Commentary: Mayoral primary results were about more than race | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Mayoral primary results were about more than race

Mar 11, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 11, 2013 - Post-election analysis frequently addresses concepts that have been used in the past. Change is sometimes given short shrift. Before looking at the returns from the mayor’s race, a few points should be made about the campaign.

Certainly incumbent Francis Slay had a great deal more money than his challenger. That allowed him to put several warm and fuzzy ads on television and send out a number of mailers, some not so fuzzy. Yet, if money were always the determinant in a St. Louis race, Tom Villa would have been elected mayor in 1993.

Lewis Reed mounted the most meaningful challenge to Slay. With better focus, he might have fared better. His campaign did not issue position papers until the last few days of the campaign and his purpose in running was not always made clear. He had the support of Firefighters Local 73, a political powerhouse in some past contests. Some young people rallied to his cause. But the lack of a fine-tuned mission hurt him.

There was also some questionable campaigning. A video Reed disowned almost a week after it appeared questioned the mayor’s sexuality. There was “Slayve” mayor and his black lackey. Finally, an ad in The American and replicated on door hangers showed Malcolm X, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King Jr. and asked whom they would vote for. A separate committee paid for the door hangers but they were distributed along with Reed GOTV hangers. These appeared in integrated neighborhoods but, in at least one case, seven hours after the polls had opened.

The Slay campaign used negative advertising in some of its mailings, mentioning Reed’s finances and his support from an East St. Louis strip club operator. Both campaigns used radio in positive and negative fashion.

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed endorsed Slay. Slay had supported Clay in a contested primary in August while Reed had been neutral.

St. Louis ward boundaries changed last year, reflective of the 2010 census. More wards are now integrated, between 30 and 70 percent black. These integrated wards are no longer confined to the central corridor.

This was not a clear black-white election but one with certain nuances. Turnout is always important and turnout continues to be related to income.

Higher income wards, such as those in southwest St. Louis, always have the highest turnout. A contested aldermanic race can also cause more voters to turn out. Tuesday’s weather was far from optimal for voters. It could have deterred some. There may have also been an air of complacency: Slay will win so why bother. Only 4,500 votes separated the two principal mayoral candidates. 

In certain elections, the race of the voter determined his or her vote. In the 1987 race for president of the Board of Aldermen, 99 percent of black voters selected the black challenger, Mike Roberts. This 2013 primary is not as definitive. Lewis Reed received between 15 and 23 percent of the vote in very heavily white wards. The firefighters, concerned about their pensions, police officers who had opposed local control and other disaffected voters made inroads here.

In the predominantly black wards, Slay received between 17 and 38 percent of ballots cast. Congressman Clay made radio commercials for Mayor Slay and was featured in at least one mailing.; These results show that the city is still divided racially, but the race of a voter does not necessarily predict his vote.

As president of the Board of Aldermen, Lewis Reed had come to differ with the mayor on a number of issues, including firefighters’ pensions. Owing his initial election in part to Slay supporters, Reed’s break from the mayor was not an easy one. Yet, Slay’s election to an unprecedented fourth term was not a done deal. Under other circumstances and with a more focused campaign, Reed might have had a cliffhanger.

As Slay approaches the general election, he might move to bring the city together. Black and white no longer hold the answers. Many areas are integrated and race is not the only voting cue.

Lana Stein is a regular contributor to the Beacon.