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St. Louis' north side Democrats to meet to choose a favored African-American for state Senate

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 28, 2009 - Democratic committeepeople from eight wards in north St. Louis met Saturday morning to discuss how to reach consensus on an African-American candidate to support for the 4th District state Senate seat vacated this week by Jeff Smith after he pleaded guilty to felony charges.

The committeepeople plan to meet Thursday with the various African-American hopefuls, including state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.

Nasheed said Friday that she's positioning herself as that consensus candidate. "I've been working extremely hard, both north and south," the legislator said.

Her chief opposition among the various African-American hopefuls: state Rep. T.D. El-Amin, who just stepped down as the 1st District Democratic committeeman because he's moved out of the ward.

Also making calls: Jerryl Christmas, a former lawyer in the city circuit attorney's office who now works for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Christmas is African-American.

Among the white contenders, various sources say state Rep. Rachel Storch has been calling Democrats since Friday to declare her candidacy as well. She has yet to return calls from the Beacon. Already in the mix: 28th Ward Democratic committeeman Joe Keaveny, a lawyer and former banker.

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Derio Gambaro -- who ran against Smith for the state Senate seat in 2006 -- says he's definitely not seeking the post now. "I'll enjoy watching the contest from the sidelines,'' Gambaro said today.

Eighteen city wards are within the 4th Ward, meaning that 36 Democratic committeemen and committeewomen will choose their party's nominee for the Nov. 3 special election. That's true for the other political parties as well. The nominees are expected be chosen within the next few weeks.

Because of the 4th District's geographic stretch, taking in the western half of the city -- from far north to far south -- many Democrats expect race to become an underlying issue among party activists and some of the candidates.

The 4th District's voting population is roughly half white, half African-American. But white voters turned out in far greater numbers in 2006, when Smith won a spirited five-way contest featuring two white and three black candidates.

Several of the 18 Democratic ward groups are "open," meaning their members vote on which candidates to support. However, sources say city party leaders are calling on those wards to have membership votes that will grant the committeeman and committeewoman the full power to decide who to support for the 4th District nomination.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.