Rep. William Lacy Clay (D)
Missouri 1st District
For a century or more, St. Louis seemed the center of America: the starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, the locus half a century later of the Dred Scott slavery case, and the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, which introduced the hot dog and the ice cream cone and got 19 million people to Meet Me in St. Louis. Its 630-foot-high Gateway Arch is just below the point where the waters of the Missouri surge into the Mississippi, about halfway between New Orleans and Lake Superior, between the Atlantic and the Pacific. This first major American city west of the Mississippi River was the final resting place of Daniel Boone and for many years was Chicago’s rival as the transportation hub of America. In 1904, St. Louis already had the Eads Bridge, one of America’s first suspension bridges; the Wainwright Building, one of Louis Sullivan’s first skyscrapers; and Union Station, the world’s largest passenger train station when it opened in 1894. Some 600,000 people lived then in densely packed brick houses on street grids radiating outward from downtown. This was a heavily German city, with a Teutonic solidity and orderliness that distinguished it from the surrounding Southern-accented rural terrain. And from Mitteleuropa came the founders of St. Louis’s great businesses—the Anheuser-Busch brewery, May Company department stores, Joseph Pulitzer’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch—and its first great politician, Carl Schurz, the senator and Interior secretary. There is almost a European aura to Forest Park, the site of the 1904 fair, and the dozen mansion-lined private streets nearby.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
St. Louis is still one of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas, but today it does not occupy as central a place in the national consciousness, and the central city itself has largely emptied out. The German order that made so many people comfortable living in close quarters and commuting by streetcar has yielded to an American desire for suburban spaces and the less restrictive automobile. St. Louis’ population peaked at 856,000 in 1950; it was down to 353,500 in 2008, far less than the 1 million inhabitants of suburban St. Louis County. Downtown St. Louis has been spruced up admirably: the Gateway Arch was finished in 1965; Union Station has been redeveloped; Laclede’s Landing and the former garment district are stocked with shops; and a new Busch Stadium opened with a panoramic view of the Arch and downtown. But most of St. Louis’s old factories have closed, and many of its once tight neighborhoods are only a memory. A sign of the times: In October 2008, the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame near Busch Stadium closed and moved to an Arlington, Texas, entertainment district. A bigger local concern was the takeover of local icon Anheuser-Busch by Belgium-based InBev, even though the company said it would use St. Louis, with a reduced workforce, as its North American headquarters.
Missouri’s congressional districts have followed the people out of St. Louis, where the Democratic organization has been weakened by the loss of patronage and by state approval of term limits. The 1st District has been historically based on the north side of the city, but now three-fourths of its residents live in suburban St. Louis County. The district includes St. Louis City north of Interstate 44, and the northern and some central portions of St. Louis County. It takes in all of the predominantly African-American suburbs north of the city, including Bellefontaine Neighbors, Ferguson, Spanish Lake, and Black Jack. It also includes working-class St. Ann and Bridgeton and, west of the city, parts of the affluent suburbs of University City, Ladue and Creve Coeur. The district is half African American, but blacks account for far more than half the votes in Democratic primaries. Barack Obama in November 2008 won the city 84%-16%. More telling was that he won St. Louis County, with more than triple the turnout, 60%-40%. In 2004, John Kerry won the county, 54%-45%.
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: July 27, 1956, St. Louis .
Home: St. Louis.
Education: U. of MD, B.S. 1983.
Family: Divorced; 2 children.
Elected office: MO House of Reps., 1983-90; MO Senate, 1991-2000.
Professional Career: Asst. doorkeeper, U.S. House of Reps, 1976-83; Paralegal, 1982-2000; Real estate agent, 1986-2000.
The congressman from the 1st District is William Lacy Clay, a Democrat first elected in 2000 to the seat that his father Bill Clay had held for 32 years. Born in St. Louis, he moved to the Washington, D.C., area at age 12 after his father’s election to the House in 1968. He attended public schools in suburban Silver Spring, Md., and then the University of Maryland, studying by night for seven years while he worked as a House staffer by day. He had started law classes at Howard University in 1983, when a special election for the state House drew him back to St. Louis. Party leaders appointed him the Democratic nominee. Eight years later, he was again chosen by party leaders to run in a special election for a safely Democratic state Senate seat.
|William Lacy Clay (D)||242,570||(87%)||($622,529)|
|Robb Cunningham (Lib)||36,700||(13%)|
|William Lacy Clay (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (73%), 2004 (75%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (75%)
Then in 1999, his father decided to retire from Congress, after helping to enact many labor and education laws he had fought for. Clay wanted to take his father’s place, but he had a serious primary contest. St. Louis Councilman Charlie Dooley raised nearly $400,000 and was an African American with a base of support in the mostly white suburbs of St. Louis County. Dooley campaigned that the office should not be “inherited,” and he attacked what he called Clay’s old-style tactics of political threats and bossism. The St. Louis Labor Council and Missouri AFL-CIO, long allied with Bill Clay, declined to endorse his son, but more than 30 locals endorsed him. Lacy Clay played up his father’s name and revved up the still reliable machine. He won the primary 61%-28% over Dooley, winning St. Louis City 76%-12% and St. Louis County, where twice as many votes were cast, 49%-39%. In the general election, Clay won 75%-22%.
In the House, Clay has had a mostly liberal voting record, although it turned centrist on some economic issues in recent years. He has worked to protect voting rights for blacks and the reliability of electronic voting equipment. A member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Clay chairs the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, with jurisdiction ranging from the Freedom of Information Act to the Census Bureau—a useful post for black Americans concerned about maximizing rights in the next redistricting after 2010. “The census is really about three things: money, information and political representation,” Clay says. In 2007, he helped enact a rewrite of the freedom of information law to expedite requests and the handling of disputes; he also foiled an attempt by the Bush Administration to eliminate a Census Bureau program that provides information on the effect that federal programs have on the poor. On foreign policy, he called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2006 and famously described President Bush as an “incompetent chickenhawk.” The following year, he cosponsored a bill to impeach Vice President Cheney. And Clay led opposition to the request of Rep. Stephen Cohen, a white Democrat from Tennessee, to join the Congressional Black Caucus. “It’s an unwritten rule” that only African Americans can belong, Clay said.
Clay has not been seriously challenged for reelection. His biggest concern may be the declining population in his district, and its implications for the next round of redistricting. The 1st District was the only one in the state to lose population between 2000 and 2006.