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My Endorsement for President of the Board of Aldermen

Regular readers know that I love incumbents to be challenged — nothing worse than someone getting elected for a four-year term simply due to the lack of a challenger. I’m also fond of giving the new guy a chance, especially if the incumbent has been in that office a while. So where am I on the race for President of the Board of Aldermen? I’m not a huge booster of incumbent Jim Shrewsbury but I am opposed to Lewis Reed. Let me explain.

I’m going to go right for big issue — race! I personally don’t vote on race and would hope that nobody does. Sadly, the reality is that white & black voters alike do too often vote on race. And candidates on both sides can sometimes use that to their advantage. From PubDef this morning:

Reed is trying to become the first African-American ever elected President of the Board of Aldermen and the first black to unseat a white incumbent in a citywide election in 25 years.

Funny, I thought Reed was trying to become a better President of the Board of Aldermen? I’ve seen similiar statements elsewhere which makes the campaign about race, not city-wide issues. From the St. Louis American on January 3rd:

If Reed beats Shrewsbury on March 6, he and Green would form an African-American majority on E & A. This would be the second time in the city’s history that blacks formed a majority on the city’s chief fiscal board. From 1993 to 1997, Bosley was mayor and Virvus Jones was the city’s first black comptroller.

I may be an exception, but I really don’t care what the race is of my elected officials as long as they are representing the interests of the city. However, I have commented that our elected officials are not fully representative as we do not have any asian or latino representation as well as many of the other ethnicities that make up our population. Everything is black vs. white.

For a number of years now we’ve had a white majority on E&A with Slay & Shrewsbury but that has seemed to make little difference in the final outcome of votes. All three have shown a willingness to vote with or against the others as it should be. Shrewsbury has twice ran for Comptroller against black candidates and lost.
At some point our city must address the issue of race. A city-wide election between a white candidate and a black candidate is not the time to do that. Mayor Slay needs to pick a non-election year and hold some on-going forums to hash out issues and concerns over race. During the election cycle a white candidate simply cannot say the black candidate is taking the black vote for granted and the black candidate can’t help sounding as though the only reason they are running is to shift racial power at city hall.

Both Jim Shrewsbury and Lewis Reed have supporters on their sides that gives me reason to doubt both. Shrewsbury has some of the white good-ole-boy network in his corner while Reed has both black & white political insiders in his corner. Jennifer ‘Drive-Thru’ Florida’s early backing of Reed turned me off right away. Ald. Phyllis ‘Raze Bohemien Hill’ Young supporting Shrewsbury is equally offensive. There are some people, elected & non-elected, backing each candidate that I like and respect so this does little to help in a decision.

Both candidates are political creatures.  Shrewsbury has been in the game longer than Reed giving him some more experience, quite possibly a bad thing.  Shrewsbury as the incumbent came into the race with a huge advantage — only needing to prove why he should remain.  Reed’s task became having to prove why we should dump Shrewsbury and select him, no easy thing to do.  As a result, his campaign has gone to the negative side while Shrewsbury has had the comfort of taking the high road in most cases.

St. Louis Oracle, on his site, had an interesting post about role reversal in this contest, concluding with:

So, in this classic match up, the slick black dude is the proponent of Big Business, tax cuts for the rich, and “trickle-down” economics, while the little nerdy white guy is the true representative of ordinary people. Go figure.

Oracle has also endorsed Shrewsbury, here is a quote from his endorsement:

Shrewsbury is a principled, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense guy who doesn’t “showboat” to the media. Reed has criticized Shrewsbury’s lack of “vision,” without really saying what that means. The contrast is reminiscent of that between Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl and Former County Executive Gene McNary. In describing their joint efforts for the region in the 1980s, Schoemehl explained that McNary “sold the steak,” while Schoemehl “sold the sizzle.” Notably, sizzle-selling Schoemehl’s ward organization backs Reed. But the “vision” thing doesn’t resonate with me. If “vision” means new proposals and new ideas, let’s see them! Reed offers hardly any specifics. The appeal seems to be an attempt to tap into the “style over substance” trend that is infecting society. I don’t buy it.

My reality is that I don’t have high expectations for the issues that matter to me, such as a new zoning code, to be any different regardless of who wins.  However, I think I have a better chance of getting Jim Shrewsbury to listen and be responsive.  He may not look it, but in many respects he is quite progressive minded.  Reed simply has not impressed me to this point and I have no incentive to elect a black man to the position just for the sake of doing so.  Tomorrow vote to re-elect Jim Shrewsbury.


Reminder: Birthday Happy Hour Tonight at The Royale

February 27, 2007 Events/Meetings 6 Comments

Just a quick reminder I’m having an informal (buy your own) Happy Hour tonight at The Royale to celebrate my last day in my 30s —- tomorrow I turn 40.  Hope you can make it between 5pm-7pm tonight (2/27/2007).


