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Politically Speaking: Maida Coleman on the road ahead in a post-Ferguson environment

Former Sen. Maida Coleman
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On this week’s episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome former Missouri state Sen. Maida Coleman to the program.

The St. Louis Democrat was tapped last year to lead the Office of Community Engagement, an entity set up by Gov. Jay Nixon that, in his administration’s words, is aimed at “engaging communities, public and private sector leaders, clergy and citizens across the state in communication regarding critical issues affecting Missouri communities.”

The office was a response of sorts to the unrest in Ferguson, along with Nixon’s creation of the Ferguson Commission.

A southeast Missouri native, Coleman served briefly in the Missouri House before winning a special election in early 2002 to the Missouri Senate, representing the state's 5th District, in the city of St. Louis. She served in the state Senate through 2008.

As the first African-American woman to become Senate minority leader, the St. Louis Democrat led her caucus during a combative time in the chamber’s history. Senate Democrats were often the last bastion of opposition to then-Gov. Matt Blunt’s initiatives, which resulted in lengthy and bitter filibusters in the General Assembly’s GOP-controlled upper chamber.

When she left the legislature due to term limits after the 2008 session, Coleman ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2009 against St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Since that time, Coleman has had several jobs with Nixon’s administration. She has most recently served as the executive director of the Missouri Workforce Investment Board at the Department of Economic Development.

Coleman talks with St. Louis Public Radio's Jo Mannies before the recording of the podcast.

Here’s what Coleman had to say on the show:

  • Coleman says Nixon felt that there needed to be an entity in place to help “engage this entire state.” While she said the office was created as a result of the Ferguson unrest, Coleman said “the goal was to provide resources to get into our communities, because we found that there’s this sense of hopelessness, a lack of educational resource, and poverty that came forth.”
  • One of the big initiatives of the Office of Community Engagement is a summer jobs program. Coleman said the goal is to employ more than 3,500 youngsters that are “financially strapped” and “live at the poverty level.”
  • The Office of Community Engagement was not funded for the 2016 fiscal year. But Coleman did say an amendment was attached that allows her to administer the aforementioned summer jobs program. “The governor believes, as do I, that there needed to be an immediate approach to dealing with the issues that were brought up by Ferguson,” she said. “And unfortunately, this legislature I don’t think felt the same way.”
  • Coleman discussed a generational divide that’s emerged within the protest movement that came about after Brown’s death. She said there’s a role to play for older, established civil rights groups and some of the younger protesters.
  • With the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death coming up, Coleman predicts the national media will be coming back to St. Louis and looking around to see what’s changed over a year. “And they’re going to be wanting to see what have we done to move forth since Michael Brown’s death,” she said. “What programs are in place? What’s coming along? What’s happening? Are we going to be able to say ‘we’ve done some good things that is moving this area forward?’”

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Maida Coleman does not have a Twitter account, but you can learn more about the Office of Community engagement here.

Music: “The Catalyst” by Linkin Park

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.