Saturday, February 7, 2009

The big red firetruck and big stinky firehouse politics

This is my little bitty skinny kid, in the blue smock, with her friend Chloe and another little girl, visiting a local firehouse with their Girl Scouts group.

The simple, goofy joy the girls obviously felt around the big red firetruck stands in stark contrast to the bitter politics of fire departments and fire districts in St. Louis.

I covered in great detail the politics in the St. Louis Fire Department surrounding the public harassment and eventual demotion of Fire Chief Sherman George. I had lunch with Sherman yesterday and saw him again later in the evening. As always, he had people lovingly mobbing him and picking his brain for insight into local politics. He learned that stuff the hard way.

You aught to see Sherman around people who support St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay, who signed off on the career hit job against the chief. He really doesn't want to be bothered with them. Sherman and Slay supporter Jeff Smith (the state senator) were both in The Royale at the same time last night. I didn't see Jeff get anywhere near him, though I kept waiting to see if it would become an awkward moment. I can't bear to be around Jeff Smith myself since he started arguing on the mayor's behalf one day. It all has a bad odor, to me.

It's hard to accept that firehouse politics are so rancorous, when you consider the people who do this job for the most part make a living saving lives. That awareness - and these childish visits to the big red firetruck - help to explain why it is so difficult to get any political traction out of the public regarding fire department politics. I've seen a lot of white people dismiss it all with a shrug.

One guy even said to me, "Yeah, when the bell rings, they have to be ready to risk their lives. But the bell mostly doesn't ring. These guys have way too much time to scheme and plot and connive. And it's not like police politics, where you are talking about men with guns." I had to admit he had a point.

But any time you are talking about decent-paying, well-respected jobs with pensions, you are talking about life and death, opportunity vs. deprivation. With the cronyism and nepotism at play - and the racism, though I think it's the less potent of these three corrupting influences, nowadays - firehouse politics in St. Louis are going to stink for a long time to come. Certainly they will stink as long as Slay and his cronies have any say in the city.


Anonymous said...

Smith's fallen a long way since his days as a "progressive" candidate. I heard in the last election that he basically acting as a middleman for getting Sinquefield money to politicians.

Confluence City said...

I voted to endorse Carnahan over Smith back in his Congress run, but Jeff has fallen in my estimation since then, for what it's worth. But I'd quibble with your point as being reductive. Sinquefield doesn't need any help courting politicians, and Jeff does take his job as a legislator and public servant seriously, even if he has some loathsome political bedfellows and has made his peace with the most stale and regressive politics in St. Louis and Missouri. The problem is pervasive, but he is now part of it.

Anonymous said...

I will never forget the mailer that arrived at a friend's house from Jeff when he ran for senate. It read, "if Matt Blunt is for it, I'm probably against it." But it is so obvious that Jeffy has more republican friends than democratic. Just look at how he pushes legislation or who he drinks with in JC. I encourage those that are interested in knowing this fact to serve as a fly on the aging walls of Jefferson City. Take a look for yourself. He is also the one responsible for trying to cause a divide among new and long-serving democratic members for his own gain.

Dennis the Menace would serve as a better senator. Let Jeff go play with his own shiny red firetruck!

Confluence City said...

I'll only say that there are good reasons to have Republican friends when serving as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated Legislature. I also came around on Chris Koster's flip to Democrat as being a good thing and think Jeff Smith deserves credit for his role in that. I understand that I open myself to derision for owning up to that.