In several of those wards, fewer than 12 percent of the registered voters showed up to cast ballots.
Although it's somewhat of a guess -- because voter registration forms do not ask for information about race -- it is believed that the majority of registered voters in the city are white. The city's population as a whole, as of the last census, was slightly more African American. But because the African American population is younger, more whites are believed to be registered to vote.
Callow gave a hefty chunk of credit to the Slay campaign. Compared to the Democratic primary, "we did a much better job with our get-out-the-vote efforts."
Slay's citywide total Tuesday of 22,912 votes was larger than the 19,359 votes he received in the March Democratic primary.
Overall, about 6,100 more people cast ballots in Tuesday's city general election. And some of them, Slay's campaign acknowledges, were probably Republicans.
Although outnumbered citywide roughly 4 to 1, city Republicans have occasionally played a crucial role in city elections. In 2001, city GOP officials admitted they persuaded their known supporters to turn out in large numbers to help Slay in the Democratic primary, when he faced then-Mayor Clarence Harmon and former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.
This time, Slay got a Republican boost with the weekend robo-call featuring Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the only Republican holding statewide office and a person who is popular with city business leaders. Also helping out was retired Sen. John C. Danforth, a popular Republican who was featured in a pro-Slay mailer.
Callow would say only that the Slay campaign had targeted various demographic groups in the city, and promoted like-minded political or civic leaders -- or certain stances or actions of Slay that might appeal to those voters.
As for Coleman, she agreed with the Slay camp that there was nothing new about St. Louis' voters casting their ballots largely along racial lines. "It's to be expected," Coleman said.
What did surprise Coleman was the low turnout in African-American wards, especially those that had been in her old state Senate district. "I had hoped for a larger turnout in the wards I had represented," she said. Coleman also noted that her Senate district had been racially diverse, and said that she would have preferred to have gotten more votes in the racially mixed central-corridor wards, some which also had been in her district.
But she noted Slay's huge financial edge. "With $3 million, you can make a lot of things happen," Coleman said.
All that aside, Coleman said she wanted to make one point very clear. "Those who did turnout Tuesday supported Francis Slay. He has the right to lead this city."
"Anyone who has issues with City Hall needs to take them up with Francis Slay."
Coleman said she was taking a brief vacation and then planned to do some house cleaning while pondering her future.
Coleman added that her days as a political independent, as she was for the mayoral contest, also are over. "I have always been a Democrat," she said. "I will always be a Democrat."
Unofficial Ward Breakdown