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Seven candidates want 23rd Ward aldermanic seat

This article first appeared in te St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 27, 2009 - Of the aldermanic contests on Tuesday's primary ballot, none is more packed than the seven-person field jockeying for the open seat in the 23rd Ward in southwest St. Louis.

Incumbent Democrat Kathleen Hanrahan is retiring after just over four years in the seat.

But what makes this year's contest so compelling is that the 23rd Ward is the longtime base for now-Mayor Francis G. Slay, who used to be the alderman, and his father, Francis R. Slay, who still is the 23rd Ward's Democratic committeeman.

The mayor says he's making no endorsements in the current race; he no longer lives in the ward. But his father and the 23rd Ward Democratic organization have endorsed Joseph Vaccaro , a car wash owner who has made three previous bids for the aldermanic seat.

Vaccaro, who is first on the ballot, also has endorsements from labor, police and firefighters groups, and a number of prominent city Democrats.

Those endorsements have made Vaccaro a target for several of his rivals, who question whether such support came with strings attached. Vaccaro denies it. He says his chief campaign focus is on the rising number of rental properties in the ward and the future of Mallinckrodt elementary school, which may or may not be slated for possible closure.

No other party is fielding candidates, so the winner of the Democratic primary takes the seat.

Here's a snapshot of the other 23rd Ward contenders, in ballot order:

-- Mary Homan  is a research specialist at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health.

She's emphasizing "quality of life'' issues, including economic development, the need for public health and senior services, and improved services for constituents.

-- Colleen M. Bridges  is a teacher at a Catholic grade school.

"My biggest issue is communication,'' she says, citing the need for a stronger ward information-sharing network of neighborhood associations and block captains. Bridges proposes corporate-school partnerships, to help the public schools make physical improvements at lower cost.

-- Judi Roman  is a veteran campaign consultant and political activist.

Her top priority: "To make the 23rd Ward more open, more responsive. I think the alderman shouldn't answer to anyone except their constituents."

-- Kevin R. Toal is semi-retired in the real estate business.

His chief issue is taxes,and the city's use of tax abatement and other financial incentives. Toal is critical of such breaks at a time when the city is hurting for money and some public schools are closing.

-- Doug Dick  is retired from a career in sales and marketing.

He is president of the Lindenwood Neighborhood Association, and is active with the Linden Heights Housing Corp. Dick cites his experience in ward and community matters.

-- Forrest V. "Woody" Lange  was a 20-year employee of the city of St. Louis.

Lange has been a leader with the Clifton Heights Neighborhood Association. He cites his familiarity with "the processes of city government'' and his longtime community activism.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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