Join Me for My Last Day of My Thirties

Next week I turn the big 4-0.  Since I have class on my actual birthday I thought I’d celebrate the night before, my last night in my 30s.  So, everyone is invited to join me for happy hour on Tuesday (2/27/07) from 5pm-7pm at The Royale on South Kingshighway.  Steve Smith has some good specials on drinks and I’m sure he’d be pleased if you ordered an appetizer or stayed for dinner (gotta watch that food to alchohol ratio you know).

We can chat about local issues, you can tell me I am too radical or perhaps not radical enough.  The point is to come out and have a good time so that I forget about entering my 40s.


St. Louis University is a Secular Institution, Not a Catholic or Jesuit University

Yes, you read correctly, Saint Louis University is neither a Catholic or Jesuit University. Now I know what you are thinking, that I’ve gone off the deep end this time. Everyone knows Saint Louis University is a Catholic University, right? Well, just hear me out. First, I personally agree with most of you the university is most definintely a Catholic University run by Jesuit priests. So where does this proclamation come from saying the university is secular and not a religious institution? There is a group, which I will reveal in a minute, who are making this claim and doing so in court. The case is on the docket for the Missouri Supreme Court to review on Wednesday February 21, 2007.

Interestingly, the group claiming Saint Louis University is not a Catholic University is…. Saint Louis University! Really, you just can’t make up stuff this good. Saint Louis University (SLU) is saying they are secular and they’ve got at least eight million reasons for trying to convince the court that is the case. Confused yet? Let me help you out but you’ve got to pay close attention because this is a complicated issue.

In short, some years back the city approved a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) plan for the Grand Center Redevelopment Area (itself blighted for some 30 years). Several projects were to be funded with this TIF including the SLU Arena, the old Woolworth Building and the Metropolitan Building. In total, 24 projects were listed within the district totaling some $80 million in TIF funds. Through some clever wording it turns out, critics claim, SLU will get all the area’s TIF money for the next seven or eight years — all going into the new arena, which broke ground last year. This might be as much as $14 million, they claim.

In the United States we have this pesky little provision in the constitution requiring separation of church and state. The Missouri constitution, I am told, goes even further in its wording on use of public money at religious institutions. So the question before the Missouri Supreme court is the use of $8 million in public TIF funds for the construction of an arena at a Catholic university. With $8 million in public tax money at risk, SLU has been quietly arguing in court they are not a Catholic university.

Now, I’m no theologeon but I kinda get the impression from SLU’s mission statement they are indeed a Catholic University:

The Mission of Saint Louis University is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity. The University seeks excellence in the fulfillment of its corporate purposes of teaching, research and community service. It is dedicated to leadership in the continuing quest for understanding of God?s creation, and for the discovery, dissemination and integration of the values, knowledge and skills required to transform society in the spirit of the Gospels. As a Catholic, Jesuit university, the pursuit is motivated by the inspiration and values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and is guided by the spiritual and intellectual ideals of the Society of Jesus.

SLU’s argument is their board of directors are mostly lay persons, therefore they are not of any religious creed. Of course, all evidence is to the contrary. Here are some more tidbits from their mission statement page suggesting how they support the above mission, the university:

  • Strives continuously to seek means to build upon its Catholic, Jesuit identity, and to promote activities which apply that intellectual and ethical heritage to work for the good of society as a whole.
  • Nurtures within its community an understanding of and commitment to the promotion of faith and justice in the spirit of the Gospels.

There are numerous examples of SLU stating they are indeed a Catholic University, these are well cited in the various court briefs that I have been supplied. Here is one from a press release on the arena groundbreaking:

Saint Louis University is a Jesuit, Catholic university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of 11,800 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University is the place where knowledge touches lives.

Interesting, in the same press release SLU makes it sound like the full TIF is being paid solely from revenues generated by the arena:

The Arena will be funded through fundraising, $8 million in TIF funding and bonds, which will be paid off with revenues from the Arena.

If the arena were a single project TIF, such as say a downtown loft building, this would be completely true. But, the arena is part of the Grand Center revelopment area which was expanded to include the site, even though it is a substantial distance away from what we think of as Grand Center.

Basically the incremental increase in property taxes, sales tax and such from redeveloping the district are to be used to help fund projects. The reality is other property owners in the area are involuntarily helping subsidize SLU’s new arena. I was told by one opponent, intimately familiar with the issues involved, that one commercial property’s taxes were reassessed so that taxes increased from $5,000/year to roughly $35,000 per year.

By getting the property taxes raised, on the argument the district has increased in value thanks to SLU and former Alderman Mike McMillan, the owners are helping fund the TIF. Their choices are to pay up or sell. Say you’ve got a great building in the area and you want to redevelop it yourself or sell to a developer. You, like developers throughout the city, look for TIF and/or tax abatement to help make the project feasible. Here is where it gets a bit tricky.

