Rev. Elston K. McCowan, 2009 Green Party Candidate for Mayor, City of St. Louis sat down for an interview on Saturday, March 7th 2009 with Paul J. Poposky, a communications staffer and contributor to the Gateway Greens’ monthly The Compost Dispatch. Candidate McCowan answered a series of questions concerning his campaign and discussed a variety of pressing issues relevant to citizens of the city of St. Louis and the upcoming mayoral election. Here is what he had to say:
PP: First off I would like to congratulate you for your victory Tuesday night against Don Devivo in the Green party primary then I’ll start right off with my first question asking you what it is that set you apart from the other candidates running for mayor, the Democrats Francis Slay and the "independent" Maida Coleman?
EM: Thanks Paul. Well I’d say that the other candidates don’t know enough about the greening of St. Louis or they greenwash their message, holding press conferences to talk about green energy, jobs, housing or public education but don’t ever do anything about it. Why not vote for a candidate who’s authentically green? Mayor Slay has dragged his feet on asbestos removal and lead abatement to get the lead out of our schools, and Maida Coleman and Slay have yet to speak out against the second nuclear power plant proposed by Ameren UE for construction in Callaway, MO.
PP: Right, I read in the march edition of the Compost Dispatch that Ameren UE is seeking to overturn Missouri’s No Construction Work in Progress law (CWIP) so that they can raise rates, you said "every three months", to make tax payers and rate payers cover the cost of building an experimental and untested European Pressurized Nuclear Reactor, somewhere to the tune of $9-15Billion.
What is the Green Party’s stance on the Callaway nuke and what will you do as mayor to help stop this reactor from being built, built at the expense of rate payers and tax payers in St. Louis who need affordable electricity?
EM: You know the difference between Francis Slay and I is that I, as mayor, will use city resources to help the people rather than work against the people. I would Use the resources of the mayor’s office to lobby state legislators to protect the CWIP law and stop that power plant from being built, unlike mayor Slay who would take money from UE lobbyists.
PP: Elston your record shows that you have decades of experience as a community organizer and leader, activist, labor leader, and that currently you are a pastor at StarGrace Missionary Baptist Church and you’re Public Service Director of SEIU, Local 2000. Why should working people, union or non-union, vote for you for mayor on April 7th?
EM: Because I understand labor issues and labor laws and the power behind direct action. I know what communities need to enhance their quality of life: jobs, better – more effective – policing, more recreational activities for our youth and job training. My years of community organizing and service in the union give me a different perspective on the issues. Polling shows that most people when asked if they could join a union say they would. Union workers make more than non-union workers and are more likely to get benefits and union workers bring up the standards of the non-union workers. It was the struggle of labor that have won us child labor laws, the 40hour work week, benefits and retirement, minimum wage and job safety standards. Workers should vote for me because I support a living wage set at $11 and change with benefits or $14 without and I support workers’ issues.
PP: That being said, what do you think about the Stimulus and Reinvestment plan approved and signed by President Obama and now that it has been signed into law how do you think it should be used?
EM: Currently I have my economic advisors reviewing the federal stimulus package and mayor Slay’s proposals for how St. Louis should use its share of the money and we’ll have a statement ready on that soon. I think its great that it passed but we’re losing jobs and need to stimulate the economy, and the best way to stimulate the economy is to put the money in the hands of the people. As mayor I’ll make sure it gets to the hands of the people, in the form of jobs, tax rebates, cutting sales tax. That’s the best way to stimulate the economy. The mayor should have gone to meet with President Obama and VP Joe Biden to advocate for St. Louis instead of staying here and serving as grand master in the mardi gras parade and fund-raising for his campaign. He reminds me of Marie Antoinette when her people were asking for bread and she said "let them eat cake". That was irresponsible. As Mayor I would lobby the government for more money for firefighters, police officers, city employees, affordable housing, more help with health screenings, teachers and money to keep schools open. We can fund projects to put thousands of people to work burying power and phone cables underground. America used to be a leader in industry, invention, innovation and education but now we’re addicted to fossil fuels and being dummied down by misinformation. We could use stimulus money to retool the industrial buildings on Hall Street and Broadway and the old Carter Carburetor building at Grand and St. Louis Ave. to create good jobs developing and building green technology like wind turbines, prefab energy efficient housing and solar panels. That’s how I’d stimulate the economy.
PP: You can be quoted having said that it is your intention to be an "activist mayor". Would you please explain that a little, what does it mean to you to be an activist mayor?
EM: As an activist mayor I’ll be out on the forefront of the struggle for a better quality of life for the people of St. Louis. An activist mayor will use the resources of the office on behalf of the people, not to oppress the people. I’ll be right there fighting along with the citizens of St. Louis to hold our government accountable. For example; an activist mayor will lead a march to Jefferson City to fight for justice in sentencing. An activist mayor will stand with the citizens to fight against police brutality.
PP: As you know there has been some controversy surrounding the administration of the St. Louis Police Department for a number of years, and there is a movement in St. Louis calling for home rule of the dept and the establishment of a civilian review board. What is your stance on that?
