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Mayor Slay’s Spin Machine Goes to Eleven

December 7, 2006 Media, Politics/Policy 29 Comments

It seems St. Louis received a World Leadership Award yesterday. From MayorSlay.com:

Recently, I told you that the City of St. Louis had been nominated from among 400 cities by the World Leadership Forum as a finalist for a World Leadership Award.

According to the Forum, the nominations were made to “cities whose leaders have shown exceptional imagination, foresight or resilience in a number of key fields — especially cities that have reversed trends, shaken off traditional images, and acted as an example and inspiration to others.”

St. Louis was nominated in the category, Urban Renewal. The other category finalists were Calcutta, India; Manchester, England; and Kansas City.

The finalist presentations were in London yesterday. The awards were presented tonight.

We won. Congratulations, St. Louis.

Well, hold on there Richard Callow, Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay. Nominated? Well, that would mean that someone had to nominate St. Louis? But that isn’t what really happened. From a World Leadership Forum press release:

Early in 2006 the World Leadership Forum contacted leaders in 400 of the world’s largest cities, and asked them to submit synopses of their most successful projects. These projects covered a very wide range of activities spanning the environment, urban renewal, housing, health, town planning, architecture, civil engineering, education, development of the young, the economy and employment.

This was a competition that St. Louis entered, as did all the other cities in the competition. St. Louis was not “nominated in the category, Urban Renewal” — that was the category the city selected when submitting the entry. This basically PR BS.

Still, competitions are good so the idea of entering one that is world-wide is fine. Winning is even better. Why the spin of “nominated” I don’t quite get but I usually don’t understand why many things are done the way they are around City Hall and especially Room 200.

A couple of things trouble me about the “nominations” and the short list of finalists. First, unlike other competitions where they announce the total number of entries, these do not. We know that 29 cities were shortlisted as finalists in 11 categories. That is great if they received 300 entries but not so great if they only received 30. As an example, earlier this year the ULI (Urban Land Institute) held their annual design competition in St. Louis. We know that 81 teams submitted entries which was narrowed to 16 and then to the final four before a winning entry was named best. The total number of entries speaks to the credibility of the competition. Back to these awards, the ‘Urban Renewal’ category had four finalists with the other three being Kansas City (An Urban Renaissance), City of Manchester (Shaping the City) and City of Kolkata (Holistic Urban Renewal through Strategic Initiatives). Their rules say they will select 2-4 finalists so I have to wonder if that is determined by the number of entries —three entries=three finalists, four entries=four finalists?

The second thing that bothers me, this World Leadership Forum organization seems to exist only to give out awards — that is what they do. Their site lists a number of award programs. And once a finalist you must pay a “presentation fee” of £3,000 (roughly $5,900 US based on current exchange rates):

Cities reaching the shortlists (from two four in each category) will be required to pay a fee of £3,000 to cover the presentation and judging costs (venue hire, audiovisual equipment, crew, catering, judges travel expenses etc.), as well as the cost of a table at the award ceremony (the table seats up to ten guests and includes complimentary cocktails, dinner, wine programs etc.).

Cities which fail to pay the fee within 30 days of the invoice date will be disqualified from the awards.

Cities that do not reach the shortlists will not be charged any fees.

So St. Louis submits an entry called “Strategy for Renewal.” Entries are supposed to be “up to 5,000 words, in English, describing a project your city has recently undertaken which shows exceptional levels of leadership.” Have you seen this document? I know I have not! Where is the link to the document Mayor Slay? Please let us read about our own winning strategy and our “exceptional levels of leadership.”
The 29 finalists presented in London this week and the awards were presented yesterday following the last of the judging. So besides wondering what we submitted I am curious who we sent to London to make the presentation to the judges. Did we pay for a contingent to go there and fill that table for 10? Who went? Were additional materials presented to the judges? If so, what?

