Elmo Bush Talks Black
Elmo Bush has been many things. In 1966 he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of East St. Louis, the first black candidate, against Alvin G. Fields, who was seeking his fifth four-year term. In 1971 he was elected to the city council with Mayor James Williams, the first black mayor. Under the commission form of government, he was commissioner of fire, health and education. In 1975 he lost in the primary to William Mason for mayor, and became administrative assistant to the superintendent of schools, then Leroy Ducksworth. When Jerry Costello ran for County Board chairman, Bush opposed him in the primary. Bush supported Carl Officer for mayor 11 years ago, but when in the last election Clyde Jordan ran against Officer, Bush was his campaign manager. Obviously, Bush has been where the action is in East St. Louis.
Bush complains that whites want to pick the black leaders for the black community. Outspoken Bush has not been among those so chosen. He most recently said it to Carter Hendren, representative of Republican Jim Edgar who was seeking black support in East St. Louis for Edgar for governor.
"The ones the whites pick are the ones in their interest, not in the interest of blacks, They don't even wonder what the interest of a black man is. The Belleville News-Democrat in no way considers my interest as a black person down here paying $5,000 a year in property taxes.
Bush is supporting Edgar and has opened an office for him on St. Louis Avenue in East St. Louis. He said Neil Hartigan is a machine politician who opposed Mayor Washington in Chicago; that he represents Chicago interests, and that Edgar is a truthful man. Edgar is for continuing the two percent sales tax increase, and without it East St. Louis schools and others throughout the state would be in a bad way quickly. Besides, he says the Democratic party, which he said spends $50,000 to $75,000 in East St. Louis every election to buy votes, needs to experience the return of a two-party system. He accused Hartigan of distortion trying to lay the tax on Edgar, when it was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. And he says Hartigan says he would get money for schools somewhere else, but cannot, or will not, say where.
Bush was opposed to the state Distressed Cities Act as it was first reported, especially to the stateappointed board of overseers who it was reported would control the city's budget and spending. "They want me to give away management of my city that protects me, and have no recourse? The mayor is just going to cut ribbons? And I am going sit here and pay taxes to that body which is going to be an oversight body appointed from all over the state! I've got adequate evidence of what that is going to do to me. And yet they say 'You ought to be satisfied with that because these people are going to pay your bills. They're going to bail you out.' We went through that on the plantation in Mississippi. We didn't have to pay any bills, we had a company store, and we were in debt at the company store. We went down there this year, I just buried my brother who lived in a company town owned by U.S. Steel just outside Birmingham. I know my brother couldn't be caught buying in town or they would put him out of his house. He worked at the steel mill and he lived in a company house and he had to buy at the company store and the company provided a doctor and the company fixed the streets and the company came and repaired the tin roof on his house. The company did everything for you, so why should you worry? Why shouldn't you want this kind of bailout? 'You just go over there and get under a shade tree, get you a bottle of wine and a woman, that's all black folks want anyway. What more? What else could you possibly want?'
They haven't accused him of stealing money like they accuse most blacks. The only way to get him is to spend 50 million dollars to 100 million dollars to get a picture of him getting a little bit of crack. Is it right that he did it? No. It's not right that he did it. But is it worth to the American public what they are doing? No. What is more worthwhile is the $500 billion lost to the S&Ls, and you haven't spent as much to find those criminals as you have spent on this little unimportant mayor!
"Now, we are over here with Carl Officer. They have to come out in the paper and say 'We've got Joe Davis and we hope this is going to lead to Carl Officer.' Well, Joe Davis took a 30-year sentence. He probably shouldn't have gotten more than two or three. Then they get Kelvin Ellis. We know we got Carl Officer now. We're going to give him 40 years if he don't give us what we need to know about Carl.' C'mon, is that what you need to get rid of Carl Officer? (Actually, Ellis received a much shorter sentence).
"Why do you want Carl Officer out so bad? Are you that interested in these poor black folks down here; do you think we've got a black man that's really not for us? You know, frankly, I wasn't for Carl Officer in the first place; I was even Clyde Jordan's campaign manager in the last election. So I am not enamored with Carl Officer. But what's the big effort? Why this constant barrage of editorials? You know what they've done down here? They've turned all of us for him.
"There's not a man in East St. Louis that can beat Carl Officer today."
Bush said Officer says things in a flippant way that he doesn't mean, sometimes what amounts to private comments, and the press makes a big thing out of them.
