© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Whitehead picked for state House seat by Democratic leaders

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 14, 2009 - Democratic committeemen and women in the seven wards in the city of St. Louis that make up the 57th Legislative District met Saturday to pick a replacement for former state Rep. T. D. El-Amin, D-St. Louis, who had to resign his state House seat this fall when he pleaded guilty to federal felony charges.

The Democrats' proposed replacement: Hope Whitehead, 50, a St. Louis lawyer and Washington University graduate who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and now runs her own law firm in the city.

Whitehead said her first action will be to join state Sen.-elect Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, to push for local control of the police department.

Whitehead is familiar with Jefferson City and the Capitol. She has held various state appointive posts under four different Democratic governors.

She currently is on the Missouri Real Estate Appraisers Commission, as an appointee of current Gov. Jay Nixon. She was state director of the Division of Liquor Control under former Gov. Mel Carnahan.

As the Post-Dispatch's Jake Wagman noted today on Political Fix, Whitehead paid more than $1,000 in overdue personal property taxes (for her car) earlier this week, in order to be eligible for today's selection. State law requires that a candidate be paid-up on all taxes prior to the election.

Whitehead won't officially hold the state representative seat until after the Feb. 2 special election. But although other candidates from other parties may be on the ballot, the 57th District is so overwhelmingly Democratic that her selection today is expected to make Whitehead the overwhelming favorite in the election. So far, no other parties have announced candidates or selected nominees.

The other Democratic contender during Saturday's deliberations was Karla May, 39, a graduate of St. Louis University, a lifelong city resident and currently the legislative liaison for the local arm of the Communications Workers of America.

Before the vote, both laid out their cases in presentations that lasted almost an hour. Both cited their commitment to doing what they can in Jefferson City to improve public education, help city neighborhoods, pay attention to next year's legislative redistricting and return control of the city police department, now controlled by the state, to City Hall.

In brief interviews after they had spoken to the committee people, May said that the “strongest part of my pitch is my community involvement” and the fact that she has lived in the city her entire life. Whitehead said her strongest point is that “I am a 20-year lawyer with lots of experience in Jefferson City and I can hit the ground running.”

After the public presentations, the 14 Democratic committeepeople made their decision in private, and declined to make the final vote public. Under a formula set up by state law, some wards had more votes than others, depending on their voter turnout in the 2008 contest for governor.

Keaveny was among the committeepeople making the decision, because he is the 28th Ward Democrat committeeman, and one precinct of that ward is in the 57th District. He said afterward that he had intentionally avoided making his preference known, and that he thought Whitehead or May would be strong legislators.

Sharon Tyus, the committeewoman for the 1st Ward, said that she had supported Whitehead -- but emphasized that she also was impressed with May. "There is a place in politics for everyone," Tyus said.

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.