The Kansas City Star reports they sent three people: Mayor, City Manager and President of their Chamber of Commerce. The Publisher of Kansas City business magazine Ingram’s had this to say last month:

As I write this, city leaders are preparing to present our story as a World Leadership Award Winner. Kansas City is one of only four cites on the globe selected as a finalist in the category of urban renewal. We at Ingram’s are proud to strategically position the City for this award by crafting The Urban Renewal Business Report—a Decade of Redevelopment in Downtown Kansas City. This publication will be presented to the judges and the attendees of the World Leadership Awards in London next month. Forgive me if I shed my Midwestern modesty and say that I think Kansas City has a damn good shot of beating Calcutta, Manchester and St. Louis for the title.

Locally KSDK is reporting the big news of the win:

Wednesday night, Mayor Francis Slay accepted the Urban Renewal Award at the annual World Leadership Awards in London.

Slay says it’s recognition for the city that it’s moving in the right direction.

“The more that we get affirmation from organizations not only nationally, but in this case internationally, of the successes we’ve been able to achieve, it really creates much more momentum here locally, more people become believers and as more people become believers the momentum continues to grow,” Mayor Francis Slay said.

I’ll be impressed after I read our entry into the competition as well as know the total number entries. And for those of you too young to get the headline, click here.

[Update 12/7/06 @ 7:20pm — I checked the Mayor’s site and a few hours after the item quoted above was from the Mayor’s Desk they posted a much more reasonable sounding item in the Latest News section (link). At no point in this piece is the word “nomination” used:

In the presentation, Slay talked about how the City of St. Louis had created a “culture of change” that has empowered people to improve the City’s quality of life. “It isn’t just bricks and mortar,” Slay said. “We are certainly revitalizing Downtown and our neighborhoods. But, we are also addressing health care, education, affordable housing, and homelessness.”

More than 400 cities around the world were asked to submit synopses of their most successful projects in a wide range of activities.

The other finalists in the Urban Renewal category were Kansas City; Manchester, England; and Calcutta, India. Last year’s winner was Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This is a word for word match to the press release on the city’s site. The only difference being the city’s press release site doesn’t include the picture of Planning & Urban Design Director in his kilt next to Mayor Slay. OK, so they toned down the “nomination” lines, I still want to see this award-winning urban renewal strategy.]

[Update 12/8/06 @ 7am — I received an email back from Malcolm Turner of the The World Leadership Forum saying this about the number of entries and showing the projects:

I’m afraid it’s not our policy to publish details, or numbers of entries which failed to make the shortlists.

I’m also sorry to say that we don’t currently have the necessary copyright permission which would enable us to publish the winning entries on our website.

Sorry folks but this organization and their awards cannot possibly be taken seriously if we are not permitted to know how many of these 400 cities responded to the invite. Real competitions have no problems letting you know how many submittals they received and thus how many did not make the final cut. Our winning entry may well be outstanding but the award is bogus in my opinion.]


Currently there are "29 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    Spending money to “buy” an award isn’t that much different than spending money sending politicians to “conferences”. At least this way we get something to show for their junket.

  2. john says:

    Cities nominate themselves? Locally, similar nonsense is often the product of the StL County Municipal League. Local elected leaders elect more leaders and the County League becomes a member of the Missouri Municipal League. Attorneys get hired, staffs are created, buildings are built, publications are printed, and needed funding explodes. They too hand out awards to each other every year to remind voters how lucky we are!

    Important headlines of their publications include such earth shattering news as: “Attorney suggest animal shelter should be named after… blah, blah, blah”.

    Good intentions typically lead to more layers of government, more bureaucracy, and less accountability. Did he get a figurine to place on his desk or just a certificate to hang on the wall?

  3. urban reader says:

    All you skeptics are definitely out of the mainstream. Attend a business or stakeholder meeting around the region, and you’ll see the mayor getting standing ovations. The City of St. Louis is undergoing a renaissance.

    Sure, whether in “progressive blogdom” and community radio, it’s cool to make sniping comments about the Mayor, the new stadium, or suburban-style housing being built in the city. But the fact remains, people around the world are taking notice of what’s happening in St. Louis.

    Wasn’t it Pierce of the much-quoted Pierce report who said that the revitalization of DT STL is the most dramatic he’s seen anywhere in the country? Rather than constantly knocking the recognition and progress happening in our own hometown, why not join the voices supporting our renewal?

  4. skeptic says:

    Are you kidding me Steve? If you look into the wording of the article at all, you’ll see that St. Louis WAS nominated from up to 400 APPLICANTS. Everyone applied, only a couple dozen were NOMINATED to be finalists. Which is exactly what Mayor Slay says.

    “Recently, I told you that the City of St. Louis had been nominated from among 400 cities by the World Leadership Forum as a finalist for a World Leadership Award.”

    Steve, if you want to trash Slay for what he says, next time re-read the article a couple times. He is doing a good things for the city. You may want to take notes from him, instead of publicly supporting Republican candidates for city positions after receiving financial compensation from them. Thanks.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Oh yeah, I re-read the “mayor’s” posts a couple of times and couldn’t believe how it was being twisted around.  Some award group mails out 400 invites and all of a sudden we were “nominted” from a group of 400 cities.  And for the record, I’ve only publically supported one local republican all the while disclosing I was on the payroll.] 

  5. Grover says:

    There has got to be bigger, more important, or at least more interesting, things to write about than some good publicity for the city. Did they buy it? I don’t care, let’s worry about crime, housing, roads, public policy, etc. Do we think for a second that other cities when awards solely because they ‘deserve’ it? What I would like to see is the list of 400 applicants. We beat every single one of them. Good for us.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — We did not beat 400 applicants!!!!!  We and at least 28 other cities accepted an invitation to enter a competition.  The total number of entries remains unknown.  All we know is it was at least 29.]

  6. urban reader says:

    Yeah, 29 who thought they had a decent enough shot to win, and we topped them all. That says something.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Well, 29 total in 11 categories.  We beat three cities with an unseen report.]

  7. Adam says:

    why do people get so defensive when someone (i.e. steve) asks for proof of legitimacy? i agree that the details of the “contest” and the “winning” documents should be posted online somewhere for all of us to read. it’s a little suspisious that they aren’t. the city was INVITED to compete and then PAID for “presentation” and “judging” fees? it’s not an unimaginable racket.

  8. LisaS says:

    I don’t know that I have as much of a problem with “self-nominating”. For example, the AIA (American Institute of Architecture) Honor Awards are selected each year on the basis of a package submitted by the designer. Does this mean it’s less meaningful?

    But I do have questions: For one thing, how were the initial 400 selected? Will the public be allowed to read the reports? And why is it that the proposal had such a lame excuse for a title?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I have no issue with self-nominating.  But, nominating a completed project for an award is different than entering a competition.  In the architecture and planning worlds both awards and competitions exist — they are slightly different.  You nominate for an award and you enter a competition.  Also, in awards it is often listed who the nomination was from — often the architect or owner.  The fact this competition is called an award by the organizers is a bit misleading.  Legit competitions tell you how many entries were received — that is the basis for judging how prestigious it actually is to win.

    I saw the list of winners from 2005.  They have a picture of some of them receiving award but that was it.  No detail on the entry.  No commentary from the judges on why that entry was selected over others.  Not so much as a link back to that city to view/read their submission.] 

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    Awards are nice. Good press is always good. Sending elected officials halfway around the world at taxpayer expense is questionable.

  10. john says:

    It seems like your main point is that these documents should be available to everyone to review? How can there be any disagreement about this? I believe the total number of entries (400) were in ALL the categories not all in the one won by StL.

    Readers should understand that progress is largely a function of investors’ confidence in the future, not a reflection of the past. It appears to me that Steve is thinking like a concerned citizen and/or as an investor/stakeholder should. He is asking appropriate questions and good for him.

    Yes StL is bouncing up and that is good. After 40 years of decline, it’s nice to get 10+ years of rebound. Mayor Slay is a breath of fresh air when compared to his predecessors, but how many new jobs are being created in this “revitalization”? Nationally, have you seen the progress made in Chicago, NY, or Denver in the last 20 years? Phenomenal!

