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Clay lauds Isom and Slay, plays down his friendship with the governor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 03, 2010 - U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, sought to dispel a few rumors today while also promoting his Career Fair, set for next Monday at Harris-Stowe State University.

The congressman also predicted that Missouri will end up retaining its nine congressional seats once the current national census is complete. Clay heads the U.S. House subcommittee overseeing the census operations.

Clay, in his 10th year in office, said in an interview that -- contrary to speculation around town -- he has not played a behind-the-scenes role in Gov. Jay Nixon's reshaping of the city's Police Board.

Clay said he is close to only one of the three (soon to be four) new Police Board members, Richard Gray. All three of the governor's appointees have been African-Americans, as is Clay.

While lauding Gray as "a competent person who's a good fit,'' Clay said that Nixon "never asked me'' about Gray or any of the board appointments.

Clay also sought to put to rest any reports that he might want to see someone else as St. Louis police chief. "I work well with Chief (Dan) Isom,'' Clay said. "We need a competent police force. Chief Isom exemplifies that. He has my full support. I appreciate the job he's doing."

Clay's comments, made this morning, carry a lot of weight because of the traditional clout that he -- and particularly, his father -- have wielded in St. Louis affairs for almost half a century.

The senior Clay, a congressman for 32 years and an alderman before that, was legendary for his behind-the-scenes roles in the city's police department, public schools and City Hall.

The younger Clay -- who has playfully dubbed himself "Clay Lite'' -- tends be more understated than his father.

But the current congressman's influence has long been noted nonetheless, particularly since he served in the state Legislature for 18 years. During that time, Lacy Clay became close friends with a number of now-major figures in the state Capitol, including another former legislator -- Gov. Jay Nixon.

While in the state Senate, Clay played an instrumental role in the 1990s in crafting an end to the state's financial involvement in St. Louis' court-ordered school desegregation program. Clay's efforts particularly helped Nixon, then the state attorney general who found himself under fire from many St. Louis African-American politicians over his push to phase out the state spending.

The duo's friendship continues to be evident. At today's formal launch of Express Scripts' new pharmaceutical facility, Nixon and Clay shared several private conversations -- and a few public laughs -- during the tour.

But Clay said that his strong relationship with the governor can be misinterpreted. "My influence is greatly exaggerated,'' the congressman said with a smile.

He also wanted to make it clear that he's on good terms with Mayor Francis Slay, who has had his differences lately with the governor, most notably regarding the Police Board. "There is no friction," the congressman said.

All that aside, Clay said he preferred to focus on two major concerns:

  • Making sure that as many Missourians as possible are counted during the census.
  • Promoting his career fair next Monday, which will feature 100 employers.

Regarding the census, Clay said that based on what he's heard, "Missouri is in a position of holding all nine congressional seats."
Speculation on Missouri's congressional seats have gone on for a couple years. The state last lost a congressional seat after the 1980 census, a process that touched off political turmoil. This year, experts have said that Missouri is among several Midwestern states -- including Minnesota and Wisconsin -- in danger of losing a seat because of population shifts westward.

This time, Clay said, he believed that officials all over the state, in both parties, are making an effort to make sure all Missourians are counted. In southeast Missouri, for example, he said that some small African-American communities had gone uncounted for decades -- but not this time.

"Our job between now and July is to make sure we knock on those doors of all those who did not return their census forms,'' he said.

As for Monday's career fair, Clay said that the participating companies will include: Boeing Co.; Ameren; Express Scripts; BJC Healthcare Systems; World Wide Technology; Centene Corp.; Wells Fargo Advisors; Lodging Hospitality Management; CVS Pharmacy; Best Buy; Office Depot; Lumiere Place; Harrah’s; Ameristar; the U.S. Postal Service; and "many others."

The free fair is to run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Harris-Stowe State University’s Emerson Physical Education & Performing Arts Center, 3026 Laclede Avenue.

He said that over 4,000 job-seekers visited the fair last year. "If you’re looking for a job, my Career Fair is the place to be," Clay said.

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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