Baricevic will seek solutions,
but they may bypass Mayor Officer
The likelihood of the election of John Baricevic as St. Clair County Board chairman and the reelection of Carl Officer as mayor of East St. Louis in 1991 could spell some rocky roads ahead unless unprecedented accord is reached.
Baricevic, state's attorney and likely St. Clair County Board chairman after November, 1990, is not looking forward to working with Carl Officer on East St. Louis problems, calling him a liar. But Ile says that upon his election he will wipe the slate clean and offer the hand of cooperation as long as it is met in kind.
If they are not, Baricevic said he will seek solutions around the obstacles, because "it is critical that all of us take on the problems of East St. Louis.
"We can't pull it, it is impossible to remove East St. Louis from our county, so we've got to improve East St. Louis and the quality of life and the government services, and that's not just 'we' St. Clair County government, that's 'we' churches, businesses, everybody pulling together to help our fellow man.
"If you don't do it from an eleemosynary point of view, the worst bigot in the county ought to want to improve it just from a selfish point of view. That person's property values are going to decrease, his tax are rates going to go up, the quality of life of his neighbors and friends is going to go down. Absolutely it is critical that all of us take on the problems of East St. Louis."
Baricevic lists the problems as unresponsive and irresponsible local government, poor police protection, limited fire protection, little public service - streets, sewers, lighting. Parallel with that, an effective school system. Baricevic says to put them all at the top of the list.
And one of the problems is that government itself is "legally constructing a ghetto; because of the corporate limits of the city we are forcing poverty in on itself and it is just multiplying."
Baricevic referred to separate housing authorities, election mechanics, health districts, grants departments, taxing districts, Real estate taxes - a rate of more than $20 per $100 assessed valuation and that on a tax base for the whole city less than that of St. Clair Square - are a major problem.
"There are a lot of problems the black community inherited. There was deficit spending, a lot of other things, and I have never blamed all the problems on Carl Officer.
"Take the problem of housing where the federal government will not allow one to tear down a housing unit, you have to replace it, which is one reason why the units remain unimproved and vacant Improving the units or adding units is only going to increase the percentage of people living on poverty in the city.
"They pay no taxes, the housing authority pays no taxes. How is Carl Officer supposed to supply services where one third of his community pays no taxes?
"How are we to solve that? We are two different housing authorities, the East St. Louis Housing Authority and the St. Clair County Housing Authority. For anyone to suggest that we ought to absorb the East St. Louis Housing Authority would be met with cries of racism. But I think that is one step. We ought to be one housing authority."
And Baricevic thinks there should be one county health authority, and one election board, and one grants authority. Baricevic said that if the city were part of the county grants department, through savings in administration costs it could receive more money for city improvements. But he thinks any call for such mergers would bring cries of racism.
(Interestingly, Mayor Carl Officer in his interview complained about the cost to the city of having its own separate districts, including the election and health authorities - not the grant authority - and Officer would have the county take over the city's parks. He also complained about the administration of the housing authority, which was taken away from the city by the federal government because of mismanagement.)
Baricevic blames the state and federal government for part of the lack of credibility of the local government because they have not required the audits they legally can. He says the state comptroller, who happens to be black (William Burris), has refused to call for the audits that be has the authority to order. He said the federal government is owed nine or ten million dollars in federal tax dollars, but it won't give Sen. Paul Simon the records.
"They won't respond to my requests," Baricevic said. "They will not attempt to collect it. Until this office started filing some actions on the misuse of motor fuel tax money, nobody in government took any action. Nobody in government has forced the City of East St. Louis to be responsible, to audit--it's not just East St. Louis's fault..."
Baricevic spoke reflectively, pausing to gather thoughts, beginning positively, finishing his train of thoughts skeptically:
"I see East St. Louis as a city with a lot of potential. I think we tend to ignore the positive a lot, and there are lots of positives in East St. Louis. A lot of people have a lot of pride in the community i and a lot to work with, but in my opinion we have systematically taken away resources. 'We' are a lot of people, a lot of agencies, a lot of organizations, a lot of governments ... been taking away resources, taking away assets, prohibiting the development, and that 'we' includes the city and its leaders - it's been a very destructive process that actually is prohibiting development and there has been an insidious inbreeding so that the slide of government, the decline of the city, has been progressing in geometric proportions, becoming more difficult to stop.
