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Wright-Jones contends that race is factor in 5th District state Senate contest; her rivals disagree

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 30, 2012 - State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones contends that fellow Democrats are using “triangulation’’ to oust her from the 5th District and possibly eliminate the seat's status as one long held by an African-American.

One of her opponents is white: state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford.

Wright-Jones made her assertion during Saturday’s forum with Oxford and state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed and conducted by the League of Women Voters.

“What we keep doing is having triangulated races. We have two blacks and one white,” said Wright-Jones. That, she said, often leads to a splitting of the black vote and a white victory.

“This is a seat that is traditionally black,’’ the senator continued, adding that it should remain that way because the district is majority African-American.

Nasheed and Oxford asserted that the issue was leadership, not race.

Saturday’s event was a rare joint appearance of the three St. Louis Democrats competing in the Aug. 7 primary.

Wright-Jones and Nasheed are both African Americans. Wright-Jones unsuccessfully went to court to knock Nasheed off the ballot over a residency issue.

Nasheed contended that Wright-Jones was trying to use race to divert attention from the controversies that prompted many officials and groups to defect from Wright-Jones and back Nasheed or Oxford instead.

“I have never been accused of any unethical practices,’’ Nasheed said.  But she also lashed out at Oxford, who Nasheed contended has not been as effective in the Missouri House.

Oxford sought to avoid confrontation, saying the candidates should each focus on “a positive message, instead of vilifying each other.”

Oxford did say that Nasheed has overlooked the bills and amendments that she has passed through the General Assembly. Nasheed maintains that she has been more effective, by twice getting through the state House a bill to grant the city control of its police department.

Wright-Jones has trailed Nasheed and Oxford in money-raising, one reason the two challengers have focused primarily on each other for weeks.

But Wright-Jones asserted Saturday that she was being unfairly “vilified by my opponents’’ and was being punished by the Democratic establishment because “I don’t belong to any machine.”

She said she has been “the top performing Democrat in the Senate,’’ had passed 12 bills during her 10 years in the General Assembly (six in the House and four in the Senate) and deserved re-election. Her loss, she said, would rob the 5th District of her seniority and lead to less influence.

Nasheed (six years in the House) and Oxford (eight years in the House) each contended that she had the better skills to represent the district. Oxford said she would focus on ways to increase state income – she cited Missouri’s lowest-in-the-nation tobacco tax – which she said was key to providing state help to improve public education, provide care for the state’s neediest citizens and protect the environment.

Nasheed said her focus would be on improving education and the district’s neighborhoods and on measures to reduce crime.  She emphatically asserted that she could be a more powerful player in the Senate than either of her rivals. “We need someone who is pragmatic, who can get the job done,’’ she said.

All three Democrats hold similar views on many issues. All three support expanding access to health care, all three said they support gay rights and all three oppose proposals to eliminate Missouri’s income tax and replace it with a higher sales tax.

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