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Trying to Learn About Ward Organizations in the City of St. Louis

September 25, 2006 Politics/Policy 11 Comments

A post on the 15th Ward blog of my friend Steve Wilke-Shapiro got my attention. It was a guest piece written by Jan Clinite, President of the 15th Ward Democrats. Basically this group was started in 2001 when Jennifer Florida didn’t or wasn’t going to get the endorsement of the other 15th Ward group — a “closed” organization whereby the members don’t vote. In closed wards, only the Committeeman and Committeewoman determine the endorsements.

The committee people are elected every four years in the August Democratic Presidential primary. Seldom are these posts challenged. Some, myself included, have questioned the need for such positions as well as the organizations themselves. The mission of these are typically to do the ‘get out the vote’ and to educate voters. My experience, albeit limited, has been that of a small social group. In the 25th Ward in 2005 the committee only had something like 20 paid members, if even that.

So, I set out to learn as much as I could about ward committees operating in St. Louis. I started my search at the St. Louis City Democratic Central Committee website and the Republican counterpart. Wow, stark contrast. One gives you lots of information on who represents each ward and the other tells you almost nothing. If you think the Democratic site is the open and informative site you must be new to St. Louis!

Next I searched through the Missouri Ethics Commission website for the word “ward.” This turned up results for every ward except the 17th which I was able to find by searching for “17.” I’ve listed all these organizations below in order by ward and then in order listed on the Ethics website. Where known, I’ve included a link to their website.

1st Ward:

• First Ward Regular Independent Democratic Organization
• 1st Ward Democratic Organization

2nd Ward:

•  2nd Ward Regular Democratic Club
• 2nd Ward Independent Democratic Organization

3rd Ward:

• 3rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization

4th Ward:

• 4th Ward Democratic Organization
• 4th Ward Original Democratic Organization

5th Ward:

• The New 5th Ward Democratic Organization
• 5th Ward Democratic Organization

6th Ward:

• 6th Ward Democratic Association

7th Ward:

• St. Louis 7th Ward Democrats

8th Ward:

• 8th Ward Democratic Association
• 8th Ward Independent Democratic Association
• 8th Ward Democratic Committee

9th Ward:

• 9th Ward Democratic Organization

10th Ward:

• 10th Ward Republican Organization

11th Ward:

• 11th Ward Regular Democratic Organization
• 11th Ward Democratic Organization (NEW! Thomas A Villa, Treasurer)

12th Ward:

• 12th Ward Regular Democratic Organization

13th Ward:

• 13th Ward Regular Republican Club
• 13th Ward Regular Democratic Club

14th Ward:

• Leonore K. Sullivan 14th Ward Democratic Organization
• 14th Ward Neighbors for Community Action

15th Ward:

• Democrats of the 15th Ward
• 15th Ward Democrats

16th Ward:

• 16th Ward Democratic Organization

17th Ward:

• 17th FDR Club Democratic Organization

18th Ward:

• 18th Ward Regular Democratic Organization (MECID# C000890; Maria Hill, Treasurer)
• 18th Ward Regular Democratic Organization (MECID# C031046; Ellen Todd, Treasurer)

19th Ward:

• Jordan W. Chambers 19th Ward Reg Demo Organization

20th Ward:

• 20th Ward Democratic Organization

21st Ward:

• 21st Ward Regular Democratic Organization
• Original Twenty First Ward Democratic Organization

22nd Ward:

• 22nd Ward Democratic Organization
• 22nd Ward Democratic League

23rd Ward:

• 23rd Ward Regular Democratic Organization

24th Ward:

• 24th Ward Regular Democratic Club-2
• 24th Ward Regular Democratic Organization
• Friends of the 24th Ward
• 24th Ward Republican Club

25th Ward:

• 25th Ward Regular Democratic Club

26th Ward:

• 26th Ward Regular Democratic Organization

27th Ward:

• 27th Ward Regular Democratic Organization Inc

28th Ward:

• 28th Ward Democrats Campaign Committee
• 28th Ward Leadership Committee

As you can see, factions seem to have split many of the wards. Not only have we divided up a city of under 62 square miles into 28 wards we’ve managed to further divide that not just between Democrats and Republicans but within the Democratic party. Just recently Thomas Villa created a new 11th Ward organization. Interestingly, it is the other 11th Ward organization that has the best website of any ward in the city and it is far superior to the overall City Democratic site. In the 18th Ward they have two organizations with the same name as listed by the state.

