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After mayoral candidate forum Reed, Slay tangle over taxes and campaign spending

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 11, 2013 - Monday’s mayoral candidate forum on St. Louis Public Radio arguably saw the most spirited exchanges yet between St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and his chief rival in the March 5 primary, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

Unfortunately for listeners, most of the Slay/Reed sparring occurred after the forum was off the air.

The real debate began just a few minutes before the end of the forum, when moderator Don Marsh asked Reed if he would release his income taxes, as Slay had done last week. Reed said he would not, citing his joint-filing status with his wife, a lawyer and judge. Reed then wrongly contended that Slay’s wife was a stay-at-home mother. (Kim Slay works for a bank.)

Reed then brought up an allegation that his campaign has been floating for more than a week – that Slay’s campaign has been secretly using $151,000 that had been left over from a campaign group supported by Slay, “Citizens for a Stronger St. Louis,” that had bankrolled the successful 2011 fight to persuade city voters to retain St. Louis’ 1 percent earnings tax.

Slay said on the air he had no idea what Reed was talking about, a point the mayor reaffirmed to reporters after the show was over. The mayor’s campaign previously has said there’s no tie between the Stronger St. Louis group and Slay’s re-election campaign.

The Beacon's review of the financial reports, some provided by the Stronger St. Louis group, found no evidence on either group's reports that any money went to Slay's campaign.

In the case of the Stronger St. Louis, "none of the money has been donated to the candidate, none of the money has been used in a political race,'' said Brad Ketcher, the lawyer for the group.

On the air

To hear the full debate, go to St. Louis Public Radio's website.

Still, Reed contended that the mayor’s denial was “the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of,” and asserted that the press needed to probe the Citizens for a Stronger St. Louis group. “There’s no accounting for that $151,000,” Reed said.

Reed’s campaign later issued a release noting that Ketcher has worked with the mayor on previous matters; the former treasurer of the group is the husband of the mayor’s former press secretary. But Reed's campaign once again provided no evidence of money moving to the Slay campaign.

Reed also contended that Slay’s decision last week to release five years of personal tax returns was “a trumped-up issue because they’re trying to hide the $151,000.”

During the forum, Reed also had implied that he had filed a personal financial disclosure form (PFD) – which he has not – with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Reed said afterward that his intent had been to underscore that he had complied with all filing requirements, including any pertaining to a PFD.

State and city election officials agree that the city ordinance requires only that the mayor file a personal financial disclosure form – which Slay has – and that Reed faces no such requirement.

Slay campaign manager Richard Callow replied, “Mr. Reed's assertion, during and after the forum, that he has already filed a Personal Financial Disclosure for the campaign falls somewhere between ‘Big Fat Whopper’ and ‘Worst Misspeak Ever.’ "

As for Reed's decision not to release his tax returns, Callow said, "His biography cites Mr. Reed's extensive experience over the last several years as a local and national developer as one of his qualifications for higher office. Certainly, a tax return would help city voters quantify just how extensive that experience was."

Crime, economic development, schools

The forum itself focused on many of the issues that the two candidates – plus Democratic rival Jimmie Matthews – have discussed before: crime, economic redevelopment and city schools.

Slay generally portrayed St. Louis as a city on the move. He cited the declining crime rate, $6 billion in development during his 12 years in office, and his support for charter schools and for expanding after-school programs.

Reed contended that crime in St. Louis remains “out of control,” that there hasn’t been enough redevelopment and that more needs to be improve the city’s public schools. Reed proposed that the state authorize mandatory preschool.

Reed called for more focus on public schools, and contended they were being hurt by tax money diverted to charter schools, which have less oversight. Slay noted later that two of Reed’s children have attended charter schools.

Reed and Slay did tangle over tax abatement and incentives for economic development. Slay said such tax breaks were needed to attract investment, while Reed called for changes so that any tax incentives don’t affect the public schools, which lose income because such breaks affect property taxes.

Reed called for a more critical look at tax abatement proposals, while Slay emphasized during and after the forum that Reed – as a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment – had voted in favor of the tax breaks.

Water controversy

The two also were at odds over Slay's effort to hire a consultant firm to examine operations at the city Water Department. Slay reaffirmed during and after the forum that the city Charter bars any privatization or outsourcing of the Water Department.

Any proposed changes would not result in any Water Department layoffs, the mayor said.

Slay said after the forum that the proposed $250,000 consultant contract with Veolia Water North America was not out of line, pricewise, considering the Water Department's annual budget of $53 million.

Matthews, meanwhile, reaffirmed his call for more help for the homeless and decried recent neighborhood shootings – including at least one in front of his church. He also proposed that parents have more authority in public-school operations, including the power to oust teachers.

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.