Saint Louis, Mo. — There might not be a single state senator whose profile has been raised more in the last year than University City Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal.
She was perhaps the most important Democrat in the Senate working on the now-vetoed Senate Bill 493 — the legislature’s sweeping school transfer bill — and has been publicly dogging the State Board of Education and DESE Director Chris Nicastro since early last summer.
Her work on SB 493 carried perhaps even more weight because Chappelle-Nadal had spent so much time as a House member railing against the very “private option” in the bill that largely led to its demise. Her switch on the issue opened the door for more than a few Democrats, and her fiery statements prior to and after Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of SB 493 made it into nearly all news coverage.
Chappelle-Nadal recently retooled the campaign account associated with her school board races. “Chappelle-Nadal for Responsible Government” is the committee’s new name, and through it, she’s been happy to support other candidates and enjoy her unopposed cruise to re-election.
With no general challenger, Chappelle-Nadal has largely focused on two races where her presence has been felt. The seat vacated by the death of Rep. Rory Ellinger is wide open with several Democrats vying for the seat. Chappelle-Nadal has vigorously campaigned against Joe Adams, a former University City mayor running for the seat.
She hasn’t declared support for any other candidate in the race, and told The Missouri Times that voters “deserved to know [Adams] track record.”
“I know him all too well, and I know his record and I know it needs to be publicized,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “I’ve created a website and I’ve sent out some mailers, I’ve done everything you would typically do if you were campaigning.”
Chappelle-Nadal says the mailers and website are both clearly labeled as funded by her committee and that she isn’t endorsing any candidates in the race. She didn’t elaborate on why she felt so strongly against Adams, except to refer to the information in her mailers and on her website. Although Chappelle-Nadal and Adams are by no means strangers, Chappelle-Nadal defeated Adams in the primary in her first bid for her senate seat in 2010.
Another race that Chappelle-Nadal has turned her attention and her money? The Democratic primary between incumbent Josh Peters and challenger Chris Carter, Sr. While the St. Louis County Executive Democratic primary has been ugly, the Carter/Peters race is perhaps the bloodiest behind-the-scenes race in the state, with wild rumors circulating in both camps about low-ball tactics.
Chappelle-Nadal indicated early on that her support for the Carter family was largely personal and reciprocating for their previous support of her campaigns. But as the education debate developed in the legislature, Chappelle-Nadal clashed more than once in the halls of the Capitol with Peters. Since his announcement, Chris Carter Sr. has received $10,000 from Chappelle-Nadal in his bid to unseat Peters.
“[Congressman Clay]’s support isn’t going to do it,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “I see Chris Carter winning, and in some ways it’s going to be a reflection of how popular or not popular Congressman Clay is in that community.”
And apart from sniffing around local House races, Chappelle-Nadal is looking to exact some big changes on the Board of Education. Board President Peter Herschend will need to be re-appointed by the Senate again next year to continue on the Board. Chappelle-Nadal told The Missouri Times she would not be opposed to holding up any nominations for the Board until some changes were made including, but not necessarily limited to, ousting Nicastro.
Chappelle-Nadal says she believes the Board has violated the spirit of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, saying that the state is now “keeping a protected class from having the kind of access they should be guaranteed.”
“Missouri residents have no guarantee in state law of what will happens when it comes to education,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “Because the State Board has created administrative rules that are undermining, superseding and circumventing state law.
The vocal young Democrat has been working her fellow party members on the education issue, hoping to drum up support for further education reform in the coming years. The work has occasionally brought confrontations with fellow black Democrats, something that has strained party unity at times and dragged Chappelle-Nadal deep into the primary process.
“I’ve been hustling my butt off,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “Watching Nicastro like a hawk, watching the school board, working in these primaries. I’ve been working hard; I don’t intend to slow down because I still have a great deal I want to accomplish.”
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CMReischman