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Citizens Rallied in Favor of Sherman George, Called for Recall of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay

October 21, 2007 Events/Meetings, Politics/Policy 20 Comments

On a windy but beautiful Sunday afternoon citizens gathered on the main steps of St. Louis’ city hall to express support for demoted/retired Fire Chief Sherman George while calling for the ouster of Mayor Francis Slay before the end of his 2nd term in the spring of 2009.


The diverse crowd included various religious leaders from Metropolitan Churches United, members of the Green Party, anti-eminent domain advocates and even a few Black Panthers. I think most were your average everyday citizen that felt compelled to come out and be counted.

State Rep Jamilah Nasheed (D-60th), above left, was one of the first speakers. Following her speech the crowd began chanting “Slay must go.” Nasheed indicated that Slay took away one of the black leaders in St. Louis.

Numerous flyers were being passed around including one with a cartoon of Slay as a “fat cat” vampire. Common themes were the take over of schools, Slay being soft on crime, development activity focused on downtown, and Slay’s support of charter schools. One flyer included the domain name firefrancis.com which was not working on the times I tried it (clever name though).


Bright yellow t-shirts were being sold for $10. Some said “Injustice to One is Injustice to All” while others had to do with a recall. On the front of these they had a number like 43,xxx (I forgot the number) to go (alluding to the number of signatures needed for a recall vote) and on the back asking “What Number Are You?”

Interestingly, one of the flyers asked in support of recalling Francis, “Did you know that for the past 10 years, you have been paying for the redevelopment of downtown instead of improvements in your own neighborhoods?” Given that Slay was elected Mayor in the Spring of 2001 he has only been in office shortly more than 6 years. However, the city’s 2nd African-American Mayor Clarence Harmon was in office the preceding four years. So I’m a little confused — did the flyer intend to blame Harmon as well or was the implication that from the Board of Aldermen’s office Slay was responsible for downtown development?

If you actually get past the sound bites over the last couple of months you’ll get from George that this was strictly about testing standards to determine the best candidates. He expressed disapproval over two out of something like 10 tests offered to him — before the final test was administered. The city’s Personnel Department used one of the two tests that George had objected to. Remember that George became Fire Chief under the aforementioned prior administration of Clarence Harmon. I personally take George at his word that this was about proper testing and it boiled down to a power play between him and the Mayor’s office. I don’t believe that race was a motivating factor on either side — power and control was the trump card here. Slay has been seizing power anywhere he can — regardless of race. Those appointed by a prior mayor are not necessarily seen as a supporter and someone that outright challenges the authority of the mayor gets in the way — again regardless of race. Now, I could be wrong. Perhaps this is about both power and race?

Regular readers know that I am hardly a Slay supporter and I couldn’t help but grin as I heard the crowd chatting that Slay must go. Still, I’m not overly optimistic they’ll be able to muster the signatures required. I believe that signatures must represent 20% of registered voters at the time of Slay’s 2005 re-election in at least 18 out of 28 wards. While blacks represent a majority of the population, black aldermen represent only 12 wards. Speaking of aldermen, I didn’t see a single one present at the rally. Nor did I see prominent African-American officials such as President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, Comptroller Darlene Green or sidelined as License Collector, Michael McMillan. No white elected official was anywhere in sight. Slay PR guru Richard Callow briefly stopped by on his bike, I asked him if I should get him a t-shirt to wear.

The protesters called for the removal of Slay before 2009 in order to heal the racial divide in this city. Well, sorry but that just ain’t gunna help. I think white folks are too busy protecting turf and maintaining control while the black folks are doing the same thing. There are plenty of internal struggles within the black community — you can’t expect the majority population to be 100% aligned simply based on race do you? Hardly. These leaders were brought up through the St. Louis political scene the same way the white ones were — learning how to work the system and wrestle some little bit of control. When Craig Schmid & Jennifer Florida, both white, fight over development on Grand it is business as usual. When the 4th ward continues to have power struggles it is business as usual. However, when opponents happen to be of different races it ceases to be business as usual and now it is racism. Slay would have sought to oust George even if he were white — he was appointed by a previous mayor and George challenged Slay’s desire for greater control.

