This is my second in a series of profiles on 2017 mayoral candidates. My first was on Democrat Tishaura Jones.
My first recollection of Jimmie Matthews was his 1988 impersonation of a police officer, which led to his recall, the first in St. Louis City. I was working at the State Capitol. St. Louis legislators referred to him as a clown, an embarrassment, annoying, and more colorful, less polite words and phrases.
The 1988 incident involved a Black man allegedly removing license plate stickers from cars at 14th & Delmar in Downtown St. Louis City. A mixed race group of men surrounded the suspect. The suspect allegedly produced a knife. Police were called. Matthews, elected alderman in 1985, showed up at the scene, flashed his alderman badge, announced he was an alderman and a police officer, and then drove off with the suspect– with one of the pursuers still on the hood of his car. He later released the suspect.
This year’s mayoral race will make at least the 25th time that Matthews’s name has appeared on a ballot and second filing for Mayor. He has run for Democratic Committeeman, Alderman, State Rep., and various citywide offices, plus he lost his recall election. He has run as a Democrat and as an Independent. He will get few votes but, in an election some believe will be very close, all candidates matter. I don’t claim to have compiled a complete record of his election and elective office adventures. But here is what I know and what I found.
Matthews describes himself as a pastor, real estate broker, retired teacher, former auto mechanic, and community activist. He lives in the 27th Ward, Walnut Park West Neighborhood in northwest St. Louis City, in a home owned by his church. He says that he wants a more Bible-based government. You’ll notice his campaign signs on city and state property, which is illegal. As fast as they are removed, new ones crop up.
In March 1977, Matthews, Black, ran in the Democratic Primary for 27th Ward Alderman against incumbent Milt Svetanics, White. Matthews received 249 votes, 5%.
I am using Black and White here for context. The 27th Ward was one of the last North City wards, if not last, to experience White Flight. 1980 Redistricting moved some 27th Ward White voters further north to the 2nd Ward. That’s also when the 25th Ward moved from the Central West End to South City.
In August 1978 and August 1980, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary for 62nd District State Representative and lost both times to Bill Strassburger, White. Legalizing bingo was a big issue back then. Matthews opposed it. Matthews received 1,166 votes, 26%, in the 1980 three-man contest.
Having lost the August 1980 Primary, Matthews filed the next month for the March 1981 Democratic Primary for 27th Ward Alderman, the seat held by Milt Svetanics. Virvus Jones, Black, filed for the post on the same day. But Milt Svetanics did not run. Instead, his sister-in-law, Judy Svetanics, resigned from the Board of Elections and filed. She was the only candidate who supported closing Homer G. Phillips Hospital.
That 1981 Primary ended up with two White candidates and two Black candidates. Jones won the election with 42% to Judy Svetanics 40%, becoming the ward’s first Black alderman and the eleventh Black alderman on the 28 seat Board. Matthews came in third with 741 votes, 15%. This was the election that 28th Ward Alderman Vince Schoemehl defeated Mayor Jim Conway and then Schoemehl appointed Milt Svetanics to be his Chief of Staff.
In August 1984, Matthews ran and lost in a four-man race for 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman. This was the first election that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch referred to Matthews as a “perennial” candidate. Daniel Isom, won with 41% and Matthews came in a close second with 880 votes, 38%. The incumbent Ray Rustige came in fourth with 5%.
In March 1985, Matthews beat incumbent Virvus Jones by 31 votes to become 27th Ward Alderman. Matthews’s win was, I think, due to political missteps by Jones unrelated to performance as an alderman. In August 1984, Jones had made an unsuccessful run against incumbent Sheriff Gordon Schweitzer, White. A number of Black politicians had tried to talk him out of it. At the same time Jones was running for re-election, he was endorsing Vince Schoemehl for Mayor instead of Freeman Bosley Sr. and Comptroller Paul Berra over Alphonso Jackson, choosing the White candidates. Matthews and State Rep. Paula Carter, who would become the City’s most powerful woman in the Democratic Party, supported Bosley and Jackson.
Highlights of the Alderman Matthews years: