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- PHOTO BY DANNY WICENTOWSKI
- Attorney and taxicab lobbyist Jane Dueker and Domain battled repeatedly online in recent years.
Once he had publicly declared war, Domain settled in for a long fight.
He posted an open letter on Techli to then-Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Steve Stenger that laid out the strengths and possibilities of entrepreneurs at work in St. Louis, describing the extreme kindness with which they had treated him since his crash, and then contrasted that with the "cancer" of the MTC.
He also gave interviews to reporters and vigorously debated MTC lawyer Neil Bruntrager during a KTEC show hosted by Casey Nolen. He continued to fire away on Twitter, where he soon began to spar with attorney Jane Dueker, who is the registered lobbyist for a cab company and is often seen as an ally of Hamilton. He targeted MTC commissioners Tom Reeves, who would go on to succeed Hamilton, Pasta House owner Kim Tucci and Laclede Cab owner Dave McNutt as part of the problem.
The battle hit a crescendo in late July. Domain had rallied dozens of people from the entrepreneurial community and beyond to fill the MTC meeting in support of UberX. The meeting had been moved to St. Louis Community College at Forest Park to accommodate a large crowd, which arrived expecting a vote that could open the door for the service.
But there would be no vote. Hamilton announced that Slay and Stenger, who share appointing power for the nine-member commission, had asked members to wait until they could consider a potential agreement with Uber.
Domain, dressed in a dark sports coat and blue tie, was among the dozens who planned to speak during the public comment session, but Hamilton cut off the comments five to ten minutes early, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Domain stormed the microphone and shouted "Coward! Coward!" Hamilton had him escorted from the room.
Outside in the hall, Domain came face to face with McNutt, the owner of Laclede Cab and a commissioner.
Domain says McNutt chest bumped him and tried to goad him into a fight, telling him, "What are you going to do? You going to hit me, big man?"
The encounter resulted in a furious Domain shouting in McNutt's face as a crowd began to notice. He figures that was the cab owner's goal, to egg him on and make him look like a lunatic. He says he later spotted McNutt walking toward the parking lot, chuckling. (McNutt didn't respond to a request for comment.)
"He got me," Domain says. "Totally made me look like an idiot."
Domain knew he had become too easy to bait.
"I can be very loud; I can be very persuasive," he says. "But when I'm being loud and negative, it doesn't help anybody."
It was a difficult balance. He had committed to persistence, to showing St. Louis' old guard that they could not just ignore him and expect him to go away. He had also become a spokesman for those who sought to shake up the city's insular power elite. Some people supported him in private, even as they feared the political and financial retribution if they confronted the wrong people.
"He didn't care about the political stuff of St. Louis," says Maxine Clark, philanthropist and founder of Build-A-Bear. "He wasn't born here. He took a lot of the heat for people who had to play the softer ball."
At the same time, friends could see that years of fighting were taking a toll. Always a happy networker, the emcee for countless conferences and events, he had grown so angry he began to turn down social engagements. He was in nearly constant physical pain. Domain has lost track of how many surgeries he's had since the crash, estimating the number is now in double figures.
Techli had also suffered. Domain lost a crucial investor during a stretch of repeated hospitalizations. He had dreamed of turning the site into a major news platform with video and thought-provoking stories in the model of Vice, but every time he got going again he was interrupted by another surgery.
And, really, he was out of money. In 2015, after two years of fighting, Schlichter was able to negotiate a settlement of $200,000. Domain says he was left with about $90,000 after medical bills and fees. The money kept him afloat for about eighteen months, and then it was gone, too.