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African-American Democrats form coalition to counter 'disrespect' for black causes

African-American Democrats form coalition to counter 'disrespect' for black causes

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BERKELEY   •   A newly-formed coalition of African-American Democrats announced Wednesday they will not back any candidate that has exhibited “disrespect” for the black community on issues such as education, jobs and racial profiling.

Headed by St. Louis County Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-1st District, the coalition – named for the late Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer – pointedly withheld support for Steve Stenger, the Democratic candidate seeking the County Executive post in the November general election.

Erby hedged when asked if the coalition would instead stand behind Republican state Rep. Rick Stream or put forth the name of a write-in candidate in November.

“We are exploring our options,” she told a Wednesday morning press conference at Berkeley City Hall.

Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins was not as circumspect.

“Steve Stenger does not have the best interests of our community,” he said.

Flanked by 35 mayors, council members representing several North County municipalities and state representatives, Erby emphasized that the coalition does not plan to “single out a specific” public official in the November election and beyond.

In a prepared statement left mostly unread publicly, Erby said, “We are all serving notice that we are not going to support candidates just because they have an insignia of a donkey behind their name.”

An unread portion of the statement said, "WE are sick and tired of being disrespected as both taxpaying citizens and elected officials by those we look to for leadership in higher office. The community has spoken and we are here to state collectively that WE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF BEING SICK AND TIRED!!"  

Erby said after the news conference that the momentum for forming the coalition began when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and other state officials ignored offers of input from county African-American leaders during discussions on how to resolve transfer issues and other problems facing the Normandy School District.

"We've been discussing the lack of respect for quite awhile now," the councilwoman said. 

The protests following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, she added, escalated the call for African-American Democrats to take an independent stance.

Barely 12 hours before Wednesday's announcement, up to 200 demonstrators disrupted a County Council meeting with calls for the arrest of Wilson, the removal of County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch from the Brown case and other calls for action.  

"I support them," Erby said Wednesday of the demonstrators, reiterating a point she made at the council meeting. "And I support their right to come out and speak out." 

McCulloch backed Stenger in the August Democratic primary election over incumbent Charlie Dooley. Stenger was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.

This is a developing story please check back to stltoday.com for updates.

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Steve Giegerich is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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