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:
Following the Supreme Court ruling in Wallace v. Jaffree, Matthews, a Baptist minister, sponsored a Resolution, adopted 16-7, supporting prayer in public schools.
Matthews sought repeal of a section of the Zoning Code which required churches opening or expanding to go through the hearing and review process.
Matthews wanted the City to declare his home a church parsonage not subject to taxation. The Assessor that he battled on this was Virvus Jones, appointed to the position by Mayor Vince Schoemehl.
Matthews dropped his opposition to a housing project in his ward when, coincidentally, the developer donated five parcels to this church.
Matthews sought to lift a ban by the City on clergy soliciting and performing weddings at City Hall. Competition by ministers outside City Hall was fierce and disruptive to business. The City resolved this by banning the solicitation but contracting with a minister to perform ceremonies in an RV wedding chapel outside City Hall. Matthews didn’t like that either and sought to undo the contract.
A little backstory on this issue. In Missouri, marriage licenses are applied for and issued by the county Recorder of Deeds. Unlike most other states, Missouri has never had a residency requirement for marriage licences. You can apply for a license in any county and use the license for a ceremony in any county in the state. For over a century, many St. Louis County brides and grooms who worked in the City found it more convenient to obtain their licenses at City Hall than in Clayton. The Recorder’s office at St. Louis City Hall once had a marriage license parlor with velvet love seats, a cherub fountain with goldfish, and large pieces of art hanging on the walls, possibly neoclassical. The parlor was a source of great pride for Recorders and was advertised for its beauty and convenience to Downtown workers. In the 1950’s, the fixtures were removed and the parlor became a marriage license department with a more office-looking appearance.
Matthews supported a pay increase for alderman because he said being an alderman was a full-time job. But the definition of full-time obviously has many meanings because he did not give up his pastor position.
Matthews opposed establishing housing conservation districts and mandatory residential occupancy permits.
Matthews opposed spending of $2.7 Million to demolish or board up 2,500 vacant buildings. He said the money should have been spent on housing for the poor.
Matthews opposed placing a tax hike on the ballot to add Missouri History Museum to the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District. He said it would give people in the County too much influence over City cultural venues.
Board President Tom Zych replaced 28th Ward Alderman Dan McGuire with Matthews as chair of a Special Blighting Committee after McGuire made a move to reduce some of Zych’s powers.
As a member of the Community Development Agency Commission, Matthews voted against blighting The Arena, previous home to St. Louis Blues hockey.
Matthews was unsuccessful in passing a Resolution to establish an investigation into the lack of investment in North Side wards by the Community Development Agency.
The Board of Aldermen dismissed aldermanic courtesy and approved the Riverview Boulevard Maline Creek Redevelopment in Matthew’s ward over his objections.
Blighting, incentives for redevelopment, aldermanic courtesy, and police use of force were all issues in St. Louis City when Matthews was an alderman nearly thirty years ago, just as they are today.
Matthews had few, if any, allies on the Board of Aldermen. He was long-winded and tortured the English language. His requests for roll call votes were viewed as petty. He was generally seen as the unfunny class clown.
During the 1988 recall effort, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan wrote that Matthews’s greatest accomplishment was getting the sidewalk fixed in front of his own house. Not the whole block, just in front of his house.
In August 1988, Matthews was on the ballot twice. He lost his recall vote 868, 53% to 758, 47%. He was also in the Democratic Primary against 56th District State Rep. Paula Carter, losing with 414 votes, 16%. This was a double win for Carter, the major force behind the recall.
Then in November 1988, Matthews ran as an Independent in the special election for his old 27th Ward Alderman seat. Claude Taylor, the Paula Carter backed candidate, easily won the three-man race, with Matthews receiving 526 votes, 20%.
There was a rematch in March 1989, with 27th Ward Alderman Claude Taylor easily winning re-election. Matthews received 863 votes, 37%.
In June 1989, Matthews went to trial on the 1988 incident involving impersonation of an officer and driving off with a suspect, with a pursuer atop his car, misdemeanors. He said that he was helping diffuse a situation and feared for the suspect’s life. He said “alderman” must have sounded like “officer” when he flashed his alderman badge. It was his recollection that the suspect was being chased by a White mob. He was convicted by a jury of 7 Blacks and 5 Whites and sentenced to 30 days electronic house arrest and a $250 fine for assault and hindering prosecution.
In August 1992, Matthews was elected 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman, beating incumbent Daniel Isom, by 16 votes, 927 to 911. Same election, Matthews was on the ballot in the Democratic Primary for City Sheriff against incumbent Jim Murphy and Jim Buchanan, a retired St. Louis City police officer and former Pagedale Police Chief. Matthews came in third with 2,483 votes, 10%.
In March 1993, the 27th Ward race was an open seat with Alderman Claude Taylor not filing for re-election. The Democratic Primary six-person contest included Matthews; Greg Carter, son of State Rep. Paula Carter; Dan Isom, the former committeeman defeated by Matthews the previous election; and four others, including a candidate who was on the ballot but ended up supporting Carter. Greg Carter won with 47% and Matthews came in second with 939 votes, 30%.
In August 1994, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary against License Collector Tom Nash and received 10,391 votes, 27%.
In March 1995, Matthews ran in the seven-person Democratic Primary for Board of Aldermen President which included five sitting aldermen. He came in 6th place with 386 votes, less than 1%.
