Aldermanic Candidate Rose Green Seeks to Defeat a St. Louis Political Dynasty
|Rose Green faces off against Tonya Finley and Tammika Hubbard for the 5th Ward Alderman seat.|
Rose Green's house is behind that sign, and if she wins the special election on December 20, she intends to bring more of that development to this side.
But there is much to accomplish before then, many obstacles to overcome. The biggest of which is getting voters to the booth. The election is Christmas week. This race will be the only one on the ballot. Because of redistricting this year, some residents of the 5th aren't sure which ward they live in. Some haven't heard the relatively recent news that former alderwoman April Ford-Griffin left her seat to take the job as head of the city's Civil Rights Enforcement Agency.
And if Green wants to beat Tammika Hubbard, the presumed frontrunner with deep political ties and heavy funds, and Tonya Finley, another first time candidate who threatens to split the anti-Hubbard vote, she will need a sizable chunk of the ward's 5,700 or so voters to come out to the booths.
So in her living room on this freezing November night, around a dozen supporters gather to talk campaign strategy.
Mailers or flyers? We can send out more mailers, but the print might be too small. People can read the flyers better, but they only go as far as our legs take us.
The Hubbard campaign already has this all figured out.
"She has an awful lot of signs up," says one Green supporter.
"She's been working at this for a long time," responds another.
"Plus all the robo-calls," adds a woman.
"We got a personal call," says someone else.
Green sits in a plush chair at the head of the make-shift circle, nodding her head attentively and jotting down notes. Old sepia and black and white photos and a handful of understated oil paintings plaster the high walls behind her.
She has worked for sixteen years as a teacher's assistant at St. Louis public school and served stints with the M.I.N.D. program at Saint Louis University, which focused on introducing minority students to medical careers, and Destination St. Louis, a convention service company. During the last presidential election, she volunteered on Barack Obama's campaign, her deepest prior foray into politics.
She decided to run just days after Ford-Griffin stepped down. And her campaign has been a full throttle rush of flyers, signs and handshakes in the weeks since.
Like Finley and Hubbard and many other past candidates in their first Aldermanic race, Green is vague on specific policy initiatives to improve the ward. But her pitch is clear. On campaign literature and in conversations, Green stresses that she is a homeowner in the 5th Ward, which neither of her opponent are.
This fact is the bedrock of her campaign. Indeed, every one of those supporters in the living room are homeowners, and they back Green in large part because of her investment in the ward, because she has skin in the game.
Housing and development are perhaps the most crucial issues in this race. And throughout the two hour living room meeting, the name of Paul McKee popped up every few minutes. With help from city tax payers and support from Ford-Griffin and then-state Rep. Rodney Hubbard (Tammika's brother), he bought up many properties in the 5th and adjacent wards, proclaiming a vision of revitalizing north city.
But over the last several years, the project has stood still, halted by a string of lawsuits and McKee's plan to build only after he acquires all the desired land. Residents of the ward are divided on whether McKee is a good guy, a savior sweeping in to pump money and effort into blighted grounds, or a bad guy, a greedy carpetbagger hoarding vacant property that could otherwise be on the market for other developers.
The people in Green's living room are not divided on McKee.
"He's just driving down the properties values in the ward so he can buy up all the rest," says Keith Marquard. "Over the last two and a half decades, a number of big developments have been attempted. We've gone through these cycles up in the 5th Ward of promises and the allure of massive development, and then of course comes this fear of gentrification or massive eminent domain, where we've spent decades struggling in the neighborhood, keeping our homes up, improving them, and now all of a sudden we may just not have anything."
Because Green has a stake in the ward's land, she says, she shares the constituency's concern over the decaying McKee buildings.
"There is a threat to property in this ward," she says. "I am not gonna stand by and let him roll us over, that's for sure. That is not going to happen with me. I will stand up and I will fight."
Ford-Griffin's support for McKee's project was a primary reason Green eventually became a critic of her alderwoman.
"She sold us out," says Green.
Accordingly, the ward's ambivalence toward the North Side Regeneration provides Green with her best shot at victory.
It draws her a clear contrast from her opponents-- the Hubbard family remains loyal to McKee and Finley worked for years in Ford-Griffin's office. It provides Green with a hot-button topic to potentially energize a platoon of voters. And for a freshman candidate with low name recognition and less than two month to slap together a campaign, that energy is essential.
While Hubbard is a strong candidate, whose fundraiser featured guests like Mayor Francis Slay, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, she does hold vulnerabilities.
As St. Louis folks know, any family as politically entrenched as the Hubbards earns an enemy for every ally. Green's supporters tell stories of gathering signatures to get Green on the ballot and hearing people say thing like, "anybody except for the Hubbards."
The living room group declares that Hubbard was essentially handed the Democratic nomination, as she and her father are both on the ward's Democratic committee. And how this process reflects the power and scope of the city's political dynasties.
"This is a coup!" says Mark Ogier.
Another supporter concludes, "People are just glad that someone else is running other that the Hubbards."
In fact, two non-Hubbards are running, which poses a problem for Green, as well as Finley. The long-time Hubbard supporters are likely to come out to vote. Green's goal is to consolidate the Hubbard critics and those otherwise indifferent to the election. But even if all those people show up, it's possible that Green and Finley share the contingent.
Moreover, Hubbard has the luxury of having the all-timportant "D" next to her name, while Green and Finley, also Democrats, are technically listed as Independents. In a city as blue as this, the distinction can swing a race.
"It means everything," says Ogier, with a half-smile.
With three weeks left before election day, there are many more flyers to pass out and hands to shake.