Divide and Conquer – The State of Black Politics in St. Louis

Yesterday was the last day to declare candidacy for the March 7th primary election in the City of St. Louis. Unfortunately, it looks like the black political leadership in St. Louis, has fallen for the ancient strategy of divide and conquer and is about to throw away the chance to demonstrate it can take charge and bring about positive change.

Divide and conquer is a strategy of maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. The strategy includes causing rivalries and division to prevent smaller groups from linking up to break up existing power structures.

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St. Louis is a majority black city and there was a legitimate chance for a black candidate to become mayor resulting in a major power shift. Power is not centralized in the mayor's office. The charter of St. Louis provides the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BOE&A) with the power to approve all City real estate purchases, appropriations, and the City's annual operating budget. The BOE&A consist of three citywide office holders:

  • Mayor
  • Comptroller
  • President of the Board of Alderman

If the City of St. Louis elects a black mayor, it would mark the first time in the city's history that the BOE&A was all black. An all black board doesn't guarantee it won't be business as usual, but there would be some added incentive for a collective black Board of Estimates and Apportionment to concentrate more on issues affecting black residents. In a city as racially segregated and polarized as St. Louis is, in the era of Trump, it would be a nice change of pace, especially considering the city just elected a black sheriff and its first black prosecutor, not to mention its black treasurer and license collector. 

One of the most refreshing aspects would be that a black mayor would have control of the police department and could direct resources where the most crime occurs. I would expect a black mayor to deploy additional economic resources and services rather than just increasing police presence. North St. Louis has never recovered from the unofficial implementation of the Team Four Plan.

Unfortunately, that change of pace may never happen. The democratic primary winner will most like become the next mayor of St. Louis. There are seven candidates, five of whom are black. 

  • Antonio French
  • Lewis Reed
  • Jeffrey L. Boyd
  • Tishaura O. Jones
  • Jimmie Matthews

All five black candidates enjoy at least some name recognition. Four of the candidates are viable and three are particularly strong. However, it is almost a mathematical certainty that these five candidates will dilute the black vote thereby assuring the strongest white democratic candidate (either Lyda Krewson or William “Bill” Haas) the mayor's office. 

It is unfortunate that the four candidates who work in the same building everyday didn't get together and decide to rally behind one candidate so that a collaborative agenda could be achieved. Instead, an all chiefs and no Indians attitude will most likely result in none of the five candidates being elected. I suspect that a meeting was held between potential white candidates which may explain why police chief Dotson decided not to run.

Each of the candidates has every right to seek the office of mayor. However, every election cycle the candidates ask the voters to go to the polls and support them. In exchange for our support, it is expected that our elected officials will work in the best interest of those whom elected them to office.

These elected officials owed a duty to make certain their constituents best interests were protected. As a community, we have a special set of needs that have gone ignored far too long.

There was an excellent opportunity to build a coalition to ensure a mayor who would genuinely look out for our best interest would be elected. Instead, these candidates are now divided and have become adversaries in pursuit of an office that none of them stand much chance of winning. Even the St. Louis Post Dispatch warned how multiple candidates could dilute the black vote. Their loss will be a loss for us all. I expected our black political leaders to be smarter. "A house divided against itself cannot stand".