"So I guess I see it as a place that can improve, that can grow, but unless a lot of people choose to really care, it could continue to simply be a legally constructed ghetto where there will be no hope, and no good government, and no police protection, and I don't know that I am as optimistic as you are about it changing."
The decline of East St. Louis has included a population decline. Much of the public housing even stands empty. Some Orr-Weathers high rise buildings are boarded up. Turnkey housing units, for whatever reason, are boarded. Some public housing units appear to never have been completed and now are fire-ravaged, vandalized.
"You and I have lived through the white flight, and now (the city) is experiencing black flight," Baricevic said. "I am very anxious to see the 1990 statistics, see what it actually turns out to be. I'll be surprised if it is over 40,000 people. Certainly the population will decline. Where it will settle I don't know. With such a large geographic area, it could decline to 25,000 people, something of that magnitude."
The decline of East St. Louis is eroding the tax base of the county as a whole, while it increases its expenses.
On the positive side, Baricevic joins such black leaders as Sen. Kenneth Hall in having hope that the governor's "bailout" plan will bring the fiscal controls that can in turn begin to restore fiscal responsibility in city government.
"I am an advocate of the governor's bailout plan. We have the means to solve the problem and maybe the difference is the governor's bailout plan has strings attached, not to run the city, but to require responsible audited government.
"Why did the motor fuel tax problem go on for 20 years? If the state would have stopped them from misspending the money when it was a thousand dollars, and said look, do this and this and this, the problem would never have got there. When they misspend the federal dollars, take the problem away from them. Now, I am as critical of the federal government and the state government. The feds did take away the East St. Louis, Housing Authority. It is the only housing authority in the nation taken away from a unit of local government. Finally there is good response there. Yes, there still are a lot of problems, but they have the state police in, they have rehabbed some units, these are all factors that other people have to control.
"There are lots of problems outside the City of East St. Louis that have helped to create and perpetuate the problem. So it is a white problem, some of the problems are white generated, some are
"Baricevic at this Point seemed to realize that he as falling into the mental trap of equating East Louis as "black" and everything else as "white." He continued "You know, government isn't really black and white, a comptroller who will do nothing is black. There are a lot of white officials who could do things and who have not."
Baricevic was asked about the view of some blacks, mainly those political leaders who were never part of the political system in East St. Louis when it was dominated by whites, that there is
Baricevic called this a self-defeating attitude. He said there are many young black leaders willing to work with white leaders for the benefit of the city. "There certainly is a group of new young black leaders that don't fit that category, but there are some that do ... those who scream racism for their own particular benefit. If they can't get what they want, it is a racist attack. They don't care about the city, they don't care about anybody but themselves and they are using it [racism charges] to keep themselves at the top of the list. There is another group that sincerely believe that [the white conspiracy theory]. I put [State Rep.] Wyvetter Younge in that group. I believe that Wyvetter sincerely believes that scenario.
"It is such an outlandish scenario that anybody with any desire to sit down and work with the system, or against the system, cannot construct any set of facts to show how that could happen. It is pure ignorance leading the blind, and Wyvetter Young is a very well-meaning individual only hurting her city by passing that out.
"Wyvetter wants gifts and nothing else... It is people like that who really hurt the city. But I absolutely do not challenge Wyvetter's integrity--I don't think she has ever stolen a dime from the City of East St. Louis. She wants to help the city. She truly cares about people.
"Wyvetter has brought people to my office and complained that we are not doing anything about crime. Wyvetter then brings another group of people to my office and complains that we are putting too many blacks in jail. She has stood right here, with other leaders from East St. Louis, and argued two different things to me: I prosecute too many black people, so I must be racist. The next week, figuratively, they come back with another group and complain that I am racist because I don't care about black victims of crime. None of it makes any sense. No matter what I do, to some group of leaders in East St. Louis, I'm racist. The same leader will be on both sides of the issue, and I have not figured out how to solve that problem."
