Business owners voting in Wednesday's Cherokee Station Business Association officers election placed their ballots in a shoebox decorated in green Christmas wrapping paper. Its lid read "Warm Wishes," but the district's recent history suggested that the accompanying meeting would be filled with anything but.
True to form, raised voices and quivering chins were the order of the day, and over the course of an hour and a half, chaos reigned. Confused voters filled out their ballots and turned them in, unaware that candidates were meant to give pre-voting speeches so current president Robin Strathmann scrapped the speeches. Candidate for treasurer William Liebermann, running with presidential candidate Jason Deem and vice-presidential candidate Minerva Lopez as part of a slate against the old guard, arrived with a pile of sealed proxy votes. But the association's constitution contains no rules on votes-by-proxy. Liebermann placed votes in the ballot box. Current vice-president Shirley Wallace removed them. Back and forth it went as a bemused and confused Harry Bennett, who as an official with the St. Louis Development Corporation was the election judge, sat in front of the "Warm Wishes" box and shook his head.
"Shirley, regardless of who wins this election I'll work with you," Liebermann said at one point.
Wallace's response? "I don't think so. I'll work for you, but I won't work with you."
Strathmann was overheard apologizing to Bennett. "This has been a fiasco," she acknowledged. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, two aldermen representing parts of Cherokee Street were taking it all in. Ninth Ward Alderman Ken Ortmann stood by Shirley Wallace's plate of cookies. Although Cherokee Station is outside of his ward, he represents the street's eastern end Antique Row and therefore has a vested interest in the outcome of this election. When asked whether he wanted to chime in, he smiled and declined by saying, "I'm just enjoying the cookies." Alderman (and R. Crumb lookalike) Craig Schmid, in whose ward the business association lies, sat taking notes, then lowered tensions with an enthusiastic speech on the state of the area.
After an hour's worth of wrangling, Schmid joined Harry Bennett to count the ballots, and fifteen minutes later Bennett stood to announce that the reformers had trumped the incumbants.
"Apparently it was a landslide," said new treasurer William Liebermann later, adding that he and his colleagues have big plans for their one-year term. "Now we have no excuse to complain," he says.
Liebermann adds that he hopes to harness the energy to encourage more participation, "to grow the business, to open our doors to more individuals and to get more of the St. Louis pie. We need to make the association and the area a group that's on the radar screen."