Reed Has His Eye on Mayor's Office; THE ANNOUNCEMENT - Sources Say It Will Come at News Conference Today; THE MAYOR - Slay Has Already Said He Will Seek a Fourth Term

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS - Lewis Reed, president of the city's Board of Aldermen, has told City Hall colleagues that he will aim to unseat Mayor Francis Slay in March.

Reed, 49, called a news conference for this morning. Sources close to the campaign said he will announce a run for the mayor's office. Slay, 57, has already said he intends to run for an unprecedented fourth term in office.

Reed declined to discuss his plans with a reporter Tuesday.

His impending declaration primes the Democratic primary in March to be the most vigorous mayoral contest in years.

In 2001, Slay beat former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. by more than 10,000 votes, or 10 percentage points. In 2005 and 2009, Slay doubled the vote total of his closest rival, former alderman Irene Smith, and won with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Reed and Slay have been rivals - sometimes bitter ones - since aldermen first began whispering about a possible Reed candidacy last year. After four years of public cooperation, Reed has worked for the last 18 months to distinguish himself from Slay, attacking the mayor's firefighter pension reform plans and criticizing the city's animal control, jail management and crime.

The resulting battles at times bogged down city government.

Slay's campaign has played down the potential of a Reed candidacy, saying the board president hasn't raised enough money, hasn't distinguished himself as an alderman and can't make the hard decisions.

Slay campaign manager Richard Callow remained skeptical even late Tuesday, despite hearing from aldermen about the planned announcement. "If, in fact, he announces for mayor, this has been the worst-kept secret in city politics," he said. "It will certainly draw some lines."

The mayor is ready, Callow said. Canvassers have been in the field for a month. His campaign office in the hip Grove neighborhood will open this weekend. And campaign staffers already are standing in line at the city election board, where filing opens next month, to make sure Slay's name is first on the ballot.

Morever, Slay had $1,412,000 on hand when the most recent campaign finance reports were filed at the end of June. Reed had $130,000 at that time.

Reed, however, has strengths that could give Slay a stout contest.

As an African-American and former member of the aldermanic black caucus, Reed likely will win a large part of the city's predominantly black North Side.

He also already has some support in the white and middle-class south St. Louis. For nearly eight years as an alderman, he represented the 6th Ward, which stretches from downtown lofts to Compton Heights mansions to the row houses of Lafayette Square - where Reed will hold his news conference this morning, at Sqwires Restaurant.

And Reed has worked to retain support from the city's firefighters, opposing Slay's efforts to reduce the cost of their pensions. The firefighter lobby gave Reed $10,000 this week.

Moreover, Reed's persona should appeal to some urban professionals in the city's central corridor. He often bikes to City Hall. He worked in computer technology. And his demeanor is warm, casual and, sometimes, even carefree - characteristics rarely used to describe Slay.

'THE RESOURCES I NEED'

Still, Reed faces an uphill battle. Slay is considered by many to be the single strongest campaigner in the region.

He's a powerhouse in the southwest, the city's traditional voting stronghold, with deep family roots. His father was a longtime committeeman and political power broker. …

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