Father of St. Louis County councilwoman injects race into the Jamestown Mall discussion

Elbert Walton, father of Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, addresses the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Photo by Steve Giegerich

published in St. Louis Post Dispatch
by Steve Giegerich
February 7, 2017

CLAYTON  •  The ongoing discussion over the fate of the Jamestown Mall veered into new territory Tuesday night with an accusation that race played a role in the defeat of legislation supported by the two African-American members of the St. Louis County Council.

Elbert Walton Jr. charged that “all five white members of the council” conspired last week to defeat a bill intended to give full control of mall redevelopment to the council.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Walton said.
Walton is the father of Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, the sponsor of a measure to strip oversight of the project from the  Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority.

The council in a 5-2 vote rejected the legislation. The two African- American members of the council, Gray and Councilwoman Hazel Erby, dissented.
The defeat of the Gray measure — a substitute bill designed to supplant legislation to blight the mall property — essentially resulted in returning the redevelopment process to square one.

For Walton, the defeat of a bill was personal.
“You aren’t going to fool with my daughter,” said Walton, gesturing angrily at the council dais.
Gray listened impassively.

A lawyer and former state representative, Walton then turned his attention to Steve Stenger, the county executive who has clashed with Gray over the Jamestown Mall.

“You are not going to mess with my daughter,” said Walton, threatening to mobilize African-American voters next year when Stenger is expected to seek re-election.

Stenger brushed the diatribe aside.

“I have no response other than to say we are going to move ahead with the Jamestown Mall and it is something that the people of north St. Louis County want and something the people of north St. Louis County need and we’re simply not going to be stopped by someone. We are going to move forward,” Stenger told reporters following the meeting.

The 142-acre Jamestown site falls within Gray’s North County district.

Gray maintains that she, and the council to a certain extent, should play an out-sized role in shaping the destiny of the property that was once a regional shopping destination.
The county charter gives the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority the power to blight and oversee the development of property in which the county has a vested financial interest.
The council, as the final arbiter on zoning issues, will ultimately have the final say on redevelopment of the land.

Uneasy with that aspect of the county charter, Gray last month summoned her father to draft the substitute legislation to override a bill to blight the site — the first step in the redevelopment process.

Walton followed with an opinion to counter a ruling by County Counselor Peter Krane upholding the Redevelopment Authority’s right to guide the project.
The Missouri Ethics Commission in 2011 ordered a political action committee connected to Walton to pay nearly $207,000 in fines for spending violations.

A number of North County residents turned out Tuesday to support Gray’s effort to provide her constituents with the dominant voice in the mall redevelopment.
“I’m tired of driving by that place and seeing nothing,” North County resident Carol Strawbridge told council members.

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