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Two city aldermen seek to use tax issues to knock out rivals

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 11, 2009 - Allegations of unpaid taxes appears to have become a popular ploy for knocking out political rivals.

At least, that seems to be the case in the city of St. Louis, where two city aldermen -- Bennice Jones King and Freeman Bosley Sr. -- are seeking to get opponents knocked off the April 7 ballot.

In fact, King is taking it a step further. King, D-21st Ward, has filed suit seeking to negate last week's primary victory by rival Antonio French, saying he had unpaid property taxes and should have been disqualified before the election. The suit was filed yesterday and is pending. 

Meanwhile, city Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., D-3rd Ward, tried and failed Wednesday to get Green Party rival Maxine Johnson knocked off the April 7 ballot over nonpayment of taxes. She filed papers Wednesday verifying that she'd paid them.

City Republican elections director Scott Leiendecker confirmed that Johnson presented a receipt showing that she had paid the city taxes that appeared, via computer, to have been unpaid.

And in the case of French, Leiendecker said that the unpaid property taxes cited in King's suit pertain to a house that remains in the name of French's deceased grandmother.

Leiendecker said the Election Board will look into the matter once it is served with papers verifying that the suit was filed.

King and Bosley are both working with Republican political consultant Tim Person, who produced three state statutes Wednesday that say candidates can't be certified if they owe any taxes in the jurisdiction in which they live. Person said that means neither Johnson nor French should have been knocked off the ballot before any election.

Person accused the city Election Board of failing to do its job. "What we have are lazy bureaucrats,'' Person said.

He asserted that if the board had called the city collector of revenue's office, they would find out that French and Johnson were in arrears when they filed for office -- and therefore, not eligible to run.

Leiendecker replied that the board staff did its job, and checked the tax status of all the candidates. It was the staff who discovered Johnson's unpaid taxes, and informed her, he said. As for French, Leiendecker said the staff determined that the unpaid property taxes on his grandmother's house have nothing to do with him.

He also pointed out that the provisions in the law cited by Person also state that candidates have 30 days to pay their unpaid taxes before being knocked off the ballot. "Person is playing politics,'' Leiendecker said.

Person, who calls himself "a pragmatic Republican,'' says he's assisting King and Bosley -- both Democrats -- because he has known them for years. Person served in the mayoral administration of the alderman's son, Freeman Bosley Jr. And King used to be Person's secretary, he said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.