As political speeches go, Francis Slay's announcement of his challenge of mayoral incumbent Clarence Harmon was well delivered, to the point and, for him, perky.
Slay spoke in his father's backyard, at 6532 Scanlan, in the city's 23rd Ward, the house he moved into when he was just 4 years old. His father, former state representative and Democratic committeeman Francis Slay, stood behind him. The younger Slay said, "We need a mayor" who is aggressive and willing to work hard and, most of all, who will be "getting off the dime and making things happen," his implication being that Harmon is fulfilling none of these requirements. Of course, the former alderman and aldermanic president said, "It shouldn't take seven years to develop the Southtown Famous-Barr site." The delay in construction of the new city jail cost taxpayers millions. It shouldn't have taken two years to reorganize the St. Louis Development Corp. The targets were all there, and Slay hit them solidly.
As Slay stepped from behind the podium after the speech, loudspeakers beneath a towering maple tree boomed out Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." The lyrical advice about "thinking about tomorrow" and "yesterday's gone" may have been overcome somewhat by the recollection that President Bill Clinton and Veep Al Gore used the song during one of their inaugural balls. Let's hope that hearing the song didn't spur too many memories of Al and Tipper dancing.
Before Slay walked through the crowd, shielded from the rain by a tent, he stopped to pose for a hired photographer with the Rev. Earl Nance. Look for this shot in a campaign brochure. Slay's campaign manager, Jeff Rainford, is good at this.
Caught on his dad's front lawn after the festivities, Slay tried to explain why he wants to be mayor and will enjoy it many people interpret Harmon's demeanor, and absences from the office, as signs that he's not all that thrilled to come to work each day. Sayeth the younger Francis: "I've got a tremendous amount of energy. I work tirelessly; I work weekends; I work evenings ... I like to get in the middle of what's happening and make things happen. I don't like to stand back and watch things happen. This city is crying for leadership there's no question about that and I think that's a void I can fill. I think I'll enjoy it tremendously. I've been doing this for 14 years; I've been in public life. I know that's a different level, but I've seen what the mayor's done. I'm prepared mentally, prepared physically and prepared in every way to take on this position."
OK, so the subtitles here cast Slay as a youngish (44-year-old) attorney and former college-soccer player who has the political know-how, experience in City Hall and enthusiasm to fix things from the inside. Harmon, though an incumbent, will continue to cast himself as a nonpolitician politician, an outsider laboring against all odds to change the status quo. Vote-heavy South St. Louis may be split, with the central corridor and North St. Louis tipping the scales, provided nobody named Clara Jo Harmon or Francine Slay enters the race.
Conspicuous by his absence was the aldermanic president's cousin Eugene Slay. As head of Slay Transportation, Eugene Slay, at the very least, has been a victim of bad press. In the early '80s, he was criticized for receiving preferential treatment from City Hall for his riverfront leases. He was then convicted of mail fraud in the cable-TV scandal in 1987, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a different case led to the conviction's being overturned on appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. To Francis Slay's credit, he has consistently refrained from voting on any matter remotely connected to Eugene Slay.
But it's a long haul until 2001, and there's plenty of time for all sorts of dirt to be churned up, even though Harmon stressed in his initial statement about Slay that he hopes his opponents "avoid the negative politics that we have seen in the past." Clarence claims to be running "on my record and my vision for St. Louis." Hey, can't wait to hear about it. (DJW)