SILENCE TO THE STATE OF THE CITY: One barometer that network drones use to analyze a State of the Union address is how many times members of Congress are so moved by the speechifyin' that they spontaneously erupt into applause, interrupting the speech. So after the routine standing ovation Mayor Clarence Harmon received on entering, how many times during his seven-page, single-spaced State of the City speech last Friday did the assembled aldermen, as they say, burst into applause? Not once. Zilch. Nada. Not at all. Zip.
The two spins go this way: One alderman, a Harmon backer, sees no great import in the indifference. Speeches are no longer directed to the audience at hand, according to the alderman, they're directed at the cameras, so the audience is ignored. (Yeah, but who watches Channel 16, the city's version of C-SPAN, other than the desperate or the truly addicted?) Another reason? "Or nobody was paying attention, which would be typical of the Board of Aldermen." This Harmon backer also thought the speech was totally typical: "All of these great, good things are happening and the mayor gets credit for all of them. It was a typical state-of-the-whatever speech." But the lack of response might be more a sign of ennui than of animosity: "Nobody was disrespectful; nobody booed. But at the same time, this is the third time he's given this sort of speech. The newness has worn off."
For the dark side, an anti-Harmon alderman sees the mayor this way: "He just tells you what you want to hear. There's no follow-up or execution. It's whatever you want to hear and sounds good. He has a real problem taking something from the 'in' basket and getting it to the 'out' basket." From this perspective, year three of Harmon as mayor has the former police chief retaining the approval among "typical citizens" but facing a "growing frustration with the people who do business with the city on a day-to-day or project-by-project basis."
Naturally, none of this perspective was in Harmon's speech, which was titled "Seeds of Success." Most of the State of the City was perfunctory political gruel, with sweeping statements of positive signs and few details in sight. One specific that was mentioned is that the number of building permits issued in 1997 and 1998 was up 21 percent over the previous two years. Just what Clarence did immediately upon taking office in April 1997 to boost the demand for permits, other than not be Freeman Bosley Jr., is unclear and unstated.
To be upbeat, Harmon mentioned St. Louis' being in the national and world spotlight because, in case you forgot, Mark McGwire hit 70 homers and Pope John Paul II visited. Then there was the defeat of Proposition B on concealed weapons. He went on to use the phrase "Some people say" to preface claims that City Hall is more responsive, that property values in neighborhoods are increasing, that downtown is "coming back to life" and that the city's "neighborhood character is becoming more clearly defined in a proud and positive way." Some people may be saying this, but some people aren't, too.
The long-planned convention-center hotel, which, along with the Arena site, is a potential Waterloo for Harmon, was handled in one phrase: "The new Convention Center Hotel, which we expect to have a deal to move forward soon." ConnectCare? Not mentioned. The Arena? That was a "tough decision." The site "holds the promise of a major urban campus to draw business."
Local media picked up on the three paragraphs of the speech that dealt with the city's lawsuit against gun manufacturers. That may have been news, but the rest of the speech wasn't.
BOB BROEG, WE HARDLY KNEW YE: As grocery shoppers wait in line on Saturday, a glance at the early Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will reveal something that they won't see again the next morning: Bob Broeg's byline.
Former sports editor and current "contributing sports editor," Broeg continues to write his column, but readers who get home delivery or wait until Sunday to buy the paper won't see it. Anyone snapping up the early edition -- people perhaps more concerned about the classified ads or what momentous question "Walter Scott" will answer in Parade magazine this week -- will be able to read Broeg, who, among other achievements, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame for his writing.
Broeg is to St. Louis sports what Plutarch was to ancient Rome -- a chronicler, a historian. The snide may say that Broeg is about as relevant as a breaking news account of Cicero's last speech, but, gee, you'd think there would be some space for him in a Sunday sports section.
Just a breakdown of some recent headlines should tweak the interest of a sports fan. A few samples include: "Guerin, Frisch, Among Others, Were Top Hands"; "Stumbling Blocks Kept Mizell from Being Better"; and "Despite Gloom, Still Some Cheer Amid Depression." Yes, that last piece was about sports during the Depression. It ends with this classic Broegian sentence: "Selfishly, I remember the tough times fondly, but certainly sympathize with those who recall the Depression depressingly." In a piece about opening day, the second paragraph starts off with "Back in 1926, Rogers Hornsby's first and only full season as field foreman...."