Recalling his football playing days, "There's an old football saying, 'You find solutions.' I am not going to try to change Wyvetter's mind, or to convince her that she is wrong. I am going to go out and try to find solutions. I am going to do what I can to get problems solved, and I am not going to worry about Wyvetter's or Carl Officer's or anybody else's opinions except the voters.
"You have to look for solutions, and if you continue like Wyvetter and Carl Officer to blame other people for problems, you are not going to get anything done. I am not going to blame Carl or Wyvetter for the problems of East St. Louis or the problems I might be having. I think we need to ask leaders in St. Clair County to find solutions. If somebody is causing a problem, then we've got to find a solution to get around that particular problem.
"Everybody wants to point a finger. Let's not point blame, lets get solutions done. Now, as state's attorney, I don't do anything without pointing a finger, When I file an action, I name a defendant. So I guess I could be accused of doing the same thing, but that's in a professional capacity and my main goal, I hope in retrospect, is to get a problem solved."
As county board chairman, a post Baricevic anticipates, "my focus will be dramatically different by definition. As a legislative and executive leader, I'll have to encourage working together to solve problems. Although I will not relish it very much, I will have to work with Carl Officer or whoever is the elected official of East St. Louis."
Baricevic said he thinks county government historically has not allowed blacks to rise to department head levels. "I have trial attorneys that are black, (County Clerk Janice) Delaney's chief administrator is black, (Sheriff Mearl) Justus' guy who runs the jail is black, but they have stopped there. We have to let blacks rise to a public position where the black voters know they can look to a black in a position of responsibility.
"It's a lot easier for my office to try a case if there is a racial defense, and have a black lawyer prosecute the case. We try to keep blacks on our juries. We want to let black America have a say in how the county is run. I think we have done it, but we need to do a better job of it.
"We have to overcome a lot of negative publicity
and encourage St. Clair and Madison counties to become a part of the metropolitan area, and get St. Louis looking east instead of west. Jerry (Costello) started it; before Jerry there was not much of an East Side presence. We were on all the boards but nobody went to East-West Gateway and those things. It mostly is just hard work convincing people to work together.
"Most of the solutions we could work on with East St. Louis would require them to acknowledge that we have to work together so I can open the door and attempt to work with them, but if East St. Louis does not want to accept some responsibility, it won't happen.
"For instance, we can take a quarter million dollars off their budget by running the elections, but that won't happen unless it is voted on by the citizens of East St. Louis. They would have to want to give it back to us, dissolve their electoral board. It would be an added burden of St. Clair County but we would do it, I would be for doing that. But in spite of that, there are things I would be for.
"We probably could absorb all their grants (work) without any addition to our personnel, and in essence take the portion of money they spend for overhead and put it back into the City of East St. Louis. But that would require one of two things, the federal government forcibly taking it away from them, or them voluntarily giving it to us. I'm not asking for it. A number of people would interpret that comment to me and say I am trying to take over East St. Louis.
"The amount of public services available to the city are not exorbitant. That's another problem with some of the community leaders down there, they think we have the authority to pick up their trash and police their streets, and we don't. They don't understand that."
On a broader plane:
"You know, America is changing. There is not a community in St. Clair County - there might be a subdivision, but there is not a community in St. Clair County that does not have a substantial taxpaying black population. A significant number of blacks live outside the city limits of East St. Louis in what East St. Louis would like to say is white America. Those black people are getting police protection. Those black people are getting government services. Not that there is no racism in St. Clair County.
"If East St. Louis wants to label Mascoutah as white government, they are still providing services to black people. I think that (attitude) is one of the problems we want to work around, that is an example of East St. Louisans, in my opinion, trying to isolate themselves for their particular benefit. They are not the only blacks in St. Clair County anymore. After the next census returns, I'll bet (they'll show) there are more blacks outside the city limits of East St. Louis than inside. But we have an obligation to solve problems for all citizens. If we can solve them for blacks outside East St. Louis, we ought to be able to solve them for blacks inside East St. Louis.
