Yesterday I woke up fired up! It was Election Day and there was much that needed changing in my part of the city. The 1st ward of St. Louis had seen much better days. Trash abounds everywhere. The tax base of this part of town is steadily eroding from a number of businesses and residents that have fled the area. Property values are at the same levels from fifty years ago. Vacant buildings are common throughout the area. But to try and assume property from the city and the rigmarole of bureaucracy will require a lawyer of Johnny Cochrane like ability to get through. Who needs such a headache to buy an abandoned building?
The ward alderman, Charles Quincy Troupe, is more than seventy years old and is way past his prime. He has enjoyed a long career in St. Louis politics. He has done a lot of good things for the city in his thirty plus years of service. In the past year and a half that I’ve been here in the city, Mr. Troupe has been at every ward meeting I’ve attended. But it is painfully obvious that this old man has difficulty keeping up with the needs of an area that is suffering from neglect and poor leadership. Anywhere else and Mr. Troupe would have been forced into retirement. However, politicians can run and win elections even when their mental faculties have stopped.
The city of St. Louis suffers from poor leadership as well. The city has seen a number of companies vacate the area. The city used to be the home of a number of companies that either no longer exist or have simply decided to move to a more progressive area. Monsanto, McDonald Douglas, Southwestern Bell, Trans World Airlines, WorldCom, Anheuser-Busch, and Ralston-Purina are a few names that come to mind. And the number of companies that once had a strong operating presence in the area has shriveled up considerably. Ford and GM have closed their automobile assembly plants in the area and the local Chrysler plant has shut down half of its plant and the other half is operating at partial capacity.
A number of businesses find it difficult to operate in the local environment and local politicians do little to reverse trends. New blood is need. New ways of approaching problems have to be implemented. And the best way to do new things is to get rid of people who adhere to traditional ways or people who’s mindset is stuck in the regular status quo.
I left home a little early so I could vote. Now, I didn’t expect the same turnout of people who wanted to vote in the history making election of Barack Obama to be our first black President. Nevertheless, I did expect a lot of people in the area to remember the sense of satisfaction they enjoyed when they voted for Mr. Obama and use that sense of accomplishment to drive them to vote for changes in our local ward politics. I was not expecting the place to be virtually empty.
The long line of voters that wound around the hallway and out the doors to circle the parking lot and then travel around the block was replaced with a line of three people. Exactly three people were there to vote. One woman was already in line ahead of me. There was some confusion among the poll workers as to where her name was in the registration rolls. Without anyone to wait on everybody was trying to help find her name. The adage too many cooks spoil the soup quickly came to mind. I was next. And there was one old gentleman in line behind me. I saw him crossing the street as I parked my car. But I quickly caught up to him and passed him on the way to the voting place on the first floor of the local elementary school.
As I left the poll worker manning the door asked me to send about a thousand people back. I asked her where were all those people who voted back in November. She thought that the majority of people don’t understand what’s at stake and don’t realize that a Mayor or an alderman is just as important as a President.
I replied that the people here don’t care about political resources or community economics. The only reason people were voting back in November was so that they can say America has a black President. The occasion was about history and nothing else. If Mr. Obama was the type of black politician who would vote against the black community’s interest it wouldn’t matter one bit because the history of the occasion is worth the pain of having a black man who should have a connection to black people turn his back on the black community like so many high profile black people do. As a collective the black community cares little about the long term impact of our decision. The woman agreed. We talked a little further before a forth person came in and interrupted us. I had to go to work. She had to continue to count the minutes before the next voter.
This morning, I woke up and I saw that the chance for change is not going to happen anytime soon. Out of the tens of thousands of people in the ward less than thirteen hundred bothered to vote. The old man alderman easily won reelection accumulating fifty six percent of the votes. And the Democratic Mayor will move on to the general election to be held next month.
But there is little chance the Mayor will be defeated by the Independent or a Republican challenger. With the national Republican Party politics in the utter chaos it’s in I doubt if people here would be willing to vote for someone hoping for the President to fail in his effort to cleanup our national economic malaise. So in essence, we are in a perpetual loop of political status quo at the city level.
But the alderman election really burns my ass. All it took was less than seven hundred people to give Mr. Troupe his job back in office. And the other people who were voting were all old people. These are Mr. Troupe’s peers and they vote for him because they identify with him. And the old people in this area are some of the most conservative old coots. Not conservative from a political stand point but conservative in embracing a change in the political environment that could lead to something better.
The difference between a black President and a white President is stark and goes without saying. But the difference between an old alderman and some new blood could lead to problems. It’s better to keep things the way they are and not take a chance on things getting worse. The way I see it, having an eroding tax base and watching trash pile up in areas it shouldn’t be piling up, what else does the black community have to lose in order to want change?