But the real issue is the secretive mode in which the City Democrats appear to operate based on their website. I read they have a new office on Manchester Road in the failed St. Louis Marketplace but you’d never know it from their website. I also know the Chairman is Brian Wahby and a few of the committee people. I have more questions than answers: When do the wards meet? Where? How often? Which wards are open membership wards and which are closed? Who are the various committee people and the other officers?

If someone wants to get involved at the local grassroots level in this city it is clearly hard to find information on how to do so. This is not an accident. They don’t want lots of new energetic people getting involved. You see, the committee people are patiently waiting in line so they can one day become Alderman. Growing local ward groups is counterproductive to their goal of moving up the political food chain because someone more interesting just might cut in line.

The Missouri Ethics Commission lists both the St. Louis Metropolitan Democrats and Democratic Campaign Committee of St. Louis City. Brian Wahby seems to be involved with both — one focusing on the city and the first more of a regional group. But the City Dems’ website lists on the bottom; “Democratic Federal Campaign Committee of St. Louis City, Joseph Keaveny, Treasurer.” Funny, that name doesn’t exist in the Missouri Ethics database. Looking up the treasurer, I found the organization mentioned above, the Democratic Campaign Committee of St. Louis City. Granted, it is only one word — Federal — that distinguishes them. You’d think an organization with over $10,000 in the bank that is in the business of educating voters and getting out the vote might actually have a website geared toward that?

The City Dems link to the Missouri Democratic party but the state party doesn’t link to the city central committee. Ouch. The state party only links to the 11th and 8th ward groups plus a Stonewall Democratic group (GLBT). It is no wonder the state level democratic organization doesn’t want to link to the city democrats — the site is an embarrassment of closed politics. It does, however, exemplify how city politics are run in this city.

Update 9/25/06 @ 11:15am – I received an email from Brian Wahby that clarifies one point: “Steve – the Federal Campaign Committee is a Federal PAC and as such would not appear with the Missouri Ethics Commission.”

 

Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Joe Frank says:

    I do think your critique is generally valid about the closed nature of city politics — and indeed, MOST big-city political organizations. Historically, those were BOTH parties operating in that way. Likewise, there’s a lot of political decisions at the state and national level that, of course, are not transparent to the public. Again, true of both parties.

    I think part of what happened with citydems.org is that once webmaster Jeff Wiegand left the country, the site went down for awhile. These sorts of things happen with volunteer / low-cost services. So they’ve managed to recreate a very basic web site, but there’s very limited info.

    Also, there is a notice on the home page from 9/11/06 stating: “The City Central Committee is Sponsoring a Canvass this Saturday starting at 9:00 AM… at the Democratic Coordinated Campaign Headquarters at 6558 Manchester Road.”

    That indicates the office in the Marketplace is not a permanent office run by the City Democrats but is a city-county regional Coordinated Campaign office for various Democratic candidates, much like they have had in past election cycles at locations like Deer Creek Center in Maplewood (2004) and Kenrick Plaza in Shrewsbury (2000).

    Arguably, those could be considered failed strip malls too. The locations are chosen, I think, because of their relatively central location to city and county residents, and because of the low rents.

    Would you prefer they located the office in Clayton, Brentwood Pointe, or Olive Street downtown? That would waste dollars on rent that Democrats just don’t have to waste in this or any other election cycle.

     
  2. Lana says:

    Hi Steve! My name is Lana and I’m the one responsible for the sorry state of the site. I got it up earlier this month after a protracted mess with the old hoster. It used to have a lot more info on it but was all lost in the transfer so over the past few weeks I’ve been rebuilding. I think we lost a lot of reciprocal links when it was down for a few months.

    Your criticisms are totally valid, I’m working on getting as much accurate information up as it comes in. I’m a volunteer and was welcomed by Brian but would like to make it easier for everyone to get a little more connected–that’s why I volunteered to figure out the web stuff! The site could use a lot of work and although I don’t like the way it is now, I’m ultimately glad you pointed it out because it’ll help me get more info up. Thanks and I love the site!

    [UR – Thank you for your response! Hopefully this post will help serve as a guide to the type of information that might be helpful to people who say, just move to the city and want to become involved. Assume they have no background or history — you must start them from scratch.