EM: I’m for home rule. You know KansasCity and St. Louis are the last two cities in the country that have this system of administration by the state. its an antiquated system dating back to the civil war when the south was afraid the citizens of the cities would rebel and organize the police into an army. The last I heard the south lost the civil war. We need a citizens review board in St. Louis with subpoena power. A review board was approved by the board of alderman but was vetoed by Mayor Slay. As mayor I will sign it into law. Also, as mayor I could use the resources of the office to possibly file a lawsuit against the state challenging their right to control our police department.
PP: What is your stance on the State Appointed Board (SAB) and the democratically elected school board in St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS)?
EM: The SAB should be disbanded and the will of the people should be respected, the elected board should be in charge.
PP: What should be the role of mayor in relation to the City Schools?
EM: The mayor should use the bully pulpit to advocate for our children’s futures and insure none of our schools are closed. We need smaller class sizes with better ratio of staff to students. We need to be teaching students to learn rather than take tests, then we can truly leave no child behind. Closing schools because they are supposedly failing is a self fulfilling prophecy because when children can’t go to their neighborhood school they wind up going to charter schools or private schools which decreases enrollment in public schools even further, then the SAB says that it has to close more schools due to the low enrollment, which crowds classrooms and hurts our children’s future. Instead we should keep all our schools open and continue to provide community education. Education shouldn’t end at highschool but needs to continue through adulthood with job training programs.
PP: Right, and I see here that you sit on the Executive Board of the Wallbridge Community Education Center, where you’ve helped pilot job training programs. Is this something that you feel city schools and communities should get involved in to continue education through adulthood and provide the youth of our city with real opportunities?
EM: At the Wallbridge CEC we’ve started a Certified Nurses Aid training program. At trade schools a certification class like this could cost thousands of dollars but at Wallbridge we can offer the certification class for around $200. Wallbridge has also started Certified Medical Technicians programs at Yeatman Community Education Center and we’re planning on providing food service, maintenance & custodial, and heating & cooling technician training programs to help place our youth in entry level positions in good jobs. We should use our public education system to provide night training programs at our schools for green jobs.
PP: I understand you’re also working on programs at Wallbridge CEC aimed at dealing with toxic waste in the community and to test children under the age of 6 for lead poisoning. What will you do as mayor to protect our children and get lead, asbestos and other toxins out of our schools?
EM: I will immediately direct money from the city budget and economic stimulus money to abate our public schools of lead, asbestos and any other toxins because there is nothing more important than our children and their future. I love to quote Kennedy when he said "we all breathe the same air and we’re all concerned for our children’s future. If we take care of our mother earth, mother earth will take care of us". I won’t just talk about getting the lead out of our homes and our schools in St. Louis, I’ll actually do it!
PP: As a person who works in the field of education I am curious to know what do you think should be the proper ratio of students teachers, how many students in each classroom?
EM: If we keep all our schools open we could have 17 students per class. Educational experts I’ve spoken to tell me that this is an ideal ratio for both the teachers and the students learning.
PP: With incumbent mayor Francis Slay running for reelection on the Democratic ticket and Maida Coleman running as an Independent candidate how do you, Elston McCowan, plan on winning in a 3-way race for mayor?
EM: In the primary elections in 2005 the Green Party garnered 17 votes and in this years primary we increased our votes by 5-fold. Now in the last general election we got 6000 votes, which was 20% of the total. If we increase our turnout in this years general election by 5-fold, like we did in the primary, In a 3-way race the Green Party wins!
PP: Why is it important that St. Louis Citizens who want a real progressive alternative to the Democratic party, who have for the most part had control of the city government for over 50years, Vote for Green Party Candidates in the upcoming elections?
EM: First of all the green party in st. louis is the second largest political party in the city with more votes than the republicans, more votes than the libertarians and more votes than independents, so we’re the only real alternative to the Democratic Party in St. Louis. In other words, we’re the only other game in town. Maida Coleman is not an alternative to Slay, she’s an undercover Democrat. Because she sits on the State Democratic Party Central Committee St. Louis cannot count on her to depart from the policy and traditions of the Democratic Party in St. Louis and she won’t pursue the sort of fundamental changes that a McCowan Administration will, the kind of changes St. Louisans really need. Francis Slay and the policies of the Slay Admin. must go and the people of St. Louis realize that.
PP: Is there anything else you wanted to say to the voters out there in St. Louis before we run out of time?
EM: Yes. Get out and vote on April 7th. St. Louisans can start absentee voting on March 12th. Also, we’re soliciting volunteers to help out with work on the campaign, distribute posters and flyers, and to help drive voters to their polling places on election day. If you want to volunteer to help call 314-454-9005. Remember, vote on April 7th for the real McCoy, Vote McCowan for Mayor for a new day in St. Louis!
Paul J. Poposky is a para-educator for St. Louis County Special School District and member of the M-NEA/SEEA and the Workers International League WIL-IMT, and a communications staffer and contributor to the Gateway Greens’ monthly The Compost Dispatch.