Apparently there isn't room for such nostalgia in the normal Sunday sports section, particularly when there is a perceived
need for a full-page photo/poster of Mark McGwire. So that's what that guy looks like.
Though readers who don't rush out for Sunday's paper on Saturday won't be able to read Broeg, three times each weekday they can hear his words intoned by Bob Costas on KFNS (590 AM). Broeg wrote, and Costas narrated, 200 five-minute reports that document the "Century of St. Louis Sports."
THE SHOW-ME STATE SHOWS UP: Be it corporate welfare, dirty water or urban sprawl, Missouri is making the cut. One Washington, D.C., think tank just named Hazelwood's $17 million tax-increment financing (TIF) project the fifth-worst "corporate candy-store deal" in the country. According to Good Jobs First, the city declared 322 acres of Missouri bottomland a "conservation area" (the next worst thing to a blighted area) so an industrial park could be built and qualify for tax breaks under state laws. When a majority of local residents opposed the project and then signed a petition requiring a referendum for any future TIF giveaways, the city council ruled that the petition was "procedurally flawed."
Another list including Missouri was put out last week by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Friends of the Earth, which considered the Page Avenue extension between St. Louis County and St. Charles County one of the "Worst Roads to Ruin" in America. "The project is excessively costly and will not solve the long-term congestion that the St. Louis area faces," the report states. In addition, the Page Avenue extension will cross the Missouri River, which, because of excessive channelization and bank stabilization, was last week named the second most endangered river in the U.S. by American Rivers in Washington, D.C.
On an up note, we think, Muscle & Fitness magazine in New York just named Mark McGwire one of the "Top Five Best Bodies in Baseball" for the second year in a row. Use of andro apparently wasn't a disqualifier. (MR)
FIVE STARS ARE BORN: Not often is Shelley Winters thought of in the same context as William Danforth, but in the University City Loop, it fits. The former Washington University chancellor and four others will join Winters on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Most recently Danforth helped craft a settlement to the school-desegregation suit. Also having stars laid in the sidewalk are actor and St. Louis native Robert Guillaume, musician John Hartford, activist/politician Harriett Woods and -- last but far from least -- pro bowler Dick Weber. The ceremony is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 16, next to Blueberry Hill in the Loop. If it rains, the ceremony will be held in the Tivoli Theatre. Some guy named Ray Hartmann is giving the keynote address, but don't let that stop you from showing up -- there'll be a free concert of ragtime and Dixieland jazz.
FLOTSAM AND JETSAM: Just how much is Webster University paying former President George Bush to speak at its graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 8? Don't ask Karen Luebbert, executive assistant to the president at Webster. Bush normally gets $100,000 per spiel; Luebbert claims Webster is paying less than that but refused to tell The Journal on campus how much less. Bush's cousin, George Walker, is on Webster's board; hence the appearance. Some type of protest is anticipated; however, history professor/ activist Daniel Hellinger won't be walking out, though he would have preferred a different speaker -- say, someone like Noam Chomsky. Uh, chances are Bush's appearance may inspire a few more donors to reach for their checkbooks than would Chomsky, who isn't exactly known for his corporate connections.... In the Open Mouth, Insert Foot (or Gun) Category, we have NRA president Charlton "I'm holding the stone tablets" Heston speaking at the shooters' convention in Denver, not that far from Littleton and not long after the killings there. His main point was, don't blame guns, for God's sake -- blame the evil people with itchy trigger fingers. Sayeth Chuck: "Somewhere there are evil people planning evil deeds." This was not a subconscious confession of his reason for being at the NRA soiree.... No, we haven't forgotten the concept of the Shannon Koan, so named for Redbird broadcaster Mike Shannon's knack for pronouncing Zenlike puzzles that defy definition. Take this recent one, spoken as Mark McGwire batted: "If you miss inside, Big Mac will put a missing ball into play ... missing as far as the park is concerned." Meditate on that, sports fans.
Contributors: Melinda Roth, D.J. Wilson
E-mail your tips and comments to "Short Cuts": firstname.lastname@example.org n