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St. Louis' bid for MLS soccer team still alive

Aldermen Jack Coatar talks to Aldermen Stephen Conway as other aldermen debate a bill to partially fund an MLS soccer stadium in St. Louis during the Aldermanic Ways and Means Committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. The Ways and Means Committee originally voted down the funding proposal making it unlikely efforts to bring an MLS team to St. Louis will happen in this current round of MLS expansion. But the funding bill was brought back before the committee with changes in the language that generated support to pass the bill out of committee. Photo by David Carson,

Stephen Conway has two degrees.

That was the answer he gave a Board of Aldermen committee last month that was questioning him about his salary.

As the chief of staff for Mayor Lyda Krewson, Conway makes $163,540. That’s about $12,000 more than his predecessor, Tim O’Connell, made. As aldermen work on next year’s budget, some had questions for Conway about the salary.

O’Connell is a lawyer. Conway is both an accountant and a lawyer.

“I have an extra degree,” the chief of staff told Alderman Cara Spencer when she asked about the bump in pay.

Conway may well be worth all he’s being paid and more. I don’t know. I’m just a college dropout who writes paragraphs for a living.

But on Sunday, his math and legal skills came up a little short.

After my column on a particular city-funded effort to raise some land adjacent to the Mississippi River out of the flood plain posted online, Conway objected on the social media platform Twitter.

Here’s what he said:

“Tony gets it wrong again. City didn’t partner with anyone. Maybe you could also check with Army Corps and see if that volume of water could make a difference. Tony is all on roll flacking for another candidate for Mayor and trying to come up with disingenuous blame.”

But I didn’t get it wrong.

As I previously reported — for the first time in Feb. 2018 — the city of St. Louis has paid the owners of the Pier St. Louis property more than $500,000 in the past several years to help them raise the land out of the flood plain, making it more attractive to developers and profitable to its owners. The city has signed multiple contracts with the owners of the property to dump “clean fill” there, in a contract sought by the city to replace one of its closed landfills.

Emails between various city officials — including former parks director Gary Bess — and the Pier St. Louis developers, make it clear that the city has been working very closely with the owners of the property for several years.

What this has to do with any “candidate for Mayor” is beyond me. I presume Conway is referencing city Treasurer Tishaura Jones, a frequent critic of Krewson. That criticism, too, misses the mark.

It was Alderman Christine Ingrassia who first alerted me to the activities at Pier St. Louis. She has been the most outspoken critic of the bad policy of taking that land and raising it out of the flood plain.

In the last mayoral election, Ingrassia endorsed Krewson.

Two years ago, Ingrassia and I were among several people interested in local flood policy — or the lack of it — who took a canoe trip on the Mississippi River, in part to view the Pier St. Louis project from the water. Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, was on the trip. She, too, had been critical of the development, and had been tracking its progress.

After Krewson was elected mayor, Navarro was elected as her replacement on the Board of Aldermen. Krewson endorsed Navarro.

Make no mistake, I understand Conway’s political strategy.

It’s the same one former County Executive Steve Stenger followed when I was writing multiple columns about his pay-for-play foibles. When he couldn’t defend the deals he was doing with campaign donors, Stenger instead accused me of being on the payroll of his political opponent.

Now Stenger is headed to prison, and Krewson’s chief of staff is employing a similar strategy.

It isn’t working.

This could be chalked up to a simple social media snafu except for this: The mayor’s office is in the middle of an investigation into city police officers using social media to peddle racist and Islamaphobic messages. The use of social media by public officials has become an important part of the governmental and political process.

Perhaps Conway was just stung by recent columns of mine criticizing the mayor’s office over the airport privatization process, for which the city can’t even produce invoices by the consultant to which it has paid $1.2 million. That consultant has no particular airline or privatization expertise but is a dark-money fundraiser for the National Rifle Association and an anti-worker group.

Or maybe Conway was unhappy over criticism the mayor received for her tweet at local attorney Chelsea Merta, telling her that Merta’s post asking people to call the Board of Aldermen to encourage racist cops to be kicked off the force was “creating more division and friction.”

Indeed, there’s a lot of division and friction on social media these days. That’s what happens when the mayor’s chief of staff mixes policy with politics, and gets them both wrong.

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