Mark Rice considers himself a south St. Louis Democrat's Democrat. The pro-union, anti-gay-marriage candidate came within a few hundred votes of upsetting better-financed Jeanette Mott Oxford in the 2004 primary for the 59th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. Nowadays, he says, south-siders approach him all the time and suggest he shoot for a rematch with the openly gay Mott Oxford.
"I tell them, 'Sure -- just raise thirty, forty thousand dollars for me and I'll do it,'" quips Rice, an inspector for Laclede Gas Company and a 20th Ward committeeman. "That usually shuts them up."
Not Dustin Mitchell. The publisher of the local gay publication Outlook Magazine was introduced to Rice at a south-side restaurant this past spring and quickly assured him he could raise that kind of cash. Rice, a 51-year-old grandfather, thought the 24-year-old Mitchell could help him make inroads into the gay community. "He's a likable person, very presentable," says Rice. "I asked quite a few people who are involved in politics about him, and everybody said he was OK."
What nobody told him was that Mitchell had given a similar fundraising spiel before -- to Mott Oxford. She says Mitchell reneged on an offer to raise money for her 2004 run. (He counters that her staff failed to contact him about fundraising plans.)
Lori Becker, who managed Joan Barry's 2004 Congressional campaign, echoes Mott Oxford's story. "He told me he was a lawyer, that he was a doctor and that he had all these rich friends that were able to contribute to the campaign," she recounts, adding that Mitchell also tried to enlist her to sell nutritional supplements.
Mitchell denies he misrepresented himself.
At any rate, by September Mitchell had come aboard to manage Rice's fledgling campaign. Unfortunately, before the month was out, Mitchell had been arrested and spent nearly three weeks in jail. He faces two charges in St. Louis: driving while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. Two additional charges are related to alleged credit card fraud in St. Louis County: According to court documents; Mitchell pilfered a customer's credit card while working at Red Robin America's Gourmet Burgers & Spirits on Manchester Road and bought a number of items at Clayton's Kitchen Conservatory.
Mitchell says he intends to plead not guilty to all the charges except driving with a suspended license.
Rice, however, has heard enough. "I pulled the Donald Trump thing on him: 'You're fired,'" the candidate says. "We just sat down and I told him, 'You've got to get your personal problems solved.'"
But unlike Trump, Rice is leaving the door open if Mitchell can get his affairs in order. "It upsets me that all this would happen after we're associated together," he says. "But I told him it's not a big deal. He'd still be an asset to our organization, I think."