Wednesday, April 02, 2003

This blog is NOT dead! And I'm still alive too. I just have gotten really busy in my personal life, and with the War in Iraq, decided not to pay attention to the news as much, for the sake of my own sanity.

However, I do wish to comment on the upcoming St. Louis Board of Education campaign.

See the Board of Elections web site for the list of candidates.

There are 17 or 18 people running for Board of Education. The discrepancy comes because it appears Yolanda Brown - formerly on the slate backed by Amy Hilgemann - has not only dropped from the slate, but may have dropped out of the race. However, her name is still on the published ballot.

Of the 17 candidates, 8 are running for a three-year term. There are two slots for the three-year term.

The other 9 candidates (with Brown it would be 10) are running for a four-year term. Also two slots open.

The South Side Journal today ran pics and profiles of each candidate, so I can tell that of the 17 candidates:

- Only 6 are African-American (in a district with 80%-plus African-American student body).
- Only 3 live in North St. Louis (that is, north of Delmar Blvd.), where the largest percentage of the students are still concentrated.
- The youngest candidate is Antonio French at age 25 (a 1995 graduate of CBC high school) - he is running on the Hilgemann slate called "Coalition for Excellence in Education."

Other candidates in their 20s and 30s are: Elizabeth Crowley, 28, who was the candidate initially back by the unions until the mayor's slate was finalized; Curtis Royston III, who I believe is in his mid-30s, and is a confidante of Greg Carter, 27th Ward Alderman; and David DeVore, 36, one of two 'neighborhood schools' advocates running. The other anti-busing candidate is Bob Volz. Neither DeVore nor Volz - at age 77, the oldest candidate running - will get my vote. That race-baiting position is about 15 years out of date in this race.

I really want to like Antonio French. He's smart, he's politically experienced, a downtown dweller, and about my age. But the Public Defender newspaper he started, as promising as it sounded, only lasted four issues, with no explanation of why. This was particularly vexing to the subscribers who had paid up front at a charter member bash at Rue 13 last year. And Mr. French is politically connected already - his mother is Myrtle French, 21st Ward committeewoman. Another relative, Fernandel French, is the endorsed Democratic candidate for Ward 21 alderman, in the special election in the wake of the recall of Melinda Long.

It is hard to decide who to elect in the three-year term race. Remember there are two slots open. The candidates are:

-- John Oleski - the first person to file, an administrator at MICDS, fully Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School, the elite private school in Ladue. He's a smart guy clearly, and a Central West End resident. But I'm not entirely sure he understands the depth of the problems facing the St. Louis Public Schools.

-- Anthony Downs - a member of the Hilgemann slate, and a parent in the public schools, lives in Soulard. From what I know so far, he sounds like a good person for the board. Ken Parker, one of my neighbors in Marine Villa, hosted a coffee for him several weeks ago.

-- Antonio French. He is also on the Amy Hilgemann-backed Coalition for Excellence in Education slate.

-- John Kintree. One of the few candidates with his own web site. Kintree has been a progressive activist for many years, and has very interesting ideas about how to use computers and the Internet for social change and empowerment. He has volunteered over the years in the St. Louis Public Schools, teaching computer classes to students and to adults in the evenings. I know him well enough to believe he is much more thoughtful than most other commentators are giving him credit. He lives in the Bevo neighborhood.

-- Tom Simpson. Don't know much about him, except that he's a teacher at Vianney High School, a Catholic all-boys school, and a Dogtown resident. One of his talking points is "slashing bureaucracy" - sounds good, but not usually possible. A Catholic educator may not quite understand - a lot of the administrative functions that the church or the order handles for a Catholic school, have to be done by the school district in a public system.

-- Elizabeth Crowley. She lives in the Tilles Park/Northampton neighborhood, and works with young people at the Evangelical Children's Home in North County. She seems experienced, although not in running for public office. That's sometimes a good thing. Although her early labor endorsement makes me wonder who her relatives are.

-- Vince Schoemehl. The most well-known name in the race, by far. Mayor from 1981-1993. On Mayor Slay's Four For Our Future slate. Lots of friends, lots of enemies. Currently executive director of Grand Center, Inc., and certainly a very effective advocate for that district's revival. But can he represent the whole City?

-- Darnetta Clinkscale. Also on the Four For Our Future slate. Lives in the Tiffany neighborhood, a manager at BJC Health Systems, and a member of the Black Leadership Roundtable. She seems intelligent and managerially skilled. So I wouldn't hold the mayoral endorsement against her necessarily.

The 9 candidates for the four-year term are a mixed bag. Also two positions to elect.

-- Alice Bell. I don't know much about her, but I believe she's the one candidate who has had the most children (12 in total), most of whom went through the public schools. She is also the only African-American female candidate from the Northside (she lives in College Hill). She also has some teaching experience. Although she has never run for office before, that's probably a good thing. At least she must have some savvy advisors though, since she got the first slot on the ballot for the four-year term.

-- Eleanor C. Gower. She is an African-American Southsider, living only a few blocks from Elizabeth Crowley in the Tilles Park section of the Northampton neighborhood. She is a retired teacher and SLPS administrator. I think she's too connected to the system to effectively advocate for change.

-- Curtis Royston III. Lives in Walnut Park, and as I mentioned, he's closely tied with Greg Carter and the Carter family political operation. I still believe he's an intelligent guy who cares about the school system, and believes schools can play a role in neighborhood revitalization, but I don't know if he can be independent.

-- Bob Volz. Wouldn't touch him.

-- David DeVore. Probably not him either - haven't heard much good. He works for Alberici Construction, one of the largest contractors in St. Louis, so how could he possibly avoid conflicts of interest in contracting?

-- John Patrick Mahoney, PhD. He was on the board for 18 years already. His ads are really annoying, festooned with shamrocks to highlight his Irish heritage, and one of his points calls him an "Apologist for urban public education." Um, maybe that's not the way to get elected.

-- Ronald L. Jackson. Also a member of the Black Leadership Roundtable and on the Mayor's Four for Our Future slate. A long-time employee of the Danforths, through the InterACT mentoring agency, and more recently through the 2004 initiative St. Louis for Kids. He surely sounds qualified. Also remember though, his wife is Hattie Jackson, former school board president. I respect her a lot, and she was less divisive than her successors. But I would like to try new ideas - Ron Jackson, while qualified, is very much tied to the existing power structure.

-- Robert Archibald. Executive Director of the Missouri Historical Society. Rounds out the Four for Our Future slate. Sure he's a smart, pretty well-known local figure, but can a historian really direct a school district? Like Schoemehl, he seems like he would be too distracted to focus on this position - indeed, he has not participated in the campaign or the candidate forums very much. Even when selected for the mayor's slate back in January, he was not present for the interview, but did it over the phone.

-- Sister Mary Ann McGivern. She's the only white candidate who lives in North St. Louis - specifically St. Louis Place neighborhood just north of downtown. But more importantly, she is a well-known social activist, whose commentaries you may hear on KWMU radio occasionally. She is on the Coalition for Excellence in Education (Amy Hilgemann's slate), and has many thoughts about improving the schools. Although like Schoemehl and Archibald, she is a very busy person, she clearly has a long-standing interest in education issues.

So, here's how I plan to vote as of right now:

Three-year term (vote for two):
- Anthony Downs
- John Kintree

Four-year term (vote for two):
- Alice Bell
- Sister Mary Ann McGivern

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