"I went with Carl to a Catholic school probably 98 per cent black over in St. Louis. A college prep school. There must be 25-30 kids from East St. Louis that go over there. And there were some kids there that were questioning (City Attorney) Eric Vickers, they questioned me as superintendent of schools, they questioned (Mayor) Carl Officer. One little girl from East St. Louis said to Carl, 'Man, you're our mayor. We're over here in a school with most of these kids from St. Louis, and every day they're on us, everything that comes out in the paper that you say, they're on us. Everything about the city, they're on us. We defend our city, and we defend you, our mayor. Now, my question is, don't you think sometimes you could say some of the things you say in a different way, because you make it so hard on us to try to defend you sometimes?'
"I looked at that little girl, I couldn't believe that she had the tact and the delivery command to put it to him that way. And I thought 'I know that Carl is sharper than this. I hope he doesn't get angry with her and fire at her and try to make her look bad. I hope he doesn't do that.' But y'know, that father of his trained him much better than that. He looked at her and very calmly responded, 'Y'know, you're right. And y'know, I'm changing, I'm learning. When I became mayor I was 27, I'm 37 now. I've learned a lot. And I don't always mean what I say but I need to learn to think first.' Those kids just ate that up when he took that approach with them. They loved him for it. They loved him in the first place. hey identify with him."
Historically the state, with the exception of the Richard B. Ogilvie administration, has had an adversative relationship with the city, Bush charged. When the state came up with the interstate bridge plan, it asked the city to give it right of way right across the approach to the toll bridge the city owned, now called the Martin Luther King Bridge. The plan was to tie in the downtowns with all the interstates. How did that impact East St. Louis? It already was predicted that it would strip traffic off the Veterans Bridge, as it was then called, and that 20 years later the Poplar Street bridge would be so crowded the traffic would return to the Veterans Bridge. "But what was to happen to the bond payments in the meantime? They knew damn well there was no way East St. Louis could keep that bridge up with no tolls. No way. But when we defaulted on the bond issue, they called it bad management."
The state and county governments have worked in opposition to East St. Louis, Bush charges. He points to Gary Fears and Gene Graves, who gathered data while they were on the state payrolls. 'They could have chosen to say 'Let's have a major strategy that is going to put these resources right across the river from St. Louis."' Instead, Fears gathered the data from the state and sought to build a business campus in Collinsville at Illinois 157 and 1-70, including the present Holiday Inn with a state loan.
(Graves was with Community Progress in East St. Louis, on SIU's payroll, and became director of the Department of Economic Development under Gov. Otto Kerner. He spearheaded many Southwestern Illinois projects, including the Waterloo airport proposal, that would have benefited East St. Louis. Fears still has strong political ties, and we regard the location of the state office building housing the state police and highway departments, formerly in French Village in Fairview Heights, in Fears' development as more than happenstance.)
"Let me tell you something that happened while I was at City Hall," Bush continued. "We were putting together the application for the Jefferson Memorial expansion to the East St. Louis riverfront. (Carl Officer wanted to name it after the black woman who was Jefferson's mistress! The one he took with him everywhere. They were really shocked by that.) We put in applications for 100 acres on this side." State Sen. Sam Vadalabene came out with a proposal to build auditoriums on the campuses of colleges around the state and get the state to pay for one in Edwardsville. "I threw a monkey wrench in the damn thing. I sent to the legislature a resolution from the East St. Louis City Council saying that we would appropriate $250,000 from community development money to be the local share for the state to build an auditorium on the riverfront in East St. Louis. They weren't planning on putting in any money up there in Edwardsville. I wanted that auditorium built on the riverfront, I wanted it right next to the expansion. Put a tram across the river, people could ride over, there could be an amusement park, hotels. I was talking about an auditorium that would seat 20,000. If you have a method of transportation, rapid transit, 10 minutes across the river to downtown St. Louis, you could expand the kind of conventions St. Louis brings, use their facilities over there and the ones over here; then you are talking about major conventions you can't now handle. Now, where is the state in all this? Nowhere with us! That's what East St. Louis has been the victim of."
I told him about John Baricevic saying East St. Louis closed the doors on cooperation, refused to let the county trucks plow snow on the streets.
"Let me tell you one thing, that's bullshit! The county won't do what the county has a legal obligation to do. For example, go to county highway department and ask how many field trucks they have working. What is the mileage assigned to each one? What is the mileage approved to work in East St. Louis? How many miles of road do you actually take care of in East St. Louis? Nineteenth Street to Bond Avenue to Central Avenue is a county road put in to get the people out to Monsanto. I was out there when the street car barn was at 19th and Baker. There was a trestle over the railroad tracks. The streetcar went out Bond and turned on 19th Street, that was brick street. In 1936 the viaduct in 26th from Bond to Missouri was built as a WPA project.
"We lack cooperation? What is cooperation to them? Let the white folks come in and run it. They don't want to give anything to any black to run anything. Here is (School Board member Ed) Jucewicz raising hell about the football stadium. Ed runs 'the Boys Club, can't even make the financial report to keep the United Way money. Is he really for real about that? You got to be kidding." When bingo became legal, who got bingo? Bob Mays and Jucewicz were running it for the Boys Club.
