In part 2 of our conversation with Mayor Slay we visit about urban issues and his success working with Republicans in the legislature. Enjoy.
Slay: First of all, there is something to the Delmar Divide, there’s no doubt about it. Keep in mind though that about 40% of African Americans [in the city] live South of Delmar. A lot of people, they overplay that. I will say this, the city is, on a block-by-block basis, one of the most integrated cities in America. The region itself overall is more segregated but as a city we are very integrated on a block-by-block basis.
TMT: Many people don’t know that, why do you think that it is not talked about more?
Slay: Well, because historically, it was, you know, it was more pronounced. A lot of people remember how things were historically and don’t pay attention very closely to what is happening now. But, here’s what I’ll tell you, we have areas of poverty, or high crime, or that need lots of attention. As a Mayor, I understand the Delmar divide issue, but we’ve done a lot on the North side of the city and there is certainly a lot more to do. There have been decades and decades of disinvestment and neglect on the North side of the City. We’re trying to reverse that dramatically. We created a fund that is designed to help spur development more on the North side and created an affordable housing trust fund. We’ve dedicated building demolitions to take out old buildings, we’ve got Low Income tax credits helping us build new housing like Arlington Grove, which was a multi-million dollar development which took an old school building and renovated it. We’re doing lots to address issues. But when you’ve got decades of disinvestment, you can’t fix it overnight. But we are doing a great deal for the health of our citizens, new education options. Look at Delmar, one of the top high schools in the Saint Louis region, right on the Delmar divide. Our football stadium, which is North of Delmar, We’ve got a new Mississippi bridge coming in. State of the Art Rec center in O’Fallon Park. We’re doing things to address these from a social service standpoint and from an infrastructure standpoint.
TMT: If you’re a person from Sedalia and you come to St. Louis to eat and shop or something, are you safe North of Delmar?
Slay: Well let me just tell you this. What I’ll say is that it depends. It depends. If you want to take a broad brush, you can’t, you can’t paint all of North St. Louis as the same, because it is not. There are some, certainly, there are some high-crime neighborhoods in St. Louis, but there are also neighborhoods that are very stable and very thriving. We actually got an award, a national award from the EPA, for the sustainability of Old North Saint Louis, recognizing it both from an economic and environmental way.
Safety also depends on a lot of other things as well. Depends on what you do, who you’re with, where you go. You can’t say all of North Saint Louis is not a safe place, because that’s not true.
TMT: On gun control you’ve been pretty outspoken.
TMT: It seems like there is no movement in the state. You’ve been outspoken about trying to find some solutions. If you could make your own policy, what’s a common-sense policy you’d like to see put in place.
Slay: Well, first of all if somebody’s gun got stolen I think they should report it. Please report a stolen gun. Second, I’d like to see the military-style assault weapons be banned along with extended magazines. There is no place for them, I know people want them for sport. To me, having those kinds of things out there puts more firepower more likely in the hands of people the police are going to have to go up against. I don’t think the answer is more guns it’s at least not an answer to me. There isn’t anybody hunting in Saint Louis, in the actual city. You gotta go somewhere else to hunt around here. I think we have a much different situation than some rural areas, so I do think there should be tighter background checks. I think background checks for all gun sales. I think that the existing laws that are in place ought to be enforced better both federally and through the state. I’d like to see the City of Saint Louis have its own regulations in place.
TMT: Are you a gun owner?
Slay: No, no I’m not.
Slay: Yes. I’d be willing to take on the responsibility and accountability of Saint Louis Public Schools. Absolutely.
TMT: What’s the first thing you’d do?
Slay: Well that is a good question. I’m not going to go that far because the discussions simply aren’t happening. But I’ll tell you this, to me it’s about the kids. The most important thing in this discussion is the kids and whatever we can do to find good quality education in our city, we can do it. Whether it is improving the existing schools in the Saint Louis Public School district or chartering schools, that’s one thing I’d look at, is letting the Saint Louis Public School district charter their own schools, they have chartering authority. I have helped create 15 Charter schools and I’ve got 3 or 4 more now I’ve just approved. These are quality charter schools. That is nothing different from what the District can be doing on its own right now. People say we’re competing with the public school district. But, for me, if the competition is good then the kids win. That’s the whole point. We’re doing nothing different than what the District could do on it’s own. In fact I’m not even chartering schools I’m not authorizing their charters, I’m finding quality operators and connecting them with charter authorizers like Universities.
TMT: In your office here there is a pictorial book about Saint Louis sponsored by Clayco. A lot has been made of the move of their headquarters to Chicago. Do you think too much has been made out of that?
Slay: Well. To answer the question directly, yes. Nobody likes to lose business. It’s not good to lose any jobs, ever. I always think there’s too much focus on any one thing. I talked to Bob Clark himself and he loves Saint Louis, he plans on keeping a home in Saint Louis, and the reason he’s moving these jobs is that he wants to do business in Chicago and Chicago gives him an extra discount for businesses that have their headquarters in Chicago.