'We've got enough problems with racism without us trying to have different classes of black people.
"There's another example of 'I want it both ways, I want to be able to yell at whites and get things, I want to be able to blame whites.' In some cases they are right, there are bigots in our communities, but that [yelling] is self-defeating. We can't allow that to happen (from) the black leader that does it solely to perpetuate his own particular position, his self-interest."
Baricevic was asked about economic development in East St. Louis. His response:
"We have got to convince the leaders of East St. Louis and the leaders outside East St. Louis to work together for a common goal if we are going to get anywhere. Otherwise, if we are fragmented, nobody from outside St. Clair County is going to want to work with us. That will require some give by the leaders outside East St. Louis, but it also is going to require some give by the leaders inside the City of East St. Louis, and at this point the Carl Officer administration, the Wyvetter Younge candidacy, will not accept any give by the city of East St. Louis. Even if quid pro quo, we back off here, you back off there, we meet somewhere in the middle. That's not good.
"At this point they want us to come over to them. I will not throw tax dollars down that rat hole. But I do want to put a lid on that rat hole, because there are a lot of good citizens. I have a lot of friends living in the city. It is easy to say it's going to be hard to do, but we've got to get together and find solutions. So which problems am I going to address first? I don't know. "
But Baricevic sees accountability as the basis of any improvement. "A balanced budget with responsible accountability - the state government has the ability to make that happen. The state's attorney can prod, but it is primarily the responsibility of state government."
Is there a lack of commitment to solve the problems of East St. Louis?
"Where there has been commitment," Baricevic responds, "there has been from that same group of leaders a locking of doors. Carl Officer gets on KMOX and says that there are no black employees in the state's attorney's office in St. Clair County. That's a patent lie. He gave some figures,--eight per cent or so employees of St. Clair County were black, where it is 22 or 24 per cent.
"Carl wants to count only blacks from East St. Louis in those figures. If we hire blacks from O'Fallon, those are not black persons. When I filed an action against the City of East St. Louis to get sewers fixed to draw raw sewage out of the homes of Villa Griffin. Carl Officer labels that as a racist attack on the city and called me more racist than the regimes of South Africa. Well, I tried to get sewage out of black homes and away from black children - how is that racist? For the life of me I can't understand that. I know racism has to be viewed in the eyes of the person that it is directed at, and not by me, and I don't pretend to know what racism is, but it is those kind of things that prohibit people who attempt to help from staying involved."
Baricevic cited another example. He said that during the severe snow storm of 1983, when the area was snowed in for three or four days, Jerry Costello and county board chairman called Carl and said 'our major streets are clean, we'll send some truck to your city if you will tell us what streets you want plowed.' Carl Officer's response was 'If one of your trucks bit my city limits I will commandeer it and you'll never get it back.' His reason? It's his city and by God stay out of it.
"On one level we get criticized for trying to take over the city. Then we get criticized for not doing anything.
"To me it is obvious their tirades are simply designed to keep them in power and not to help their citizens, because we get criticized for being racist whether we do or not. If we try to help we're racist; if we don't, we're racist. This is not a label by everybody, but some leaders, and they shut doors for people trying to help the City of East St. Louis."
What is the crime situation in East St. Louis? How bad is the drug problem?
Drugs, according to Baricevic, are not syndicated. 'We have not as yet seen major ties to international drug dealing, the street gangs in Los Angeles. There is some of that, but our drug trade primarily is a retail drug trade at the street level. We have had a number of arrests with connections with Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis, and those are necessary for the drug trade to exist. But at this point we are not a Mafia or Los Angeles Street Gang outlet."
The Crips and the Bloods, despite poverty, are not in East St. Louis, at least, not yet. '"The Mississippi River is a major socioeconomic barrier. We have little crime connections with St. Louis for anything. We have had some Blood and Crips connections, but not to the point that St. Louis has. If something isn't done, eventually it will get to us, and I suspect it will get to us, but it's not here yet."
Mayor Officer has charged the county does not care about black crime victims and cites a case where a black man in Loisel Hills murdered his wife, also black, and is now free. Baricevic agreed "That was a travesty of justice. That person should have been in jail forever and ever and ever."
