DOWNTOWN – Some racially charged advice by a former mayor has led to a temporary and possibly permanent halt in plans for a regional study of governance of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl made the comments in an Oct. 27 email to regional public officials on the subject of potential regional governance of the airport.
“This is very delicate with the black aldermen. They feel you’re stealing their inheritance. Let’s be careful with this,” Schoemehl wrote to officials who included St. Louis County Executive Sam Page; Page’s Chief of Staff Winston Calvert; and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, who chairs the East-West Gateway Council of Governments Board of Directors. Page also is a member of that board.
“BTW, this is easily managed if you take a cautious route,” Schoemehl wrote. “A few private dinners, some orchestrated ego stroking, etc. Without question, these aldermanic players will come to your side if allowed to; you have to create a way for them to help you win this one for the people.”
The words were enough for St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed to demand an immediate end to East-West Gateway Council’s proposed study of regional management. He claimed Schoemehl was leading a back-room political agenda and was using extreme racial overtones.
After extensive discussion of the issue at Wednesday’s meeting of the East-West Gateway board, the issue was tabled, with the possibility it could be brought back again.
“Forget about giving us the facts,” Reed said. The main thing is to stroke egos, he said.
“This is a major issue. This is an issue that will blow up to us as sure as night follows day,” Reed said. “If we move forward today, we have increased the level of difficulty.”
Mayor Lyda Krewson announced late last year that she was ending the controversial process of studying the potential leasing of St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private contractor.
Krewson told the East-West board that it needed to write a good scope of what it wanted to do before it did its homework.
Speaking to the board, Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP, said that African-Americans were not made part of East-West Gateway’s process.
“We ought to have a seat at the table and be a part of the discussion,” Pruitt said.
Board member James Knowles, who is mayor of Ferguson, said that what Schoemehl had done shouldn’t taint the process. He said he would hate for East-West Gateway not to do anything.
“We’re really just doing some fact-finding,” Knowles said.
Efforts to reach Schoemehl by phone and email on Wednesday were unsuccessful. In one of three phone calls, a man who answered the phone hung up after a reporter identified himself.
In January, the East West Gateway Board of Directors started talking about how the whole region could work together to improve the airport.
The week after that, the East-West staff sent a survey to officials throughout the region. Those who replied said a study was very important. They especially wanted to know about the current weaknesses of Lambert, how it compared with other airports and how to develop economically around the airport.