Missouri: First District|
Rep. William (Bill) Clay (D)
Last Updated October 20, 1999
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 case, which produced a Supreme Court ruling that helped split the nation; the site of the 1904 World's Fair that 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, the Atlantic and the Pacific. St. Louis was once again a great gathering place in January 1999, when Pope John Paul II visited here, recalling the Dred Scott decision and speaking out for life and against abortion and capital punishment.
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 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 in densely-packed brick houses on old street grids radiating outward from downtown. This was a heavily German city, with a Teutonic solidity and orderliness which 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 and a friend of Abraham Lincoln, Senator and Interior Secretary Carl Schurz. And there is almost a European aura to Forest Park, the site of the 1904 fair, and the dozen mansion-lined private streets nearby, like Portland Place.
St. Louis is still one of the nation's 20 largest metro areas, but today 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 seems to have yielded to an American desire for Daniel Boone's wide open (suburban) spaces and the less restrictive automobile. St. Louis's population peaked at 856,000 in 1950; in 1990, it was 396,000, dwarfed by the one million in 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 is stocked with shops. But most of St. Louis's old factories have closed and many of its once tight neighborhoods are only a memory.
Missouri's congressional districts have followed the people out of St. Louis. The 1st District, historically based on the north side of the city, in 1971 had 71% of its votes cast in suburban St. Louis County. It includes most of central and north St. Louis, the affluent and racially integrated suburbs of University City and Clayton just west of Forest Park, and the mostly black and mixed-race suburbs from the city limits north to Bellefontaine Neighbors, Florissant and the airport. In 1990, this district was 52% black, a figure increasing since. This is easily Missouri's most Democratic district.
The congressman from the 1st District is the dean of the Missouri delegation and third most senior member of the House, Bill Clay. He grew up in St. Louis and sold real estate and life insurance. In the 1960s he was a union staffer and firebrand civil rights activist known as ''Wild Bill'' (he served 105 days in jail in 1963 for participating in a civil rights demonstration). He was a House leader when Democrats were in control, and is now one of the angriest opponents of the fiery, conservative Republicans. Clay was first elected to the House in 1968, when the black members could be counted on two hands. He weathered some serious ethical charges in the 1970s, when he billed the government for numerous auto trips home though he was apparently traveling on cheaper airline tickets. In 1992 it was revealed he had 328 overdrafts on the House bank. Though there is a stubborn bloc against him in the suburbs, he has always won re-election easily.
Clay has just about a perfectly liberal voting record and is an especially strong supporter of labor unions--''workers' rights,'' he says. Before the Republicans won control in 1994, he was chairman of the now-abolished Post Office and Civil Service Committee and heir apparent to the then-Education and Labor Committee. One major Clay achievement was the Family and Medical Leave Act, vetoed by President Bush but signed by President Clinton in February 1993 as his first law. Hatch Act reform--allowing federal employees to be involved in politics--took only a bit longer; it passed the House in March 1993 and was signed by Clinton in October 1993. Less controversial was a Clay measure authorizing buyouts of senior federal employees, which passed the House 391-17 in February 1994 and became law in March. But Clay was not as successful in pushing striker replacement, which would revise the 1935 Wagner Act and give more leverage to unions; the bill passed the House in 1994, but in the Senate could not get the 60 votes required to break a promised Republican filibuster.
Since 1995 Clay, now ranking member of the renamed Education and the Workforce Committee, has been mostly frustrated on the legislative front. He opposed the Republicans' welfare reform plans vitriolically, predicting they would ''potentially starve hundreds of thousands of children and impair the health of their mothers. This bill is not about welfare reform. … It's about writing blank checks to governors while imposing no standards or accountability.'' Despite his support of family and medical leave, he opposed the Republican bill to allow employees to choose between overtime pay and compensatory time on the grounds that the choice can never be really voluntary. The one major bill he joined Republicans in supporting, Howard McKeon's CAREERS Act, which consolidated job training programs, was passed in different forms in both chambers; but the conference committee was unable to produce a version that made it back to the House floor. His biggest success was the bill increasing the minimum wage. He also succeeded in preventing students from having higher education aid reduced on up to $1,500 in HOPE scholarships and increasing the amount of income excluded in calculating Pell grant eligibility. He bitterly opposed school vouchers, and prevailed. He sponsored the class reduction size bill included in the October 1998 omnibus budget and sponsored several Clinton education bills. He asked for a review of a National Science Foundation grant of $175,000 to political scientists for a study of why qualified candidates don't run for Congress. And he was even criticized by a union, the American Federation of Government Employees, for his support of military depots.
Clay expresses his views with great vehemence. He is the author of two books, To Kill or Not to Kill, on capital punishment, and Just Permanent Interests, on black members of Congress. And, for more than 50 years Clay has been a political force in St. Louis; as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, ''Strong Clay opposition can often spell defeat.'' In 1992 he opposed the gubernatorial candidacy of former Mayor Vince Schoemehl; Schoemehl lost 27 of 28 St. Louis wards to Governor Mel Carnahan. In 1997 and 1998 Clay raised strong objections to senate nominee Jay Nixon, who as attorney general pushed to close the decades-long St. Louis school desegration case and cut off the flow of state funds to the school system. Clay called Nixon a racist and said he was conducting ''unremitting warfare'' against court decisions. In October 1998 he wrote a letter to Bill Clinton asking him not to attend a November Nixon fundraiser. ''I am certain that if Orval Faubus had sought your support for a Senate campaign, you would not have given it. You should not give it to Jay Nixon today.'' Clinton did not show. (The school case was tentatively settled in January 1999.) In the 1996 and 1998 campaigns there were charges that Clay would retire and try to hand the seat on to his son, state Senator Lacy Clay (would he be the first member of Congress whose names are anagrams of each other?). The younger Clay was elected to the state House in 1984 and, after state Senator John Bass was given a $100,000 staff job with the elder Clay in Washington, won his state Senate seat in 1991. In May 1999 Clay announced that he would not run again in 2000. Lacy Clay, with his father's support, started running. Other likely candidates include St. Louis County Councilman Charles Dooley, state Representative Tim Green of Spanish Lake and attorney Eric Vickers. Mentioned as possible candidates are former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and former Deputy City Comptroller Z. Dwight Billingsly, a Republican who ran against Lacy Clay in 1998.
Safe. While there may be a competitive primary to replace Clay, there is no hope for a Republican in this heavily Democratic district. However, St. Louis has been losing population and could therefore face some serious alterations in the 2001 redistricting.
- Pop. 1990: 568,472
- 0.8% rural;
14.6% age 65+;
- 46.3% White,
0.2% Amer. Indian,
0.8% Hispanic origin;
38.8% married couple families;
17.8% married couple fams. w. children;
43.5% college educ.;
median household income: $24,963;
per capita income: $12,632;
median gross rent: $299;
median house value: $55,800.
|1996 Presidential Vote|
|1992 Presidential Vote|
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.