    Real leadership, as Daley and Giullani have illustrated, begins with effectively dealing with crime, infrastructure issues, and creating confidence. The progress is StL is mainly due to real estate speculators/investors and not to local elected leaders. The issues managed by politicians include creating consensus, defining zoning strategies, improving law enforcement, addressing infrastructure, helping public schools, etc. I’d grade the investors with an A and the politicos an F.

    Yes those who don’t understand, like Spiro Agnew, prefer to refer to critics as “nattering nabobs of negativism”. Those who don’t understand will continue to get more of the same as their voting record exemplifies.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Agreed all around.  I want to clarify one point above as this is one of the sticking points — we only know they invited 400 cities to submit entries.  You never ever get a 100% participation rate for such events.  All we know at this point is they had at least 29 entries, with four in the “Urban Renewal” category.  The total maximum, in theory, would have been 4,400 entries as each city could have entered in each of the 11 categories.

    For all I know the report and presentation we made were awesome and spot on target.  The three other cities may have had lackluster presentations compared to ours.  I’d like to think so, but I am not going to assume as much.  This is, after all, the show me state!] 

  11. urban reader says:


    It was team of elected officials, professsionals, and your regular, every day St. Louisans who established and have maintained the Missouri state historic rehabilitation tax credit. Credit attorney Jerry Schlicter with lobbying hard on the legislation.

    Without that public, leadership-driven program, there would be no renaissance happening today in DT STL. Believe it when I say that the Slay team has been at the forefront of keeping that program intact for STL.

  12. Cletus says:


    Have you requested the application and other materials from Slay’s office, Rainford, Callow, Rhode, etc? If so, I’d like to know if they responded. Maybe they’ve got something to hide. Maybe they haven’t provided the information to the public because they weren’t asked. I general, does the mayor’s office respond to any information questions you submit to them?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — This all just happened late last night so I have not yet made a formal request.  However, the application was submitted back in September so they’ve had sufficient time to put out the information to the general public for consumption. If they do not voluntarily come forth with the information I will do a formal Sunshine Law/Freedom of Information request.  Today I sent an email to the award organizers asking them how many entries they had in total and how many in the “Urban Renewal” category.]

  13. checker says:


    They basically paid $5000 + expenses (they didn’t say this covered all of them) to say this organization gave them an award. Some folks also got a trip to Big Limey on the City’s dime.

    The award is only a tag line, so I guess you could say that they bought the rights to say “2006 winner of….” on all of their marketing materials.

    If it works, goody for them. It’s not really a competition at all and pretty much like the “American Who’s Who of College Students” , etc.–random and a way to make a sale and that’s it.

    Francis, it ain’t the Nobel Peace Prize!

  14. stlmark says:

    I don’t really have an opinion on this subject, but thanks for the Spinal Tap reference and YouTube link. Hilarious. That is my FAVORITE line out of that movie. Maybe my favorite line of all Christopher Guest’s films.

  15. joe b says:

    Don’t be dissin the mayor’s machine Steve. You could find yourself on the outside looking in or even worse, mangled in some of the inner workings of the machine.

    I’m not a huge supporter of Slay and as a recent move out of your and my neighborhood, lovely Dutchtown, feel he has completely abandoned the neighborhoods in favor of downtown.

    Since my move, and time to actually form a coherent thought, Downtown was probably the one area he could actually control and make a difference. Combined with good market timing, he has successfully aided the gowth.

    Besides, Stl prob got screwed with the most dangerous report–specifically the timing. Stl needs some good press and I find the timing of this competition win particularly interesting.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I’ve not said he has not done some good.  I think he has managed to restore some confidence in the city among a select group of people.  I’m just saying they need to be more honest and open.  No nominations — we entered a competition.  Second, show us the entry.]

  16. Craig says:

    Urban Reader, I wouldn’t be so quick to pat the backs of the people who pushed for the the Missouri Historic Tax Credit. While these credits have undoubtedly caused many renovations in downtown St. Louis and a new quasi-liveliness along a couple of downtown streets, it is premature to call this a success.