     
  3. travis reems says:

    Steve:

    The City Dems website was recently redeveloped after a period of inactivity due to the webmaster having moved out of the country, so some of the analysis of the site and referral links are off-base. Also, some of the organizations which you have listed are truly defunct, and do not represent splintering. And, as for the participation level at ward committees, the 25th ward is not the best example, as some ward committees have much higher levels of participation, which is something the 25th is currently working on.

    [UR – My list of ward organizations are based on an “active” status with the Missouri Ethics Commission. While I did not check all the ones I pulled up were filing reports with the state. So, no, they are not defunct as you claim. They most likely have differing levels of active participation.

    Knowing the prior site for the city dems I do not believe my critique is “off-base.” To be off-base they would have needed a highly informative site before — it was not. The current site is not a whole lot different than the prior and is a complete embarrassment compared to the Republican site.

    And how exactly is the 25th Ward “working” on improving participation? Certainly not through open and transparent communications. Maybe they should take some of that $7+ and buy a domain, get a web host and actually start reaching people other than the same 20 folks.

    I truly get a kick out of your need to defend the status quo. I’m sure will accept you into their group with open arms.

     
  4. travis reems says:

    Steve:

    Here are some of the details on how the 25th ward is actually working on increasing participation and membership. First, we have begun talking about how exactly to do a web site for the group, such as what content to place on one and what format it should take. And in recognition of the fact that only a minority of the ward would actually be reached by such a site, a voter registration and information campaign will be conducted this weekend. If you’d like to come out and help encourage participation, please call Maggie, as she is heading that up.

    Finally, regarding your statement about my stance, I do not defend the status quo so much as recognize that sometimes you have to work with the system in place in order to effect changes. While, you and I share some of the same views and goals, I believe more change can be effected by working with people than against them, which is why I go to neighborhood meetings, business association meetings, ward meetings and listen to all opinions, not just the ones with which I agree.

    [UR – I remember those naive days of working within the system. Years and years passed and the system is still the same. You are young, you may learn in time how the system is designed to resist change, not embrace it.

    As for the 25th Ward. Interesting that 18 months after I did my campaign website in the ward they are finally talking about a website. Wow, things move fast here in the 25th don’t they. Aldermankirner.com no longer exists.

    Back in January 2005 the ward membership was less than half of 1% of the registered voters. This is after 20 years of consistent leadership — the same person now representing us in city hall. Plus, the 25th Ward group didn’t even know how to play fair in the campaign — putting out pro-Kirner signs before they even endorsed her!!!! See http://www.urbanreviewstl.com/archives/000489.php

    Back to a website for the 25th Ward organization, I am not sure how you arrived at “only a minority of the ward would actually be reached by such a site.” Have you talked wtih the folks at the 11th Ward to see what kind of traffic and feedback they’ve received? Have you actually looked at the voter base before drawing such a conclusion? I found that half the registered voters in the 25th Ward, at the time of my race, were in their 20s or 30s. Half! Yes, a number of the older folks won’t check out the website but they are reached through other methods. Working in the system is fine, failing to challenge outdated assumptions is not fine.

    I’ve done the in the system thing. Our current systems have little room for change. What you’ll get done is actually very little. I’d love for you to prove me wrong. Just don’t brag about how much you can get done within the system until it is actually done. I see the system as being a major factor in keeping St. Louis down — I’m on a mission to dismantle the existing systems and replace them with new ones.

     
  5. Jim Zavist says:

    . . . both enlightening and scary – thanks, I think . . .

     
  6. Cara Jensen says:

    Hey, thanks for the link to our 8th Ward CityBlue website – it’s all about cross-pollination, isn’t it?

     
  7. Worried Citizen says:

    Steve, I think that your response to Travis, was mean, insulting and a little bitter. I like your site for its ability to provide a different view point from other sites and other people. I must say though that I find it difficult to take your talk of change seriously when you so openly disregard Travis’ talk of change and in fact treat him like a child for his attempts at change. He is in fact trying to change the status quo, just because he isn’t doing it your way doesn’t make it wrong. There are many ways to change the system, you have chosen yours let him chose his.

    [UR You are close, my response was more jaded than mean or insulting. I believe him to be naive when it comes to working within the system but I challenged him to prove me wrong. Maybe he can!