As long as our elected officials, black and white, use their positions to get their piece of the pie we are going to continue to have struggles. I personally want elected officials that don’t see race and/or economic class as dividers but as symbols of our diversity — something to celebrate and embrace. As a white male I can be represented say by a black woman as long as I am not labeled as part of “they.” We will have black people in office and white people may replace them. The reverse is true, blacks will be elected to offices never once held by anyone that was not white. Hopefully too we will see diversity beyond just black and white.

Sadly as we approach the end of the decade that means we’ll see a new census and a fight over redistricting. White and black sides will draw lines to retain control of their respective parts of the city. Ward based control will continue to rule the day rather than seeing the big picture of the city within a region. Today’s rally was not, in my view, a step toward a more unified city.

UPDATE 10/22 – 7:20am — Per PubDef.net Comptroller Darlene Green was present at the rally.


Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    I don’t dislike Mayor Slay, but I do dislike some of his decisions. I do have a major problem with a recall. Better to focus the efforts of our current elected officials on solving our current problems, instead rerunning a past election. Slay has to run for reelection in, what, 18 months (and start really campaigning within 6-8 months). A recall would be a major distraction from the business of governing, and would do little to address whatever ills or slights Slay may have done or not done.

  2. zink says:

    hehe that funny “Heal the racial divide.”

    1. They are just hurting it even further by making a huge deal that the fire chief was demoted, and they are making it sound like it happened because he is black. I bet if he was a fat white guy, some would say he was demoted because he was FAT. Thank god Sherman isnt fat too, or it would be an apocalypse outside.

    2. And what most people don’t understand is that tt is more like the “educational divide”, not some physical trait people try to blame it on.

  3. neighbor says:

    This is a tough issue. What do people think would help heal the racial divide? Urban scaled buildings and walkable streets? Or better jobs and schools? What do you do when middle class blacks see a move out of the city as a move up? What if McKee builds a suburban-styled housing development that sells to majority middle and upper middle class black people?

  4. Herr Gruber says:

    Yea, yea. Another “race” thing. What I would like to know is what it would take to clean that nasty city hall building! I seem to remember the last (only?) time they tried to clean it, they messed it up. Anyone have any idea on what a cleaning would cost?

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    A big part of “healing” would be paying a lot less attention to “keeping score”. In a perfect world, everything would be distributed equally and fairly. Reality check – this ain’t the perfect world, so the best we can hope for is a pretty good try, compromise and patience! As for the wisdom of trying recall this or any other mayor, one only has to look as far as the revolving door of superintendents at the SLPS. Progress is rarely instantaneous, especially in the public sector, and usually proceeds at a glacial and unpredictable pace. Bottom line, I’m less focused on color and more on results. I lived in Denver when it had an old white guy for a mayor, followed by a young, energetic, hispanic male, followed a black man with a history of political activism. All three provided good leadership, and all three did things to help every part of town, even if it meant telling some in their core constituencies “no”. If, as a community, we continue to judge every decision through a racial filter, combined with making sure every ward gets their “fair” share, all we’ll be doing is guaranteeing more of the same . . .

  6. neighbor says:

    All wards do not get a “fair share”. North side wards and other places in need of major redevelopment receive far more development assistance than places like the 16th and 23rd wards, as it should be.

  7. stlmama says:


    To say that keeping score is the problem is to blame this all on the black community. It’s easy to say one is not focused on color (or gender) when one is not subject to the historical realities of being a woman or non-white. I am white and I believe that telling those who have historically suffered from any form of subjugation that they should just “get over it” (which is how “stop keeping score” sounds) is not something they can or should do.