TMT: Does Saint Louis offer that discount?
Slay: We don’t, we don’t. Our Charter prohibits us from doing that. But having said all that, he’s gonna have more jobs here. We’re not losing any jobs here. They’re just moving their headquarters, so they’ll be backfilling those jobs with new jobs in Saint Louis. What people don’t make enough hay about is when we attract a company like Wells Fargo. They moved their headquarters here to Saint Louis and are now expanding dramatically, bringing hundreds of jobs to Saint Louis. Stifel Nicolas is doing the same thing, they’re buying businesses and consolidating them here in Saint Louis. We’ve got new, young, small businesses moving into the city and starting. In fact we were ranked one of the top 10 cities in America in terms of best places to start new businesses. We’re also the number one city in America in terms of increase of the population of college-educated young people. These are things that people aren’t talking enough about, but we’re talking too much about losing a handful of jobs from Clay Co. in Saint Louis County to Chicago. I’m not saying I want to see us lose those jobs, but we’ve got to put everything in context. Some other big companies have renewed their leases her, Peabody. Hudson Bay, one of the oldest companies in America just moved their financial services center to Saint Louis. They’ll be 200 jobs here and they’re looking to maybe move another division here. So these are things you don’t hear about. You hear about Bob Clark moving a few jobs up to Chicago so he can get a benefit of doing work up there. I mean I get it. He said he likes Saint Louis. When people make decisions that have nothing to do with Saint Louis, then it is what it is. This is a global economy now there’s a lot more movement in terms of ownership and businesses. We’re gonna get out share of people moving in, they’ll be some moving out, they’ll be some challenges to make sure we come out ahead in terms of the businesses coming in versus the jobs going out.
TMT: You’ve talked about city/county consolidation. What would the most efficient and successful consolidation look like to you?
Slay: The most successful for me would be the city re-entering the county as another municipality. I mean, seriously. What would happen is the city would just be another municipality of Saint Louis County. I also believe there are way too many units of government in Saint Louis in general. It’s costing taxpayers a lot of money in general, with all the municipalities and all these different functions. They’ve got their own police departments and fire protection districts and all those kinds of things. I think that is a fragmented Saint Louis County. I’d like to see us re-enter because we’d all be on the same page from an economic development standpoint and if a business leaves the city for the county, or vice-versa, one of us doesn’t lose and one of us doesn’t win. It’s going to benefit all of us. It’ll be a wash. A company moves from Clayton to Downtown, or Downtown to Clayton, you know, we should not be competing with each other for businesses and jobs and tax revenues.
TMT: What do you make of some of the problems that County Executive Charlie Dooley has had lately?
Slay: I know Charlie Dooley personally and he’s a friend of mine. He’s an outstanding, honest, hard-working individual and I’ve got a great relationship with him. I think he’s a tremendous regional leader and that’s what I’ll say. The people of Saint Louis County are very fortunate to have Charlie representing their interests out there.
Slay: I think that we compliment each other very well. I think the job he does out in the county helps me. We work together on stuff. We all have our own individual challenges and issues and controversies. We all have our share. He has his and I have mine. We do our jobs in our jurisdiction, but ultimately we’re regional leaders and what we do matters for the region. We’ve made it a point to work together on those things. I think [Dooley] is not only a strong leader but just a genuine human being and a good friend.
TMT: Many very conservative House Speakers from rural have come to Room 200 and met you and left with glowing, positive things to say, from [former] Speaker Tilley to [former] Speaker Jetton to, now, Speaker Jones. They all have extremely positive things to say about you. What do you do differently that makes you able to relate to them and makes them supportive of the things you’re interested in?
Slay: Several things. I show them respect. I’m a Democrat when I’m in Saint Louis, but when I go outside of Saint Louis; my political party is the Saint Louis Party. I’m here representing the City and I also know the city is part of a broader state and what goes on outside of Saint Louis matters to Saint Louis. I try to be straight with people and honest about my priorities. I work hard and my word is good. I think they know that. These are individuals that, you know, we don’t agree on everything. But what I’m able to do and some of the people you mentioned are able to do is put aside those things we differ about and sit down and figure out what we can work on together for the benefit of the State and our mutual constituencies and our respective constituencies. And I’ve got a good staff of people too. If we say we are going to do something, we do it. If we tell you our position is something, we’ll stand by it, my word is good our word is good. I know the importance of partnerships and I know to get things done I need people in Jefferson City. I’ve been out front praising Republicans consistently on issues that are important to the City. There’s not a lot of Democrats that do that. I’ve got a great relationship with some of the Republicans. If I go up to Jefferson City and I ask them to help the City of Saint Louis and they help us and then I go play the partisan politics game when the time comes, then it doesn’t do any good and it won’t get me anywhere when I go back there. I respect people and the position they are in. I show them respect and I look for things we can work on together and I concentrate on that while trying not to get wrapped up in things we don’t agree on.