The black community of St. Louis – i.e. the predominant and the predominantly poor populace of this city – should suffer no illusion that whites see racial harmony as a priority in this politically polarized town. They seek first and foremost to be in power.
To be more specific, come this spring, the very last thing those in power – who we must acknowledge are almost exclusively white – want to see is a black person leading this city as its mayor. For them, the stakes are too high to trust power in the hands of someone who might think that serving the city’s underserved blacks has a higher calling than bending to and bankrolling the re-gentrification agenda of white developers.
They are unyielding in their aim to preserve a lock on the mayor’s office. This grip can be traced back to when the white community coalesced in 1997 to oust the city’s first black mayor. Adding then to their discomfort in being for the first time under the rule of a black mayor was their disdain for the city’s finances being under the control of an outspoken black comptroller, who neither genuflected to them nor continued the practice of awarding city contracts solely to whites.
The peculiarity of St. Louis’ racism is that it operates under a veil, disguising itself with token blacks in visible positions, gestures of altruism to black organizations, whispers of maintaining white power, and denial that race is ever a factor. To illustrate, when two decades ago the city’s white power structure decided the black incumbent mayor had to go, it was careful to not make it appear a racial issue. Cleverly, they recruited, funded, and created a white following for a black who had never held elective office. He decisively toppled the black mayor by getting virtually all the white vote and a tiny fraction of the black vote.
Yes, he could rightfully then claim to be the city’s second black mayor, though in reality he was, to put it in the black vernacular, “the white folks’ mayor.” And whites showed him such four years later when they turned completely against him to support a white candidate – the current mayor. The manner in which they turned against him left no doubt that he was just a tool they used to remove the first black mayor, as his re-election effort has to be in the Guinness Book of Records for the lowest percentage of votes ever received by an incumbent American mayor – 5%.
Fast forward to the 2017 mayoral election and we see the same elements to perpetuate white power at play. First, the prominent whites who had announced their intent to seek the open seat mysteriously dropped out, leaving now only one white candidate with political stature in the race. Second, as the white candidates dropped out, strangely, more blacks hopped in.
The effect of this veiled political orchestration is that it has created cynicism among blacks about the chances of electing a black mayor because seemingly the black vote will be split and the white vote a monolith. This scenario, I would suggest, is deliberately designed to thwart the main weapon that blacks possess to elect a black mayor: Numbers.
The little discussed numerical fact is that in the city there are more blacks registered to vote who are Democrats than whites. And with the primary election being the decisive election for mayor, if blacks turn out to vote in the March primary in high numbers – like, for instance, the 58% black turnout this past November – then a black person can once again occupy Room 200 at City Hall.
What will convert this “if” from the hypothetical to the material is the black community uniting behind one black candidate. And what will cause that unity is a subject for future discussion.
Eric E. Vickers.