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Matthews pledges to represent poor, homeless, those without connections

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 4, 2013 - Democratic mayoral hopeful Jimmie Matthews wants to make three things clear:

  1. He’s not a “stalking horse,” as some critics claim, put in the March 5 primary by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to divert African-American votes from the third Democrat in the contest, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
  2. Matthews is not accepting any campaign donations from anybody and is spending only his own money.
  3. He’s convinced he can win.

“I’m on the ground where the people are,” said Matthews in an interview. Slay and Reed, he contended, remain ensconced and remote “in their fine offices.”
A former St. Louis alderman, Matthews says he’s particularly insulted by the “stalking horse” assertion, raised by Reed himself on the first day of candidate filing in November, when all three Democrats showed up.

“I’ve been running since January 2012,” Matthews said. “Reed wasn’t running until I was running, then he was telling me to get out of the race.”

Matthews hails from the city’s 27th Ward, where he was an alderman for three and half years in the late 1980s before he was recalled by voters. He blames a power struggle with the ward’s powerful Carter family, which continues, according to Matthews.

Matthews fought back by winning the ward’s 1988 election for Democratic committeeman, a post he held for four years.

Since then, Matthews has run unsuccessfully for various other city offices, including sheriff and aldermanic president. He also has been involved in business ventures, including real estate, and says he got ordained as a pastor.

Matthews won’t say how old he is, quipping instead, “I’m seasoned and I’m mature.”

Campaigning as ‘the people’s candidate’

Many St. Louisans may have gotten their first look at Matthews during last week’s mayoral forum, when he made his mark with cutting asides about his rivals and scathing comments about current City Hall policies.

For example: During the discussion over developer Paul McKee’s plans for north St. Louis, Matthews contended that African-American city residents would get more benefit if each instead were given “40 acres and a mule” -- a reference to a Civil War-era promise to slaves.

Matthews says he’s running for mayor to change how city government treats the poor, the homeless and those without power.

“I’m running as the people’s candidate. People who don’t have money, I want to represent them,” said Matthews. “I’m running for the people who don’t have any political connections.”

City officials often have been too callous in caring for the homeless, Matthews contended, recalling cases where they have been evicted from parks and other public property, and their personal property thrown away.

“These people have worth,” Matthews said. “They just don’t have a place to stay.”

Matthews called for more job training and other assistance to get the homeless back on track. He also proposes more portable toilets be situated around downtown, for the homeless to use.

Critical of Slay and Reed

Matthews said he was friends with Slay’s late father, Francis R. Slay – a former legislator, city official and powerful committeeman. But Matthews asserted that he believed the mayor was running for a fourth term primarily “for his ego.”

“Mayor Slay has had his day, it’s time to move on,” Matthews said. “He’s gotten to a point where, when he’s talking, people turn a deaf ear to him.”

But Matthews had even harsher words for Reed, who he said was being disrespectful to Slay and to the office. Matthews also contended that Reed, who didn’t grow up in St. Louis, “doesn’t know the city. He doesn’t know the people.”

As for stands on issues, “Reed is the same as the mayor,” Matthews continued. “If (the public) thinks Lewis Reed is going to do something different from the mayor, they’re insane.”

Matthews said his message to the public is that he is the true independent. But don’t expect to see any campaign ads or fliers. Rather, Matthews is relying on word of mouth from supporters.

“I don’t want people to give me a dime,” he said. “All I want from them is three things – their time, their talent and their vote. That’s all I need to win.”

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.