    The trouble is that the tax credits have made it too cheap to renovate the buildings, causing a glut in the loft market. We should reserve judgment for ten, maybe twenty years, or so–after lofts have gone out of style, the tax abatements are gone, speculators and developers have profited, and the original buyers of these units have tried to unload them.

    How are those sales at The Syndicate going, I wonder?

  17. urban reader says:

    And if the Missouri historic credit were not in place?

    We’d be seeing tumbleweeds rolling through downtown instead of hipsters on scooters.

  18. DB says:

    Your skepticism is warrented.

    Without more detail, this thing kind of sounds like the whole “Who’s Who In America” listings. People sometimes make it known that they are listed in order to try to impress others, when in reality it is meaningless. Anyone can get listed. It’s very easy.

  19. Adam says:

    here we go with the hipster thing again…

  20. Matt says:


    I am sorry, but I feel this time, your gadfly status is blinding you to what is a beneficial title for this city. I disagreed with your political fingerpointing as St. Louis was tagged “Most Dangerous City” in the U.S., and I disagree with any need for an inquiry into how St. Louis secured a very positive reward such as this.

    You mention in a prior post that our public schools need middle class children in order to succeed. Without a reversal of over fifty years of stigma, the city of St. Louis will not even be on the middle class radar unless they should be urbanists or starter families. No matter how Slay might have manipulated the situation, the (inter)national recognition is a postive thing for the city. Yes, it’s a bit disingenuous to pat yourself on the back for excellent leadership and present it as a “nomination,” as is the case if your allegations are true. Frankly, though, I don’t care–and I would hope any one who truly cared about this city would not waste their time contesting a positive appellation.

    Lately it seems you’ve shifted your focus from covering issues of the efficacy of architectural and urban planning decisions to a broader role as an all encompassing civic gadfly. I respect you, but I do wonder if your role is becoming a bit too vexacious rather than informative and insightful. I’d hate to see Urban Review turn into a tabloid or The Evening Whirl, but more and more it seems you sacrifice a more nuanced and credible focus on urban planning to a realm better served by a more reasonable Mr. French.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Well, I appreciate the feedback but I’m going to hold up a mirror for you.  After the “Most Dangerous City” issue I think you and others are blinded into accepting any positive news no matter how lame it may actually be.  You simply don’t want to know the truth about the situation.  This is but another example of the Slay administration twisting the truth around so that it makes them look better than it should.  They had no need to fabricate the whole nomination thing — they should have just been forthcoming and said, “We decided to enter an international competition.  We did and we won our category.”  Take off those despiration blinders!

    Throughout the last two years I have touched on the bigger civic issues because, without a doubt, planning issues go nowhere without politics.  It is an unfortunate reality.  Am I “focusing” more on these areas?  Possibly at times.  I spend considerable time writing Urban Review and I write what pleases me.  I have every intention of continuing to talk about urban planning as well as the related civic politics — they go together.  Antonio French is more “reasonable” because he is a good journalist — he is bringing you information others do not largely without his opinion.  I’m bringing you my view on some of those same issues, our roles are different.]

  21. joe b says:

    Steve, I’m with you on a lot of other issues but back off on this one. Right or wrong, enter versus nomination, cover up or no cover up, your intentions are good regarding this competition/award and exposing the truth but any way you slice it, whether it is an award or a competition, it is all subjective as any competition or award, ESPECIALLY in today’s internet environment.

    While you certainly may not like all of the things that have happened under Slay’s reign, the old adage of “you can’t please all of the people all of the time” certainly applies.

    Celebrate the victory with him, learn from the mistakes and apply them towards the future.

  22. Heard on KMOX says:


    You scooped the Flembino! Dick Fleming, in his weekly RCGA report, cited the city’s worldwide urban renewal award! He did so while lauding the great momentum St. Louis is experiencing.

    But the Flembino does so with a nearly $400,000 annual stipend. So he has 400,000 good reasons to be upbeat about the ‘Lou!

  23. Jimmy James says:


    Cities accept phoney awards and make up stilly titles all the time. While there is something wrong with doing this, in that it is lying, this is not a big deal. Sure, I know you will point out that those in power will use this award to vallidate questionable tactics and development practices. But, I could care less.

