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ST LOUIS AMERICAN: Page attacked for directing COVID-19 relief at black communities hit hardest.

Page attacked for directing COVID-19 relief at black communities hit hardest. 

April 30, 2020

Many people are saying that nothing will ever be the same after COVID-19, but the EYE is watching a few things not change. We still have death, taxes and Tim Fitch – who doesn’t want to pay taxes for racial equity, he keeps saying in various ways from his bully pulpit on the St. Louis County Council.

Fitch played a key role in fostering the media campaign that weakened St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley enough to be beaten in a primary by the untested, inexperienced Steve Stenger. Stenger, of course, now consumes his media in federal custody. He was replaced as county executive by Sam Page – who played a key role in influencing media coverage of the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation that put Stenger out of business.

Page is not black, which appeared to have been Dooley’s only crime. Dooley was never so much as charged with a crime, despite years (literally) of Post-Dispatch and KMOX reports on alleged “swirling rumors” of corruption and “federal investigations” of his administration, all stoked by Fitch and Stenger. However, Page won his fellow council members’ support to fill Stenger’s unexpired term. He has been governing with a diverse, new, progressive, North-Central-South County coalition that excludes Fitch – and that has Fitch throwing stones (and his toys) around.

Page has been looking at the data on COVID-19’s impact in St. Louis County. As of Wednesday, April 28, the county had reported 159 deaths and 3,060 cases since the onset of the pandemic. Though the county has stopped transparently reporting raw numbers for death by race, it reported that the death rate for COVID-19 in the county for blacks was more than twice that of whites. The county reported that 50.3% of positive tests in the county were of black people and 43.6% were of people who identified as two or more races, when blacks form only 24.9% of the county’s population.

So, the disparate impact of COVID-19 on blacks in the county is right at 2:1 in both deaths and cases. That means when Page called for “equitable rather than equal” disbursement of COVID-19 relief funds, he was in effect calling for black communities in the county to get twice as much COVID-19 relief funding as white communities. That is a major statement with $173.5 million in federal funds to disburse. It also sent Fitch into a fit.

Fitch loudly opposed Page’s equitable vision for disbursing the funds – quickly, with a medical practitioner’s sense that lives are being lost by the minute. Fitch’s opposition devolved into a series of ad hominem attacks. He even attacked Page, who is himself a medical doctor, for making regular public updates on the pandemic, saying in a written comment to the council that it was “much cheaper than buying campaign ads.” Fitch, however, had no such insults for his party mates Governor Mike Parsonand President Donald Trump. Like Page, they are on the ballot this year; like Page, they routinely provide public updates on the pandemic.

Fitch even noted that Page is trying to direct COVID-19 relief funding as the one-year anniversary of Stenger’s resignation approached on April 29. Clearly, Fitch is trying to swirl up new rumors of corruption. He has his work cut out for him, as Page opened a new web dashboard that reports every penny of federal COVID-19 funds as they come and go from county coffers.

So far, Fitch has succeeded in slowing the process but not stopping it. This week, Page’s administration began the process of ordering millions of dollars of COVID-19 tests, and the County Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday, April 28 to put the $173.5 million into a special fund for immediate use. Page plans to use some of those funds to determine how COVID-19 is impacting different communities — like the black community — differently. As a medical professional, he knows that data (like the 2:1 disparate impact of COVID-19 on blacks in the county) should guide further investigation.

Note that attending to the health needs of the region’s most vulnerable is not merely a political calculation for Page – or, if it is, then it’s a political calculation that he has been making so long in coalition with black leaders that it’s been just as useful as a personal belief (and, in fact, much more useful than many personal beliefs that never lead to action). Page served in the Missouri House of Representatives for three terms early in this century, where black state legislators found him a useful ally in crafting progressive health reform bills. State Rep. Connie Johnson, who was then serving in her first stint in the state House before moving up to state Senate and then back, always defended Page when anyone questioned his motives or values.

As for Fitch, he was St. Louis County Police chief for much of the Dooley administration. Along with Stenger and then-St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, he kept the “swirling rumors” (actual source citation in one front-page Post-Dispatch news story) about Dooley’s alleged corruption circulating through Post and KMOX news reports for years. In place of Dooley, this gang installed Stenger, who is watching the COVID-19 pandemic from a prison cell. Stenger’s former consultants — the race-baiting specialists Jane Dueker, Patrick Lynn, and Ed Rhode, of Mayor Francis G. Slay flack fame —now have no one but Fitch and his Republican cronies on the council to amplify. Sad.

It’s also sad to see Jake Zimmerman using their talking points and toxic Post-Dispatch editorials in his campaign mailings as he runs against Page in the August primary for county executive. Jake is no Eric Schmitt for having his credibility fall completely out from under him as his political ambitions ascend, though he has fallen far enough to enable this snarky transition to the Schmitt fiasco.

Eric Schmitt vs. The People’s Republic of China

One of the candidates to oppose Schmitt as Missouri attorney general in November, Rich Finneran, is a former federal prosecutor. So, although most of us thought it was bat dung crazy for a lawyer who works for a Midwestern American state to file suit against a sovereign Asian nation, Finneran knows the law well enough to know exactly how stupid it was.

“Our unelected Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against China. Yes, the entire country,” Finneran wrote. “Many legal experts have already opined that the lawsuit is unlikely to succeed given the various legal hurdles required to file suit against a sovereign nation. So, Eric Schmitt is spending untold taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit that will almost certainly result in $0 recovered for the people of Missouri. And of course, for the Missourians who have lost their jobs, gotten sick, or, God forbid, have lost their lives, this lawsuit will achieve nothing.”

After acknowledging that China is not blameless in the spread of COVID-19 – despite Trump believing China’s every assurance when the outbreak had not yet gone global – Finneran moves much closer to home.

“Look closely at Schmitt’s allegations, and you’ll see that many apply with equal force if we look at Governor Mike Parson’s response to this crisis,” Finneran wrote. “Schmitt says that China violated Missouri law by ‘failing to quarantine its population against a virus known to be exceptionally dangerous.’ He says that China’s conduct ‘was unreasonable and was reckless in light of the known risks’ of the virus and demonstrates ‘a complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of the public.’” And that sounds just like Missouri’s unelected governor.

“Governor Mike Parson ignored the Missouri Medical Association’s recommendation, delaying a stay-at-home order by two weeks,” Finneran writes. “Disregarding medical experts, he’s already making plans to reopen, claiming ‘we are beginning to stabilize,’ though just this week Missouri had the sharpest one-day increase in hospitalizations yet. If Eric Schmitt really wanted to address the risks that the people of Missouri are facing today, he wouldn’t look to China, he’d look a lot closer to home.”

Speaking of closer to home, Schmitt got his experience using state resources to meddle in other sovereignties in the City of St. Louis, where he has been working for months with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to try cases that the elected St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner rejects. The latest effort is a provision added to a bill in a Senate committee on Tuesday that would give the attorney general “concurrent” authority to prosecute cases of 1st and 2d degree murder and carjacking in the City of St. Louis, and only in the city. Let’s hope Schmitt and the police fail to help Schmitt break into the city courts as they have failed in the past.

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