    I would suggest an honest outreach effort to the minorities who are upset, not pr opportunities to get pictures taken with people of color who are already on the mayor’s side, would be a step toward healing. Really, really listen to them and do your very best, Mr. Mayor, to understand how they are feeling and what they are telling you, and listen to what they think would help heal rather than telling them what you think should help them heal. I really don’t think this mayor can do that, although I’d be happy to eat those words if he managed it, but I believe somewhere there is someone who can, and I hope this city finds that person soon.

  8. Tim E says:

    Look at the voting in the last couple elections. I believe their was a 6-8% turnout for the last election that included the school board. Rallies are great side shows. But, how many of those people took the time and effort to vote?

  9. dude says:

    The part that raises suspicision of George for me is the details of the test he
    says is racially biassed he is not public exposing. The judge ruled against it for what that’s worth. It seems odd George is honoring city to coroporate confidentiality agreements of a test he says is discriminatory. Why not just break the NDA and let the public decide instead of hijacking the city’s emotions?

  10. LisaS says:

    I really can’t believe that people are wasting time and money on a recall effort with so little left in Slay’s term. I’m no great fan of the the Mayor, but it seems to me that energy could be more productively spent finding a viable candidate to run against him in accordance with normal electoral processes. Recalls should be reserved for extreme circumstances like criminal activity or gross incompetence, as opposed to them taking the place of voters paying attention over the long term.

  11. stifler says:

    it’s not about the recall. it won’t happen. this is just a ploy to polarize the black community to support Lewis Reed in the upcoming election.

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    I understand the need for affirmative action to get people “into the system” who were previously excluded. I support providing equal opportunity for advancement within the system. I even support the right of management to define a testing structure to give everyone a fair chance at being promoted. I cannot support changing the ground rules just because management did not get the expected results from the (allegedly) unbiased testing. As a resident, I’m somewhere between disappointed and appalled that 70% failed – it says something about their core competencies, measured against established national standards. The reality remains that 30% did pass, are qualified and should be promoted into open positions. I don’t care if these people are black, white, brown or green, I just want the best people possible “working” for me. Chief George made the decision not to promote, which affected both black and white candidates, as well as negatively affecting the management and the command structure in the fire department, which affects me as a resident. I support the Mayor’s action because the lack of action on the Fire Chief’s part put the city at risk, the Fire Chief received notice multiple times, and chose, likely out of principle, to refuse a direct order. Demotion and resignation was and is a blow to his ego and his legacy, but it preserves his pension. In the private sector, failure to follow orders results in termination, including, in many cases, the loss of any pension.

    Affirmative action should only go so far. The working world is already cursed by the Peter Principle (keep promoting someone until they reach their level of incompetence). We should not continue to set or maintain race-based quotas for promotion. If only the best-qualified whites can be accepted at the entry level (due to quotas), while less-qualified minority applicants are being accepted (due to quotas), it should be no surprise that a higher percentage of whites do well on the promotion exams. Studying hard can make up some for a lack of inate ability, but the reality remains that not everyone (black or white) is the “best and the brightest”. Is it fair that most organizations have a pyramid when it comes to promotions? Can everyone become Chief or Lieutenant? No. We need to provide equal training and equal opportunity, but we should not be expected to provide equal or extraodinary outcomes!

  13. Nick Kasoff says:

    The people attacking Mayor Slay today are the ones who happily managed the city as it declined into slum, who stood by the school district as it was transformed into an idiot factory, and who laid claim to wards which were emptying themselves out into the county even as these political hacks celebrated their power. People don’t move to St. Charles because they are fools, they do it to get away from politicians like Jamila Nasheed, who are more concerned about racial politics than they are about the miles of boarded up windows that fill their districts, the drug dealers and prostitutes, and the killings that are so common they don’t even make the front page anymore. Those who love the city had better hope these fools fail: Their success would set St. Louis back decades.

  14. neighbor says:

    The “www.firefrancis.com” site is up. It features Slay’s image on fire.