    Besides, if this award means that even a few people in the County who wouldn’t think twice about the City in the past are willing to look again at the City and see that something special is occuring, then I still say the award is a net postive.

    Anyway, there are bigger fish to fry than beating the drum about some phoney award: a new Zoning Ordaince for the City, STL Public School State Takeover, the dire finacial straights of METRO, and many smaller issues I am not going to list. Let Slay and the boys have their moment and lets get to work on what really matters. Substance over style…

  24. While our City has made huge gains, and I previously wrote about this award being overly positive, we still have many issues which need to be addressed. Our demolition rate is the highest in the State, we do have serious crime disparities, and our SLPS is in ruin. City Hall could do more to address these three issues as they are integral to further progress.

    I simply do not want the progress to end, complacency to set in, and Slay to use this as a campaign ad for 2009.

    Neal Peirce has a great summary of my feelings: “…this region, hauled up on the couch every quarter-century or so, tells analysts it isn’t doing so great, and then lapses back into inaction.”

  25. publiceye says:

    It’s definitely more remarkable because it had gone so far down,” Neal Peirce, chairman of the Citistates Group, which studies metropolitan regions, says of St. Louis’ turnaround. Peirce wrote a highly critical report of the city’s downtown nine years ago. “To see the amount of restoration that’s going on is really amazing,” he says.


    Yup, there’s still plenty to do, but it’s important also to measure the progress.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I don’t measure progress by the number of lies coming out of Room 200.   To flat out lie about the number of entries is unbelievable and totally unnecessary.  It cheapens the entire  thing —- just say we beat out three other cities without making up false information.]

  26. publiceye says:

    LOL. Sorry, Steve. The sun’s out today.

  27. Jeff says:

    I enjoyed hearing / seeing about the “win” myself on T.V. However I was a little skeptical. I think Steve is fine with trying to find out more details. That is what a real “reporter” would do. However he must go back to what he is promoting. He is promoting Urban Renewal. So if this award isn’t up to par with others to the scientific or logical ways of coming up with a good winner from a large contingent of applicants that is fine. Since the P.R. will actually make people take more notice. If St. Louis isn’t worthy of the investment those who will be looking to invest will be able to see that for themselves. This gives St. Louis more P.R. and visibility on a World Scale! I am sure all of the major news feeds have promoted it. I am for it! On a more personal example I received a “nomination” for the National Dean’s list in college from the registrar. I received a letter from the National Dean’s List stating that I was a “winner”. In the letter it stated I could “buy” a copy of the book showing all the other “winners” names. I never bought a copy. My wife bought her copy and I could see the thin paper and the small print showing her “winning” listing. To me this is another example of how these “Awards” are done. Not every “Award” is as valid as others but at least you can use it on your resume. Only those who know can tell if it is a “sham” or not! I saw through the emperor’s clothes ;0) Steve good work but move on and try to look at this from another angle!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, good PR is good PR.  The real issue is not the award but the lies being told by the Mayor’s office and the RCGA in their announcements.  Various “news” outlets just run with the story without checking the facts and suddenly people are tricked into thinking something is one thing when it is another.  We beat three other cities, that is a good thing.  It is the lying to make it sound as though we beat 400 cities that is not something we should quickly move on from.  If they will lie about something so meaningless it makes me wonder about every thing else they tell us.]

  28. Luftmensch says:

    This was excellent reporting, and you shouldn’t let anyone talk you out of doing stories like this.
    The WLA “award” reeks of slime. We should expect more from our city government. If it turns out the award was legit, then hurrah for Francis, but the issues you raised were totally worth looking into. The sad fact is that hardly any other media are checking on our local government these days. We can’t count on the Post-Dispatch anymore, TV news is a joke, and even radio (apart from Charlie Brennan) is largely MIA.
    No, this wasn’t an impeachable scandal, but I don’t get how anyone could defend Slay’s bogus little theater.

  29. tip says:

    I have been a guest of this home page! ZiPiTiDuYa… ZiPiDiHey…


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