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Readers Favor Breaking Up the St. Louis Political Machine, But How?

October 7, 2009 Politics/Policy 8 Comments

In last week’s readers overwhelmingly favored breaking up the St. Louis political machine (89%).  Sixty people indicated we need to break up the political machine.   In one answer option I suggested switching our municipal elections to non-partisan – only 25 selected this answer.  The other 35 that agreed we should break up the machine didn’t think non-partisan elections would accomplish that goal.   In hindsight I should have provided a choice for someone that favors both breaking up the machine and non-partisan elections even though they they don’t think the latter will accomplish the former.

Here is a random list of possible reform measures:

  • non-partisan elections
  • reduction in the number of wards
  • have some or all aldermen elected “at large” rather than from a specific ward
  • reduction in the number of ‘county’ offices elected by voters
  • term limits
  • switch to City Manager-Council form of government
  • Some variation on joining or consolidating with St. Louis County

I’m sure you can think of other options, if so list them in the comments below.  We probably need some combination of the above.

Changes to the existing charter will, no doubt, be characterized by the establishment as 1) a measure to reduce the influence on the Democratic party within the state and 2) will reduce the influence of African-Americans in the city & state.  On the first one, jurisdictions can have non-partisan elections for dog catcher and still be partisan when it comes to higher offices.  I think having St. Louis’ offices be non-partisan would help how we are viewed by the rest of the state.  On the second issue, fewer elected offices would mean fewer blacks in office.  It would also mean fewer whites.  We’ve elected blacks to nearly every city-wide office in the city. Given the demographic composition of the city I don’t see that changing.  Our current political structure doesn’t work — it should not be kept just to keep people in office.

As we’ve seen over the years the opposing political factions within the black community are fierce.  Many are decades old family feuds.

We’ve got to move our political power structure to actual serve the city & region, not just the politicians in office.  I know, crazy idea — government that actually works for the people.  Until we have a fundamental shift in leadership the region’s core will continue to not live up to its great potential.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    First, welcome back! Second, a different perspective (that I don’t agree with): http://www.denverpost.com/andrews/ci_13361712

    And third, for the topic at hand:

    – non-partisan elections – good idea
    – reduction in the number of wards – great idea – makes it harder to “fly under the radar”
    – have some or all aldermen elected “at large” rather than from a specific ward – not a great idea*
    – reduction in the number of ‘county’ offices elected by voters – great idea**
    – term limits – great idea, but ONLY in conjunction with non-partisan elections***
    – switch to City Manager-Council form of government – I doubt it would make much of a difference.
    – Some variation on joining or consolidating with St. Louis County – not likely to ever happen anytime soon, so it’s an academic argument.

    *My experience with at-large positions (in Denver, 2 out of 13) is that they tend to think bigger-picture, but aren’t any less connected to the existing political infrastructure. In theory, they give you someone else to contact if “your” rep isn’t doing the job for you; in reality, with 10 times as many constituents, they don’t have much time for the small stuff.

    **Most ‘county’ offices seem to be there only to provide patronage jobs. I’d like to see them reduced or eliminated not for any partisan reason, but just to simplify service delivery – why are the fees you have to pay to register your vehicle (license plates and property taxes) tracked on two different cycles by two different agencies? Other states combine them, send you one bill and KISS!

    ***Term limits without non-partisan elections is fraught with the law of unintended consequences – the party would have even greater power if they had to find someone new every 8 years, since it takes anyone elected to office a year or two to get really effective in any position. And a secondary concern is that term limits shifts more power to lobbyists and staff members – institutional knowledge needs to reside somewhere, and if half the population is getting replaced in every election, it won’t be in the individual aldermen.

  2. anon says:

    One difficulty in bringing about such reform is the way once an average citizen becomes an elected official, they become part of the “political class”. Once part of that group, they have three main goals:

    One: Securing a publicly funded pension. Two: Preserving their elected status to maximize no. one above. Three: Avoiding taking leadership positions on controversial issues so as to avoid screwing up nos. one and two above.

    Disagree? See which if any new or experienced elected public officials in St. Louis or elsewhere in Missouri would endorse any of the above recommendations.

  3. barbara_on_19th says:

    My pet idea is to combine the wards into triples, retaining the original aldermen. For instance, the 4th (Moore), 18th (Kennedy) and 28th (Krewson) would all be one ward with 3 aldermen. The next election period after the merge, the new triple-ward would have a combined election, and the top 3 vote-winners would become the new troika. The three aldermen would then have a single vote on legislation or any other issue.

    This idea is inspired by the old russian proverb that “One is a secret, two is a conspiracy, but with three, someone is sure to rat.” More seriously, it would force them to look at a bigger picture and do a little more outreach.

  4. theotherguy says:

    At large alderman would consolidate power for the ‘dominant structure’ already. That is, more white elected officials leading to more racial divisiveness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say tyranny by the majority, but it would be difficult for an insurgent candidate, of any race, to get far in a city-wide race. Having contested city-wide races also puts more of an emphasis on fund raising.

  5. Turd Ferguson says:

    I for one LOVE barbara_on_19th’s idea. I also will advocate for a non-partisan system, if only to get rid of a lot of the archaic, un-democratic, and anti-progressive rules that the entrenched Democratic system in St. Louis perpetuates.

  6. We need someone like Bernie Sanders for Mayor.

  7. Snarky bureaucrat says:

    Non partisan elections? There is only one party now. You can’t any more non-partisan.

  8. Britt says:

    Pass this along to all who live in the 4Th district in St. Louis Missouri. On November 3 2009(special election) write in Rachel Storch’s name don’t forget to fill in circle or scanner will not count the write in. Carnahan’s and Obama lover politicians would not let Rachel run to replace Jeff Smith for 4Th district. Joe Keaveny an Obama supporter was selected for the 4Th district Missouri State Senate seat. Rachel is a Hillary Clinton supporter and is at present a Representative of the Missouri State House 28Th district. Obama has been trying to get rid of Rachel since his election. No Republicans or other parties are running for this position in the 4Th district. Don’t let them get away with this hand picked Obama lover. Write Rachel Storch’s name in. Spread the word to all St. Louis blogs. Thank You

    There is only one party in control thats Obama. We need for his party to end.

    [slp — the STL machine has been at work since before Obama was born and he is a bit too busy right now to have made a power play for Missouri’s 4th Senate district. The locals that control the machine go with the ones that picked the final winner at the top. That is how the game is played at the local level. Those at the top don’t get involved.]


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