But he added "We were lucky to get what we did because the constitutional violation by the East St. Louis police department in taking the confession. If we had gone to trial we would have lost it and got nothin'."
Officer says the county will not prosecute drug dealers. Baricevic replies:
"He has yet to give me or anyone that I know of one name of a case that wasn't prosecuted except one -- we had two cases against the same individual -- we prosecuted the guy on another case and he is in the Department of Corrections; he's off the streets. There are five or six (East St. Louis Policeman) Lester Anderson cases I won't prosecute because I think Lester was not worthy of belief in the cases. Those are generally possession of 20, 30, 40 grams of drugs. They are not delivery cases, there was not one dealer involved.
"Outside of those few cases, Carl Officer will make that statement every opportunity he gets but he will not tell anybody the case, give me the name of a defendant who the police came up here and were turned down for a warrant, unless it is because of constitutional violation by the police department.
"Of the first 100 drug cases this year, only 15 were made by the City of East St. Louis. Yet we prosecuted 80 people in the black community. That's because white people care, other police departments, Illinois state police uniform division, Department of Criminal Investigation plain-clothes division, sheriff's department, metropolitan enforcement group, secretary of state's office, are all making drug cases in East St. Louis. Those are not all white cops. In fact most of them are black cops, but those are the same organizations the city wants to label as white."
What about the quality of the police department?
"They have both the best and the worst in St. Clair County," Baricevic said. "The police department cannot make a move without the mayor. Good police departments don't operate that way. I have tremendous faith in (Chief) Isadore Chambers. I think he's impeccably honest.
"I sued the city for making a criminal act for putting their cops in police cars with holes in the floor, with seats that go up and back when they want to. I'm trying to force good equipment on the police department so they can respond to calls. Carl calls that racist. Tell me what's more racist: trying to get a good police car under a policeman, or Carl perpetuating no services to blacks? Who's being more racist, Carl or me?
"We have a higher percent of criminal defendants who are black who commit crimes against blacks going to jail than anywhere else. We have more people going to jail from East St. Louis than anywhere else. We have more people going to jail, from St. Clair County than from anywhere but Cook. Carl Officer cannot ... it is impossible for him to show any consistent situation where I don't care about black criminals.
"I will not work with a liar, and Carl has been. I will not work with somebody who says one thing behind the scene, and something else to the media.
"For instance on light rail, Carl Officer was asked, invited and encouraged to attend every meeting on the development of light rail. When the light rail contract was awarded, on the riverfront, Carl got up and criticized it as a racist attack and said it was not going to get to the city because be was prohibited from having any input, when we bad begged him to get involved. I won't work with a person like that. You can't work with him because you can't trust him.
"If Carl Officer wants to be a man of his word, his honor, let him be aggressive, be tough for his city, fight for his citizens, not let people who are racist have any foothold into his community - I don't want somebody who is not going to aggressively support the interest of his community. But I've got to have somebody with integrity and honesty to work with.
I'll give everybody a chance, and whoever is the leader, whoever is voted in by the citizens of East St. Louis, I will work with until they convince me they are a liar and have no integrity. From December I will be putting on a different hat, and I will give Carl a chance and I hope Carl gives me a chance, and we start off fresh. It is up to us if we want to work together, but... it is a two way street."
Will he work politically for or against Officer in the East St. Louis 1991 election?
"I have never attempted to influence anybody's election except in Caseyville Township, where I am a citizen and pay taxes. But I never shut doors, you never know who's going to come around."
(Baricevic is being opposed for County Board chairman by Ted Farmer, who did not have time to talk with us as this book was being prepared in August. Although Farmer may do better against Baricevic than previous Republican candidates against the Democratic nominee, his election would be an upset. The News-Democrat reported Sept. 2 that Officer, Centreville Mayor Riley Owens and Washington Park Mayor Sylvester Jackson revealed they have been meeting to discuss supporting Farmer. Baricevic spit back that he did not want Officer's support, and cited a track record of caring about the problems of blacks. He said he has no respect for what Officer has done to East St. Louis.)