Kirkwood to elect mayor 2 months after slayings

Monday, April 7, 2008 | 7:10 p.m. CDT; updated 10:21 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

KIRKWOOD — Kirkwood residents will elect a new mayor Tuesday, two months after a disgruntled citizen gunned down five city employees.

Their choices are a veteran city councilman, seen by some as part of the old guard, and three write-in candidates, including one who says he’s running only to make a point and would resign the mayor’s post immediately.

Eight-year City Councilman Arthur McDonnell is favored to win if for no other reason than that his is the only name on the ballot. City Councilwoman Connie Karr was slain in the council’s chambers on Feb. 7, and her name was removed from the ballot.

Karr was seen by many as the city’s best hope for bridging its racial divide, a point that crystallized in the February slayings of five white city employees by a black man, Charles “Cookie” Thornton, who had complained of a “plantation mentality” at City Hall.

In the ensuing weeks, a grass-roots effort to postpone the election to allow more candidates to get on the ballot failed. And last month, the U.S. Department of Justice’s community relations division agreed to step in to help mediate the racial disharmony in the town.

“There is a racial divide in Kirkwood which has not been addressed,” said Jane von Kaenel, spokeswoman for a new grass-roots group, Kirkwood Coming Together for a Brighter Future. “That’s why we wanted more than one candidate.”

She said Karr “had hoped to address this situation after she was elected. It just breaks our hearts.”

McDonnell, a 66-year-old grocer and caterer, said he’s hoping to win.

“I really want to help this community and get it where it was before Feb. 7,” McDonnell said. “I’m not going to let one man get in the way of what needs to be done.”

Michael Moore, a community activist who moved to Kirkwood eight months ago, is running as the sole black candidate in the four-way contest.

He said the problem is not so much about black-white relations but over “who holds the money.If you hold it, they want to acknowledge you’re there. If not, they have no regard for citizens. You can speak for three minutes and they sit you down.”

Milad Abou-Nader, a man of Lebanese descent who came to the U.S. from Israel more than 40 years ago, has run unsuccessfully for Kirkwood City Council and mayor in the past. The 69-year-old is a longtime critic of what he calls an “elitist” government. On five occasions, he asked city officials to resign because “they are unresponsive to citizens.”

He considers the city, and its government, racist, saying he and his family were taunted during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“I could live here 370 years and still be an outsider, still be a foreign guy,” he said.

He said he’s running out of a sense of duty to make government more open and welcoming to people.

Dan Cressey, 47, a self-employed businessman, said he filed to be a write-in candidate to protest the city’s decision not to delay the election.

“I see it as a referendum on who’s best to choose (a mayor), them or us,” he said.

Cressey said he would resign if he were to win, forcing the city to hold a new election and allowing more candidates to get on the ballot.

Kirkwood resident Kelly Meadows, 41, who was out walking her dog Monday, said she hadn’t given much thought to the election. She said she would probably vote for a write-in candidate, saying “change is good.”

The two-year resident said that while she has been made to feel welcome here, she has heard the community is “selectively” accepting of others.

While Thornton’s killing five people wasn’t justified, she said, “I’m sure there was some injustice done. I’m not naive to that.”

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