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Mayoral race exposes lack of leadership

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Published in St. Louis American, Thursday February 16, 2017

 

I’ve come to accept the “social” in social media, especially Facebook, rather than see the media as an effective political tool. Sharing photos of newborns, family gatherings and what people ate for lunch. Periodically there’s some political gems in between the social stuff. I stumbled across an example of this with a posting from local activist attorney Jerryl Christmas.

 

Christmas’ posting on January 26 was both poignant and sarcastic.

“Today is the last day to withdraw from the mayor’s race,” Christmas posted. “I’m supporting Lewis Reed for mayor but I wish we had black leadership in St. Louis that understood consolidation of power. Tishaura Jones belongs in Congress, Antonio French should be the next president of the Board of Alderman, Jeffrey Boyd should run Veterans Affairs for the city and we can support Jimmie Matthews in his spiritual growth.”

About the same time as this posting, mayoral candidate and 28th ward alderman Lyda Krewson released some polling results. Not surprising, the poll show Krewson leading the pack with almost 30 percent of the vote. Running 10 percentage points behind her was Lewis Reed, followed by Antonio French and Tishaura Jones.

There’s conjecture that the white mayoral candidates came to a meeting of the minds. Police Chief Sam Dotson would step down if he was guaranteed the chief position after the election. Gregory F.X. Daly can keep his job as Collector of Revenue. What we do know is that there is now only one viable white candidate running for mayor. And if you’ve been paying attention, race matters in this town.

Christmas’ posting produced a flurry of responses that I believe should’ve been part of a more robust discussion planned prior to the filing date for mayor.

Who has the moral or political authority to call for such a consensus meeting? Does anyone have the right to tell a citizen that they can’t run for office regardless of their ability to win? Should the community be looking at platforms/plans rather than personalities? Are the candidates’ history in the offices they currently hold evidence that they can produce the kind of transformation this divided and declining city is begging for.

These are age-old questions that emerge every time the African-American community comes to this juncture.

There have been consensus sessions before, some more public than others. The democratic process says anyone can run for office who is eligible. The democratic process also allows for organized efforts to suggest to people who to vote for. At the end of the day – or, in this case, the election – it’s about who out-organizes the competition. And we’ve seen in past elections, including state and national ones, that money is not always the decisive factor. It’s organization and strategy.

All the top black candidates currently hold public office. It’s a starting point to determine their vision, imagination and competency. They all are or have been lawmakers. What kind of legislation did they propose to move the city forward?

Antonio French and Jeffrey Boyd are alders. Would a look at their respective wards serve as microcosms of their vision for the city be insightful and compelling?

Tishaura Jones is city treasurer and before that she was a state rep. What does her history reveal about her important role as a change agent?

Lewis Reed is one-third of the powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the city body that makes the important financial decisions about how our tax dollars get spent. Has he effectively wielded his power and influence as president of the Board of Aldermen to chart a new direction for the city?

After the election on March 7, we can count on endless chatter about who was right and what went wrong. But in a “Trump” world, enlightened and empowered citizens don’t have the luxury of promoting egotism and pipedreams. We can’t squander valuable time and resources.

More importantly, we absolutely shouldn’t be dashing the hopes of our people with the notion that we don’t have the committed leadership to not only resist the avalanche of right-wing populism and policies but to build the people-power to aggressively advance our human rights to live with dignity and without fear.