First, you are graciously given a B or C bond on within the TIF. But, the chances of you ever getting any money on this bond are way down the road, after SLU has received their money first. SLU hold a “B” bond which is subordinate to their “A” bond. All other bonds that have been issued are subordinate to both of the SLU bonds which total over $10 million. So say you decide to go foward without a TIF but you want tax abatement to lock in the current (and increasing) property taxes at the current rate. Oh, sorry — no can do. What that means is even if you raise a substantial amount of money to complete a project within the district the property taxes will go up immediately and you’ll be helping fund, with public money, the arena for SLU.

Through a number of ordinances the city has determined that up to $80 million in TIF bonds can be sold. These will be broken down in A, B and C bonds with the A’s getting paid first and so on. SLU’s arena project got the first A bond, worth $8 million. The master developer for the area, Grand Center, Inc headed by former Mayor Vincent Schoemehl, has the authority to increase the bond by up to 30% making the $8 million bond rise to over $10 million. The second bond for SLU at $2.5 could easily go to $3.25 million. If that is not enough, and the tax revenue is there to support it, the Board of Aldermen could simply pass another ordinance to subordinate other bonds and issue another to SLU. SLU’s President, Father Biondi, argued in a deposition the TIF was necessary for the arena:

Q. Is it your opinion that the eight million is a necessity, and, if so, why?
A. Yes. It is a necessity . . . Athletics plays an important role here at St. Louis University. . . Why is an arena important? Because it’s an attractive venue for students from across the United States to come to this campus to be educated in the Jesuit
tradition. [emphasis mine]

They come to be “educated in the Jesuit tradition” at a non-Catholic, non-Jesuit university? I don’t think so.

Several issues are at play here. First, Grand Center has been blighted for decades and has a blanket TIF to aid in redevelopment but all the tax revenue is going to a single SLU project located a good distance from Grand Center. Second, SLU does not need the funds so the criteria used to determine if a project is eligible for a TIF, the “if not but for” test fails. SLU could build the arena without the $8 million in public funds. And finally SLU is a Catholic, Jesuit university and therefore is ineligible to receive public moneies based on the Missouri constitution.

I haven’t told you who filed the original lawsuit challenging the use of TIF for SLU, the Masonic Temple Association of St. Louis. Yes, this is the Masons vs. the Jesuits. Both sides been through a couple of rounds with SLU coming out the winner. The stakes are big and others have submitted “friends of the court briefs” on both sides the issue.

In addition to the above links, here are documents for your review:

Articles in the Press:

Most of the above articles are from the St. Louis Business Journal and all of those show a clear bias in favor of SLU and the TIF subsidy.  Basically this seems like an unfair deal and it explains why projects such as the Metropolitan Building and the old Woolworth have not gone forward.  No TIF for them, no project for us to consume.  With both TIF financing and church-state issues all wrapped up into one this will certainly be interesting to see how the Missouri Supreme Court rules on this case.


Clear the Downtown Streets, It is Time for the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball

A year ago a motorcade with flashing lights whizzed through stoplights as aldermen went from a hotel party sponsored by Anheuser-Busch to City Hall for the annual Mayor’s Ball. The story was first told in the St. Louis Business Journal by Dave Drebes of the Arch City Chronicle, expanded upon by the RFT. From the RFT story:

So was Dave Drebes, editor and publisher of the local political tabloid Arch City Chronicle. Drebes, who also writes a weekly column for the St. Louis Business Journal, referenced the soirée in the March 3 Business Journal. Noting that pomp reigns as power wanes among city lawmakers, Drebes described “whizzing through stoplights” with three (unnamed) aldermen in a motorcade from the hotel to city hall as sirens and flashing red lights attached to the caravan’s lead car helped clear a path through traffic.

Gregali, Florida and Kirner say the February 24 motorcade was orchestrated and led by the private security firm Special Services Inc. The aldermen and Drebes followed in Gregali’s Mercury minivan, with Gregali behind the wheel. The aldermen say they don’t know who else was in the procession.

Here is a bit from Drebes’ story talking about the waning power of aldermen:

So what has the job become? Visit an alderman now and you’ll most likely find a yellow legal pad — a running list of calls from constituents about the most inane and yet pressing matters — a street light that’s not working, an overflowing trash can or dumpster, an alley that needs repaving, a sidewalk that need to be reset. That is the bulk of their day.

As their stars fade, is there some outrage, some pang of despair at the lack of power? No. Some itch for rebellion, some wish to put the mayor on notice that they still matter? No.

They’re content with their place. They’re zooming through red lights on the way to the Ball.

Click here to read my story from 2006 with links to the RFT article and the Business Journal commentary by Drebes. Party safely and watch out near city hall.