Thursday, February 28, 2013 / 6:00 AM
You’ve heard the debates and know the political positions.
You’ve studied how the candidates have spent their campaign funds and where they got the money.
You know if they prefer boxers, briefs—or would rather answer with a more modest, political "no comment."
But have you considered what next Tuesday’s primary could mean in the context of St. Louis’ mayoral history?
If Mayor Francis Slay wins the Democratic primary next week, then he would be well on his way to a historic fourth term, becoming the first St. Louis politician to do so since Daniel Page in 1832—nearly 50 years before the "city-county divide" was even a phrase.
Granted, it wouldn’t be quite as long a reign as enjoyed by some politicians, like Leonard Scarcella of Stafford, Texas, who’s been mayor since Woodstock. And it wouldn’t quite measure up to former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s six terms—the closest thing to municipal royalty there is in modern-day big cities.
But Slay already has served a longer stint than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was elected to his current, third term only after the New York City Council extended the city’s term-limits law.
When Slay first took office, April 17, 2001, it was after spending a then-record $1.8 million (compared to a reported $3.02 million spent so far on this latest campaign), running with the slogan, “We can make St. Louis a great city again.” On Slay's first day on the job, Post-Dispatch columnist Greg Freeman wrote, “As Slay enters office, there's an air of optimism—a hope that he can carry out the many ideas he outlined during the campaign; that he can somehow stop the city's bleeding of population; that he can strengthen St. Louis' neighborhoods.”
Two months earlier, Slay had published a letter in the Post touting the “Slay Action Plan." Among other ambitions, he wrote:
“As mayor, we will crack down on absentee landlords to force them to fix up their properties. We will put more police on the beat in our neighborhoods to help prevent crime. As mayor, I will use my office to focus the entire region's energy on rebuilding our school system. If the schools fail to keep their accreditation, I will take them over.
In my first six months in office, anyone who wants something from city government had better be prepared to tell me what they are going to do to improve our schools. When we turn our schools around, we will turn our neighborhoods around.
We can make St. Louis a national center for high tech businesses to create jobs that pay well and offer good benefits, and expand our tax base for better neighborhood services.
We are going to restore pride in City government—no more insider deals and no more travel to exotic locations at taxpayer expense.
The midnight oil—and the weekend oil—will be burning in the mayor's office again. As mayor, one of the first things I will do is make Saturday a work day again in the mayor's office. People in city government will not work any harder or be any more committed than their boss. I will lead by example.”
So has Slay lived up to those initial promises, after more than a decade? Will it take a historic fourth term to finish the job? Or is it time for a change in leadership?
Voters will decide St. Louis history next Tuesday.
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