    I’m a little sick of hearing from him and others how I should get involved in my neighborhood and ward organization when I was doing so when he was still in high school. I’ve chosen not to participate in groups in my immediate surrounding because I see them as being too establishment for my taste. I could, as Travis continues to push, show up at these events and most likely I’d get frustrated and I would frustrate the people attending. I don’t see that as productive for myself or others.

    The problem with Travis is that he comes across to me as being apologetic for the status quo rather than actually offering any valid points. But, I don’t want to dwell on Travis. As all of us, he will continue to learn and change just as you or me.

    I appreciate you sharing your feelings.

     
  8. GMichaud says:

    The ward system is in a sorry state. Politics is in a sorry state, nationally as well as locally. I have to agree in principle that working in the system is almost useless. I think Travis ought to give it a try, and the fact Brian Wahby is listening indicates that a responsive government may be possible.
    The problems in this country are too serious to be left to politicians any longer. This is reflected on the local level with the lack of transparency in the ward organizations, with the way almost all of the alderman consider themselves mini emperors and exclude the citizens from the political process.
    I was in Vietnam in the sixties and my instinct that there is an underlying revolution that is percolating under the surface. It will overwhelm the establishment,
    The evidence is clear how government is a total failure. I have noted on another post on this blog under Vision for St. Louis, that I feel it is criminal, and I mean criminal that the Congress and President have not came up with a comprehensive energy conservation plan, that includes among many other initiatives, mass transit and the reurbanization of Americas Cities.
    Nor is there any leadership on the ward level. Look at whatÂ’s happening at the new Schnucks at Loughborough Commons (also thoroughly examined by Steve on this site) It is the same second rate, mediocre city planning the citizens have been saddled with for years. Energy inefficient, it ignores the neighborhood and thumbs its nose at the citizens of St. Louis.
    Hell with ethanol and alternative fuels too. Conservation is the only solution that transcends all fuels, all the time. Alternative fuels are an attempt to maintain the status quo. It is too late for the status quo.
    If there was leadership on the ward level in this city, there would be a halt to the wholesale demolition of historic St. Louis. There would be mass transit proposals galore. There would be efforts to make row housing more attractive to build. There would be tax incentives for energy saving projects that meet the realities of todayÂ’s world.
    The ward organizations are at the root of the problem. The lack of web presence in this era of electronics shows how little they really care for citizen input. I applaud the few that are trying to open up the process. Ultimately the Democrats have presided over the decline of St. Louis for decades. Pointing to a few successes now is a little late. The only way the Democratic Party can redeem itself is an incredible effort to reconnect with the community, to find real solutions for real problems.
    The answer is not to hand another 100 million dollars to multimillionaire Bill DeWitt so he can build his BallPark Village.

     
  9. April says:

    Steve,

    I like this site. Citizens do need this information. All too often I hear complaints that people don’t want to get involved. I believe it is the responsiblity of the Committeepeople to inform and educate the the electorate and further facilitate the electorate process.

    I would be more than willing to assist you in providing insight on these wards.

     
  10. mm says:

    Steve,
    I am intterested in anything I can learn about the 20th ward. I understand that their meetings are held in a private home. Some people have told me that this is done to discourage the minorities who have moved in the area from participating but I do not know this to be a fact.

    I am considering getting more involved and perhaps seeking office but I want to get information without alerting the enemy. Some say the Alderman has had the homes of challengers condemned so I want to be careful.

     
  11. Steve,
    I fully agree with your comments, and actually would like to know more about the 25th ward, since your initial comments were written in 2006. how has the ward changed? what does the $6 goes to? and as a relative newcomer to STL, can you explain or direct me towards info, on how the wards are organized and why do “open” wards vote for endorsements? especially since the Aldermen hold a public office and their salaries are paid by us, the citizens taxes.

    on a slightly different note, check out the site i’m working on, http://sites.google.com/site/dutchtownamberg/ for a new Neighborhood Association in Dutchtown (being that its sooo big). we’re running into a lot of resistance from the old guard, as you said, no place for young energetic people in the grass-root level of government.

    so feel free to take a look and let me know what you think

    -getinstarted (dianne carty)
    [email protected]

    [slp — actual name added on 10/13/08]

     

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