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Slay faces two Democrats in primary; Green Party also has contest

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 26, 2009 - Incumbent St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay would seem to be on the verge of coasting to a third term. The only thing standing in his way are four candidates that many regard as mere speed bumps rather than a blockade to his re-election. Four are in Tuesday's primary; a fifth has filed as an independent to run in the April 7 general election.

The strongest of the four is thought to be Irene Smith, who has raised more than $20,000. She demonstrated during the mayoral primary four years ago that she isn't to be taken lightly. In that low-turnout primary, Slay won only 66 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Smith.

Smith, 54, insists that she will have an even better showing this time around on Tuesday. She's also trying to get voters to move beyond the negative image some have of her and think instead about her achievements.

She is the first black woman to earn a law degree from the University of Missouri and the first black assistant county counselor; she has been an alderman and director of the city's Human Services Department. She has built her campaign on shoring up housing, employment and law enforcement in St. Louis.

Yet, to her regret, some people still define her by a high-profile 2001 incident. It involved the Board of Aldermen's session during which she supposedly urinated in a trash can instead of using a restroom because she wanted to continue holding the floor during a filibuster over ward redistricting.

Smith says she has moved on and prefers to talk about her record since then. It's a record that includes voting against the Ballpark Village redevelopment plan, a vote she defends by saying the public has little to show for the tax breaks given to the project. She's against Slay's support of charter schools, calling his position "unconscionable" because the city's top elected official "has a duty to strengthen and support public education, not dismantle it."

She also has criticized the mayor for his handling of the controversial Fire Department promotions issue, and she favors local control of the city's Police Department. In addition, she promises to restore the city's Division of Youth Services if she is elected mayor.

The other Democratic candidate, Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman, 62, seemingly came out of nowhere to seek the office on the final day to file for the Democratic primary. Initially, Coleman was dismissed as a stalking horse, put in the race to take votes from former Sen. Maida Coleman, who also had planned to enter the primary. Maida Coleman has since filed to run as an independent, and there never has been proof that Watson-Wesley Coleman wasn't serious about running.

Watson-Wesley Coleman, also a lawyer, is spending less than $2,500 on her campaign, including a loan she made of $1,800. She says the city needs a candidate who can bring people together. Slay, she says, should be held accountable for the flight of businesses and jobs from the city; the police tow lot scandal; the purchase of expensive badges for some officers; and the deteriorating quality of public education, even though the mayor has no direct control over public schools.

Green Party

Four years ago, the Green Party was widely regarded as the city's new opposition party. But it's now split, with two candidates running for mayor.

One, Donald E. DeVivo, 51, is a real estate broker who regards himself as the real Green Party candidate.  DeVivo previously ran unsuccessfully for city treasurer.

The other candidate, Elston K. McCowan, 46, is a minister and official in Local 2000 of the Service Employees International Union.

One of McCowan's key platform issues is local control of the Police Department. DeVivo strongly disagrees, arguing that local control would "alienate" many St. Louisans and cause them to lose confidence in law enforcement.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.