Francis Touchette

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Touchette Talks About 'We' and 'Them' but Sees Jobs as Key to City Rejuvenation


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It's obvious that the problems of East St. Louis have not been the principal concerns of Francis Touchette, aging Centreville and St. Clair County Democratic party political boss and successor to Jerry Costello as St. Clair County Board chairman. He's the last of the oldtime bosses who wielded power in the Alvin Fields era of East St. Louis. He was a Fields opponent and ran a distant second in power as long as Fields held the reins as mayor, and moved to the forefront of county politics when Fields dropped those reins. On the one hand, as Touchette talks about "we" and "them", equating East St. Louis with its largely black population, and "we" with the whites, he says the only thing we owe them is concern about their hunger and health, those things we as Americans don't think anybody should have to do without. He said he gives tens of thousands of dollars in food to the poor from his charitable trust, set up with leftover "Profits" in his political fund.

On the other hand, he sympathizes with the plight of black East St. Louisans hooked on dope, with no jobs, nothing to do, no future.

"What is the Devil's workshop? - Christ, I sound like a preacher. It's an idle mind. I don't know, if we don't got a goddamn thing to do, and I say this in a lot of my speeches ... I don't know if I were one of them and didn't have no place to go or no future or nothin', I wouldn't be one of them too. I honestly feel that way.

"I have people beg me to get a job, and I say shit, you can't work, you're loaded with that stuff [drugs]. They say 'Yeh, I know Mr. Touchette, I wants to get off.' Now how sincere they are, I don't know. But I do believe there would be a chance to rehabilitate them."

On the one hand, regarding East St. Louis' future, "I don't think anybody has got an answer what to do about East St. Louis. I think it'll peter itself out. The answer might be don't do anything at all."

He estimates the population of East St. Louis today at under 40,000. Many buildings are gone. You can see the blacks sitting on the lawns on West Main Street in Belleville.

On the other hand, he sees Scott Air Force Base joint use, Metro Link light rail, and the expansion of the Jefferson Memorial if it is done with a giant cooperative effort of government and . business, providing some of the jobs that are vital to any turnaround in East St. Louis.

On the one hand, he says somebody will "take a f---ing" on riverboat gambling in East St. Louis. "I just can't see people coming from other parts of the country, putting up that kind of plant (boat and dock) and making money out of it. I can see people gambling, but what are they going to come to East St. Louis for? Not just to gamble. There ain't nothin' here to see. Shit, they can go to Vegas, they can go to other states. There ain't nothing to see here when you come to East St. Louis. There's legalized whores in Las Vegas, there are lots of clubs, decent clubs, a lot of things to see there. Here what would you go see besides shoot craps?

"They're gonna have a helluva time just because of the City of East St. Louis itself. People are scared to go down to the damn place."

On the other hand, less than a week later he urged the St. Clair County Board to support a riverboat gambling license for Vincent Sauget in the Village of Sauget, which adjoins East St. Louis on the south. The Belleville News-Democrat quoted him in its June 26, 1990 edition "Whether the county passes this or not, there is going to be riverfront gambling in Sauget. I can't disclose all I'd like to about that at this point, but I think we should vote for this."

"This" was to let nightclub operator Vincent Sauget detach to the county part of the village on the riverfront so Sauget Properties' gambling boat corporation, Arch-View, Inc. could apply for a gambling boat license in the county's jurisdiction, since the Village of Sauget was not large enough to qualify. The County Board voted 28-7 to notify the state that it supported Arch-View's application despite opposition from the East St. Louis black board members, several outer county members and the county sheriff. (The question became moot when the state eliminated the size requirement to allow Sauget to apply.)

Touchette has thought about the problems of East St. Louis, and says that jobs are critical to any recovery. He has his own plan for East St. Louis and all other depressed cities; it is to put up factories and train people to work in them, give them incentives and profit sharing, let them join unions, wear hard hats and pay income taxes. He sees this as far preferable to dumping welfare money into the city, especially without accountability, "thousands of millions of dollars."

You couldn't spend too much money this way, he said. Giving poor people jobs, a way up, a way out would curb crime, save countless dollars in police protection, crime losses, court and prison costs. "We can't keep operating the way we are because our prisons are all full."

The plants could manufacture goods needed and even given away abroad, if necessary, so as not to compete with private enterprise. That would have to be worked out. Right now, he suggests, recycling plastic might be a possibility, in keeping with current environmental concerns.

Behind the plants would come schools and help for people to get off drugs. Right now, "I don't think the federal government is interested in putting anything down there any more because of the way it has been handled."

Touchette said he has talked about his factory plan with Adlai Stevenson when he was senator, to Sen. Alan J. Dixon and Sen. Paul Simon. "I must be wrong in my theory because I've never been able to get it though."

(Touchette said he wishes he had had the education to be a lawyer. His language may be crude, but he is shrewd and should never be underestimated.)

Francis Touchette cites health reasons for not seeking re-election as St. Clair County Board chairman. Ironically, as he retires the Supreme Court has issued a decision that political patronage is a civil rights violation, ending a practice on which he and many other political leaders built their power bases.

While patronage still has been practiced in East St. Louis, only the school district has enough jobs available to be of importance. The buying of votes through jobs has been limited by the city's destitute finances.

Touchette thought Carl Officer would be reelected mayor for a fourth term because there was no viable opponent with the backbone to run.


(Sen. Simon wrote a book in 1986 "Let's Put America Back to Work" in which he cites the frustrations of the jobless in case histories in support for a plan for "guaranteed job opportunities for everyone who wants to work." It doesn't propose government make-work industries, but it defines the problem and suggests remedies, which like those from Touchette, have not been tried.)




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