Sometimes the fog clears in unexpected places, even during Greg Freeman's daily 11 a.m. show on KWMU (90.7 FM). Freeman Bosley Jr. was the guest last Friday, and the former mayor and current mayoral candidate was being his usual ebullient self when "Ken from St. Charles" called in to offer his trenchant views on politics, the city and what really gets on his nerves about black Democrats.
"I hope you're not one of these black Democrats, who I just cannot stand, who, all they want to do is say, 'Whitey did this to us, Whitey did that to us, that's why we are the way we are now,'" said Ken. "Hopefully the city will get on the move. It definitely needs some jobs, it definitely needs to clean up its image, it definitely needs to get rid of all these derelict houses, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes.'"
This is a familiar riff. The city's first African-American mayor has heard it before.
"Man, Ken, man, you're carrying a little baggage there, buddy," the Boz replied. "First, let me say this, Ken: I think you know -- I am black, and I'm a Democrat. But I've been in this community all my life. I don't know about you, buddy, but I love St. Louis.... Also remember this, Ken: But for St. Louis, there would be no St. Charles, buddy. There would be no St. Louis County. There would be no Clayton. There would be no Frontenac. There would be no Chesterfield."
With all the crosses the city has to bear already, it may be piling on to blame St. Louis for Frontenac, Clayton and St. Charles, but the Boz's point was clear. Yes, the city's population continues to drop and its image is funky, but the city remains the focus of much of the region's attention, if only because that's where the crisis is. One suburban onlooker recently said he gets the same feeling about city politics he does watching a car wreck. That's another way of saying its appeal is close to universal -- when was the last time there was an accident on the highway without rubberneckers? Even Ken in St. Charles was listening and bothered to call in with his philistine comments. City politics -- we love it.
In this election, despite what you may have read elsewhere, the contest is as much about death as it is about race: the names of dead people submitted on voter-registration cards, alleged death threats against the Rev. Earl Nance for his endorsement of Francis Slay, and all of it happening in a race for the position of boss of what many see as a dying city.
The discovery of the names of dead people on voter-registration cards, including those of former Ald. Red Villa and the mother of Ald. Jim Shrewsbury, triggered page-one lead coverage by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch beginning Feb. 13. From there, it was brushfire journalism at its worst as TV, radio and the P-D stoked the hype, but eventually the catastrophic tone diminished as the facts became clearer. The Election Commission-triggered investigation of the fraudulent registrations points to Operation Big Vote operative Nona Montgomery, whose employees allegedly filled out registration cards using an old voter list. Early speculation suggested that the Bosley campaign was involved because Montgomery worked on the former mayor's '97 campaign and is the niece of Harold Crumpton, Bosley's current campaign manager.
Bosley continues to deny that his campaign had anything to do with the attempted bogus registrations and is indignant that Slay campaign manager Jeff Rainford made that link when the story first broke. Although Bosley volunteers that "mistakes were made" by Operation Big Vote, he suggests that the extent of those mistakes has been exaggerated: "We had people that did, like, 3,000 registrations, and they said [that] out of that, 500 had problems. Next thing you know, 200 of them had problems. Now you don't know what they're doing. Doing registration and whatever they were doing, problems occurred."
Slay's backers ought to wait and see what comes from Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's investigation, Bosley says, but, "instead, they want to finger-point and muckrake." For now, Joyce is saying that no mayoral candidate is suspected of having anything to do with the alleged bogus registrations.
School-board member and mayoral candidate Bill Haas, who has publicly blasted Post coverage of incumbent Mayor Clarence Harmon, also faults the daily's coverage of the registration flap. "They think Bosley's connected, or the Post wouldn't be writing it like that. To link it to any candidate without proof that they or their inner circle of advisers was involved, during a mayor's campaign, is just plain wrong. In court, they wouldn't let it in, because it's more prejudicial than evidential." Arnie Robbins, the Post's managing editor, says that in light of recent problems in local and national elections, he doesn't think the paper sensationalized or overplayed the story. And Robbins says the coverage wasn't driven by a desire to get Bosley or any other candidate. "We were careful not to point fingers," he says.
As the days dwindle to a precious few in this mayoral campaign, the media's attempts to find a new-and-improved version of Midnite Basketball or the Vince Schoemehl money-machine story have failed. The City Living Foundation isn't it. Alleged voter fraud isn't it. But the media machinations fueling these frenzies are a perverse amusement to watch.
Last week's Short Cuts, which reported Harmon's claim that Richard Callow "ghostwrites" items for Post gossip columnist Jerry Berger, drew a flood of reaction, almost entirely positive and in agreement. The only off-key interpretation, made by a few callers, was that Short Cuts was blindly repeating the mayor's paranoid rant. Not so. If Callow isn't a Svengali behind Berger, then a lot of City Hall know-it-alls have been misled. And these people make a living, or get themselves elected, knowing such things.
So, those of you fortunate or unfortunate enough to live in the city, vote on Tuesday. The people in Ladue are depending on you.