"Clyde Jordan elected Jucewicz to the school board," Bush said. Clyde worked under Mayor Fields, learned the system. He set up a senior citizens organization and paid seven politicians $350 a month from federal revenue sharing funds to serve on the board. He gave the city money to buy motorcycles - his bodyguard was over the motorcycle patrol. And he gave Jucewicz revenue sharing money for the Boys Club. No reports were required. Now he's got Ed depending on that money. He runs Ed to take the place of Terry Jennings, a white with the Charles Merritts' faction. Jennings loses, and he has a token white on Clyde's payroll who votes aye to whatever Clyde puts up. Now he is arguing about the stadium, and he voted for everything plans called for, including the deletions. Jucewicz is a four-flushing phoney. You see him ride around with the Sunshine Van. It wasn't given him for a private use vehicle, that's what he uses it for, because he doesn't have a private vehicle. He's a white boy. If I was doing that, he would clobber me, like he tried to clobber me down there (on the school board).
Bush was fired as school superintendent after 11 months, which followed years as deputy and assistant. He bears no goodwill toward Jucewicz.
Turning our attention to housing: Why build more when there are homes boarded up all over the city?
"We always had too much public housing. We were sitting up here in 1960 with 23,000 housing units. About 5,500 for public housing. Now we are down to about 13,000 or little more housing units, with about 3,000 for public housing. Our problem with that is we've got too much public housing. We need to balance out public housing with private housing.
"When Clyde Jordan wanted to pass the school bond issue (which included $5 million for the stadium), he called a meeting of precinct committeemen. He told all precinct committeemen who lived in public housing areas that it would be OK to take the bond issue to their people to get passed because their people would not have to pay for it anyway. That's what happens when you are dependent on that level of public housing."
He said the city needs more available private housing Many should have been torn down that been saved, he said, and neighborhoods have deteriorated under the pressure of people who want to make a living with a beauty shop or repair shop in their homes. In a town where people are fighting for economic survival, it is hard to enforce city planning. "The pressure is to provide jobs for people who stay here. So we don't abide by the rules."
"This house was built in 1916, and would have gone by the way of the demolition act if I had not come in here and tuckpointed and tried to make it a house, and keep it up." Bush's home is a beautifully appointed and decorated two-story brick with a large pavilion out back used for neighborhood parties and barbecues.
"Taxes here were $1,100 and I wasn't getting homestead. Now they are $771. I paid $10,000 for it. In this little block, most people stayed, their kids grew up here; we're being recycled and grandchildren are taking over now. But we've allowed this town to be destroyed."
Looking at the future, even with a bailout act, Bush said "It is impossible for East St. Louis on its own to marshal all the forces together necessary to give new direction to East St. Louis finances. It's just too much for a town on its own. Who's going to do that?"
Bush said he is going to try to be available to help Carl in his next term as mayor. You can at least get his ear. "I helped him giving his state of the union address. One thing that came out was his olive branch, his willingness to sit and talk with people. I was one of the guys who insisted he go into negotiations with the state over the bailout bill. 'You sit down and share with the McPikes and Mattigans and governor's man, whatever. You sit there and you talk it out and you negotiate. Don't talk about caving in. What damn plan? Who do you owe? How much do you owe? When do you get the bill? People say you mismanage it. Challenge them to show you one damn thing you did that represented mismanagement. Challenge them. The Belleville News-Democrat said you mismanaged it, damn it, prove it.
... Ask them about the state teacher's retirement fund? Did the state mismanage in borrowing from it? When are they going to pay it back?'
"Under William Mason the people with control over the motor fuel taxes let the city buy the land for the State Community College, use MFT funds for streets, sidewalks, offstreet lighting for the college, and turn it over to the state (as the local share), then the state turns around and says you have misused the money.
"Oliver Hendricks was on the board aldermen when it was done.
"Some of this is a bunch of bullshit. Just because these people are white, you've got to tell them 'You're full of shit. Don't piss in my face and me it's raining. Let's call a spade a spade. Let's get with it and go on and talk from there.
... If you want to deal about guaranteeing paybacks, let's come up with a plan to guarantee paybacks. How are we going to get the revenue? You want us to let you have oversight to make nothing happens to hurt the payback. Earn your way for that, the way we do it in America. You hold the old carrot out there. You say you do so much and you follow this plan, we'll go further. In a year's time we'll review, and if you have followed this plan and we'll go further. Let's set all this this recovery of East St. Louis. Let's do it in stages.' I say, I'm for even for saying turn over whole board and mayor too, if they don't follow the plan. Thats what they are doing in fact...You can't give authority away, but that doesn't say can't contract it.
"We have got to say that we have a joint interest in this, all of us, not just East St. Louis, and we're all for working together, because there isn't anything you're going to do for East St. Louis that Belleville isn't going to get some benefits from I hear people like (State Rep. Ron) Stephens crying about state police down here in East St. Louis I'd like to get in the legislature and put in a bill that state police patrol no road except the state roads. You know what that would do to the rural areas of the state of Illinois? So why do they keep talking that bull shit as though nobody knows what the is going on in the State of Illinois. You know, they treat you like you're a complete dummy. And News-Democrat writes like everybody is damned dummy. Y'know?
"I just talked about how they came up on campus and built the whole damned auditorium. They built a city up there. Who brought SIU to this area?"
There were not enough high school graduates from this area going to college, people who needed college, and Delyte Morris proposed a commuting campus in this area. They met at Morrison School. East St. Louis School District 189 gave the college the old East St. Louis High School, and SIU began using the Shurtleff College in Alton. Bush says Delyte Morris' brother's real estate agency in Collinsville bought the Edwardsville campus and "SIU moved the hell out of East St. Louis.
"Everybody used East St. Louis, then went on their way and talked about those 'dumb SOB's down there. If they had any kind of sense... they won't accept cooperation.' Who up there has ever shown cooperation? Republicans or Democrats? They play games with black folks. They all get white on us.
"You take running for county offices. The Democrats run a black for an office, we run a black for office, Republicans run a white, the whites will all vote for Republicans and we'll lose it. Then they bring all the white folks to us and these black folks vote for them. But they tell us they can't elect a black. That's what they say to us, and they say it so convincingly. 'We have troubles trying to elect a black, you understand that don't you?' Hell no, I don't understand it. Why, you bring me the damned stupidist people in the world that happen to be white and tell me I'm supposed to be for them because they are white. I look at these folks like Danny Costello, came off the levee board, and they elect him state representative, make him sheriff, make him, everything. He's a white leader! I look at the white leaders up there, Republicans and Democrats, just look at 'em, then see somebody like John Baricevic come along, he's refreshing. He gets to be chairman of something, that's refreshing, it really is. I look forward to a lot of it. The white folks have been very disappointing. I remember when the Democrats ran a black for circuit court, his name was Miller. Republicans ran a white man, named (Ed) Whiting. And the Democrats voted for Whiting.
Turning to school affairs, Bush cited his accomplishments in his 11-month tenure as superintendent:
"I laid off 116 people, cut the payroll by over $3 million. I negotiated under fire a contract that I wasn't supposed to negotiate: I came out of it not with a one-year contract, which I was ordered to do, not with a two-year contract, which was beyond what I was ordered to do, but a three-year contract, one per cent the first year, and the same year get $4.5 million more money from the surcharge on state income tax.
"Any time you've got a bad fiscal situation control spending, increase revenue, and in the middle, keep control of what people are doing you have to have a plan and stay with it. There's no other way. Control your spending. That means cut down people, amount of money. Everything that is going to cost you money, control it. Get people off your payroll, get away from retirement funds, life insurance, hospitalization. Everything you can move away and get good service, give it to the private sector.
"I negotiated a bill to get them a state loan. I wanted to get this board tied to a plan they would have to keep up.
"We were given a figure of a $17 million debt which turned out not to be one to two million low. Part was in retirement fund money, which had been collected and deposited directly into the educational fund, rather than in the retirement fund and then borrowed. So there was no record of transfer. Some $3.7 million had been borrowed that way - actually levied illegally in local real estate taxes. The auditors had never caught it."
people; worst thing you can do. What he should have done was start remodeling buildings. We started hiring people, and that's what happened to the school board.
"In 1982 we had $10 million. From 1982 until now there was only one year we did not spend more than we took in. So the trend started with 1982. The auditor had to see it. The people on the school board had to see it, the state folks had to see it, the county superintendent was getting it; nobody said to these people What's going on, you keep doing this and you're going to run into trouble.' So finally we were out of money and had to start borrowing to make the 11th and 12th payment. The minute you start borrowing, you mortgage next year's money to cover this. I put that down as a liability. So that the year I went in there, I had $9 million we had to borrow to make the July and August payments.
"I wanted enough money to put that $9 million in place and I wanted to pay off the 11th and 12th the first year I get money, and money I get in August, use the next fiscal year. It was an argument that sold them. So when I came up and said I had a $6.1 million vendor debt, $3.7 million owed to retirement, $9.7 million, and I'm borrowing $9 million for two months, I'm looking at $18 million going toward $19 million worth of debt. I sat there and said the way out is to lower the cost, lower the number of people on payroll, cut down spending, borrow $9 million, use it to pay current debt. Give me four years and I'll pay out. That's what they are doing."