This was an open seat election with President Tom Villa (now 11th Ward Alderman) not seeking re-election. The winner of the Board President race was 23rd Ward Alderman Francis G. Slay (now Mayor). The top runners-up were 19th Ward Alderwoman Velma Bailey with 21% (ran and lost in 3rd Ward in 2009 to Freeman Bosley, Sr.; now running in six-person race for 3rd Ward Alderman) and 7th Ward Alderwoman Phyllis Young with 19% (retired in 2015).
In August 1996, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary against incumbent 61st District State Rep. Paula Carter and lost with 1,061 votes, 22%.
In March 1997, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary against 27th Ward Alderman Greg Carter and lost with 389 votes, 18%.
In August 2000, Matthews ran in the four-person Democratic Party Primary for 61st District State Representative and came in 4th place with 344 votes, 9%. The seat became open when Paula Carter was elected 5th District State Senator in a special election earlier that year. The winner of the 61st District contest was Connie “LaJoyce” Johnson with 42%.
Also in August 2000, Matthews was on the ballot for 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman against Curtis Royston. He lost with 620 votes, 38%.
And then I lose track of Matthews for a dozen years because the Board of Elections has some bad links for election results, and other problems.
In October 2012, continuing the mutual feud with the Carter Family, Matthews ran in a special election for 27th Ward Alderman as an Independent against Democrat 61st District State Representative Chris Carter. This was an election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Carter’s uncle, Greg Carter, who had died in a tractor-trailer accident months earlier. Matthews received 65 votes, 7%. Chris Carter was elected with 93%. He is one of two aldermen not running for re-election this year. His aunt, Keena Carter, is running in a three-person race that includes 27th Ward Committeewoman Pam Boyd. Why Matthews is running this year for Mayor instead of Alderman is very curious.
In March 2013, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary for St. Louis City Mayor against Mayor Francis G. Slay (retiring this year) and Board President Lewis Reed (a 2017 mayoral candidate). He received 575 votes, 1% to Slay’s 54% and Reed’s 44%.
In the 2013 Mayor’s race, Matthews said during an interview with St. Louis Public Radio: “First thing I start dealing with is homeless issues — try to make sure those people aren’t suffering unnecessarily. One thing I’d like to do is create a homeless village — I’m not talking about tents or anything like that, I’m talking about housing. We had a development in the city called Laclede Town, it was a real town. We want to provide schools, skill centers and we also want to develop a commercial district. So we need to share the wealth with the region, with everybody. Not just the city, but the county and be a real regional state.” Listen to the interview here
In a 2013 Riverfront Times story, Matthews said he did not favor more gun control: “Gun control is the wrong term to use. What about teaching people how to use guns responsibly and don’t give a fool a gun? Whether he’s a police officer or whether he’s a guard…when fools have guns, fools are gonna do foolish things…You have to deal with the fools that have them.” Read the rest of the story here
In August 2014, Matthews ran in the Democratic Party Primary for Recorder of Deeds against former Recorder Sharon Quigley Carpenter and 4th Ward Democratic Committeeman Ed McFowland (lost re-election in 2016). He received 4,920 votes, 18% to Carpenter’s 63% and McFowland’s 19%.
Matthews was later fined by the Missouri Ethics Commission for failing to comply with “paid for by” requirements on literature.
Historically, Matthews files an Exemption statement with MEC saying he will not accept or spend more than $500 during the election. Given the expense of printing yard signs and flyers with union bugs for a citywide race, I tend to think he fudges on this.
In March 2015, Matthews ran in the Democratic Primary for Board President against incumbent Lewis Reed, his second run for Board President. He received 2,735 votes, 18% to Reed’s 82%.
2015 Board President Race 15th Ward Survey Responses by Matthews
In August 2016, Matthews ran in the five-person Democratic Primary for St. Louis City Sheriff, his second campaign for sheriff. Incumbent Jim Murphy did not seek re-election. Matthews came in fourth with 2,819 votes, 7%. The winner was Vernon Betts with 43%.
I can’t pass along his answers to the 7th Ward Sheriff Candidate Survey because he did not respond with survey answers. I sent him a snail mail and six emails regarding the survey. Each time, he sent an email with a word salad campaign/religious messages and a link to his Facebook page. He showed up at our candidate forum and was told that he could not be considered for endorsement because he had failed to turn in the survey. His response was “God Bless You!”
December 2016 Channel 30 Interview with Matthews regarding 2017 run for mayor
Disclaimers and Disclosures: I write my own posts and do not coordinate my writing with anyone. I am not paid to work on any campaign and am not employed by any candidate on the 2017 ballot. I have no family paid to work on any campaign or employed by any candidate on the 2017 ballot. I am not a Christian. I had a cordial relationship with State Rep. Paula Carter when I worked at the State Capitol. I was a volunteer for Francis G. Slay during his 1995 campaign for Board President. I was elected 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman in 2012 and endorsed Francis G. Slay for Mayor in 2013. I am a City employee, an archivist in the Recorder of Deeds office and was a whistle-blower in the 2014 Recorder saga. As Committeewoman, I endorsed Ed McFowland in the Recorder Primary and I had no contact with Recorder candidate Jimmie Matthews during that election. I endorsed Vernon Betts for Sheriff in 2016. I have endorsed Tishaura Jones for Mayor in the 2017 election.
— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman