by Tom Finkel
There were no hoops when local pols gathered at Vashon High School, just trash talk.
Thursday night's forum on developer Paul McKee Jr.'s north-side properties was a time for declarations.
Fifth Ward Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin warmed up the crowd with these lines: "We will not live with public nuisances. We do not need anybody to come here who thinks they need to tear us down to build us back up."
"Are you going to eminent-domain my house when Paul McKee comes with his bulldozers?" asked Barbara Manzara, a resident of the Old North St. Louis neighborhood.
Ford-Griffin said she would not.
"So this is a pledge from my alderwoman?" Manzara persisted.
Nineteenth Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, state representatives Jeanette Mott Oxford and Jamilah Nasheed and aldermen Freeman Bosley Sr. and Charles Quincy Troupe also took the stage in Vashon's auditorium. Each took a turn rallying residents to hold down the fort while the elected officials do battle with McKee and his main supporter, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay.
Ford-Griffin and Davis said they hope to toughen the city's nuisance laws -- and perhaps stick it to McKee, who owns hundreds of vacant lots and buildings -- when the Board of Aldermen reconvenes September 14.
Slay sent two representatives, who didn't have a chance to return the kind sentiments. Once everyone was feeling sufficiently riled up, Davis declared that the only person fit to speak for city hall was Slay himself.
"I'm not one to answer questions for the mayor of St. Louis," Davis said. "I'm not going to let Charles Bryson, either," she said of the mayor's deputy chief of staff, who sat on stage and listened for the entire two-plus hours of proceedings.
By the time Davis put the clamp on Bryson, his colleague Barb Geisman, Slay's deputy mayor for development , was long gone.
Geisman had been the evening's first speaker.
"All the aldermen will tell you we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy on problem properties," she said. "That is why we have been advocating for a land-assembly tax credit, not just last year but for the last three or four or five years." (A tax credit that could benefit McKee is on its way to Governor Matt Blunt's desk today.)
"Nothing is going to happen with this tax credit without your aldermen," Geisman said. She added that it might be years before the tax credit is put to use on the north side. "It takes a long time to acquire property."
In the meantime, Geisman said, residence should keep filing complaints about nuisance properties.
Then she hit the road.
If Geisman couldn't stick around to hear from people like Rosie Willis, who has been keeping after a McKee property at 2832 Dayton Street for two years, she might have wanted to defend herself against the sharp tongue of First Ward Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe.
Troupe told the audience to be wary of assurances from Geisman. "Every piece of land I've tried to give away in my ward had to be approved by her. That's how tight the reins are," he said. "If you look at what she does, she's nothing less than a praying mantis."
As in the carnivorous species of insect whose females sometimes eat their mates? Scientists are still trying to understand the evolutionary function of such behavior. Here in St. Louis, we know it's just part of the political game.