  15. neighbor says:

    Since the Clergy Coalition is pushing for Slay’s removal, will they be preaching that message in their churches on Sunday morning? How many of them preach in St. Louis County? And if in the city, how many of their city churches are filled with non-city residents. It’s quite common for members of black churches to drive from suburban locations to a church in the city limits. Most blacks in the St. Louis area live outside the city limits.

  16. Adam says:

    “It’s quite common for members of black churches to drive from suburban locations to a church in the city limits. Most blacks in the St. Louis area live outside the city limits.”
    no offense, neighbor, but this sounds like a generalization. what’s your source?

  17. neighbor says:

    My source is the pastors and parishioners themselves. I work with churches and pastors from inner North County to North City to East St. Louis. They all say the same thing: A high percentage of their parishioners commute to church from suburban locations. Many of the parishionenrs have old ties to the neighborhoods, but no longer live there. Even the “Rock Church”, a northside Catholic institution, draws a large percentage of its Sunday worshipers from far beyond traditional parish boundaries. The same could be said about St. Cronin’s in Forest Park Southeast. Want more proof? Look at some of the neighborhoods around inner city churches. Many don’t have the population or housing anymore to support a congregation, so parishioners are forced to commute to church. In fact, a common goal among the churches is to build up the neighborhoods around their churches so that more members can come from the immediate area surrounding the church. For now, the churches will continue to draw from wide geographic areas.

    [SLP — Based on what I’ve seen first hand is their goal is to wipe out what is left of the neighborhood to handle the parking for all those suburban parishioners.  Somehow that is supposed to stabilize the neighborhoods.]

  18. Nick Kasoff says:

    > The “www.firefrancis.com” site is up. It features Slay’s image on fire.

    The ignorance of some in this city knows no bounds.

  19. joe says:

    Lewis Reed wasn’t qualified to be president of the board of aldermen, let ALONE the mayor. have people forgotten that he doesn’t even have a four year degree?!

    [SLP — I think you might be confusing Lewis Reed with Mike McMillan.]

  20. PT says:

    I’m frustrated to see so many people with so few solutions stake out City Hall with the hopes that a recall of the Mayor will bring about racial harmony and equality(AND PROGRESS) within STL city limits.

    This reminds me of all the (mostly white middleclass) idiots who demanded the firing of Mike Martz. I predict the same results for a Mayor elected by those who protested at City hall on Sunday. A winless term.

    I really do not think that Mayor Slay has racial motivations. (Do you really think he’s a racisit and his goal is to become a white supremecist Mayor that removes all blacks from city Government?? Seriously?!) I believe he wants the city to progress and grow. I don’t know if the fire tests are racially biased, but the Chief thought so…and out of frustration he chose to hit the brakes on the progress(and safety) of the city. There clearly could have been another way to address the tests, but Chief George used politics instead of brains(which makes me think he should NOT be the Chief!!). White or Black, Cheif George’s ACTIONS proved that he couldn’t do the job.

    Mayor Slay has had to overcome so many obstacles to create an infectious interest in the city. Developers used to consider any development within the city a huge financial risk…they’re now drawing plans and building(whether you like the aesthetics or not). Over the last 6 years(and yes, thanks to a nationwide real estate boom) people are rehabbing houses and buildings like never before. We’re excited; and, we’re are moving back to the city….I’m one of those people.

    Its so easy to blame public officials from behind the pulpit, or within an angry mob or even from a blog. But why not instead address: the group of kids throwing newspapers at moving cars, the 20-somethings who blare the car radio at 1am, the parent who screams at her kids from the front porch(dropping the F-bomb all over the place for all the neighbors to hear) or the guy who lets the grass in the sidewalk cracks grow to 12” tall.(All of these things happening on my street in the past 2 weeks – and I feel all alone to take a stand against this kind of stupid stuff!!)

    I don’t think that Mayor Slay is the real problem…..the real problem is people’s frustration with their own situation and their unwillingness to do their part(without shortcuts or instant gratification) to make STL a better place to live.

    This is what we’ve become – Ask not what you can do to make this city better, but what your Mayor will do for you before you make derogatory threats and call for his removal.


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