Harmon, Clarence 1940(?)–
Clarence Harmon 1940(?)–
Mayor of St. Louis
In April of 1997, Clarence Harmon became the second African American mayor of St. Louis. Harmon, who had previously served as the city’s chief of police, had never held elected office before. “As a boy growing up in St. Louis, the thought of one day standing before you as mayor-elect never occurred to me,” he said in his inaugural address which was published on the city of St. Louis’ web site. “… In those days, becoming mayor wasn’t a realistic dream.”
Harmon’s victory came after a bitter primary election campaign against Freeman Bosley Jr., the city’s first African American mayor. Bosley had the solid support of the African American community, including the city’s African American weekly paper and the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Meanwhile, Harmon had gained the support of many white voters, and Bosley, among others, branded him a traitor to his race. The election, like the campaign, was split along racial lines: most white voters cast their ballots for Harmon, while most African Americans supported Bosley. After his election as mayor, Harmon promised to put the bitter campaign behind him and heal the city’s wounds. “I want to begin by telling you that despite the challenges before us, I am hopeful about St. Louis,” he said in his inaugural address. “And I’m hopeful because of what I see as I look out among you. I see a St. Louis of people. People of all colors, of all cultures, of various ideologies. A St. Louis that belongs to no one group but to all of us.”
Harmon began his public service career in 1969 as an officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. During his 26 years on the force, he rose steadily through the ranks, receiving four letters of commendation for outstanding performance of duty. At the same time, Harmon took the time to pursue his goal of higher education. “When I was young, my parents taught me education was a gift not to be squandered,” he recalled later in a mayor’s office press release. “They told me that education cannot be taken away, and with an education you can achieve your dreams.”
Harmon began his studies at St. Louis Community College in Forest Park, where he did well enough to be inducted into the honor society Phi Theta Kappa in 1973. He completed his undergraduate education at Northeast Missouri State University, earning a bachelor of science degree. He continued his studies at Webster University, where he earned two master’s degrees: one in public administration, and one in criminal justice administration. Later in his career, Harmon was a Danforth Foundation Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
From 1988 to 1990, Harmon served as an area commander for the police department. During this time, he developed a community-oriented policing service program which was designed to involve the
At a Glance…
Born Clarence Harmon in St. Louis, MO; married to Janet Kelley-Harmon; children: four.Education: studied at St. Louis Community College; B.S., Northeastern Missouri State University; master’s degrees in criminal Justice administration and criminal Justice administration, Webster University; Danforth Foundation Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Politics: Democrat
Career: St. Louis Police Department, police officer, 1969-95; commander of area 1, 1988-90; secretary, Board of Police Commissioners, until 1991; chief of police, 1991-95;drrector of business development, United Van Lines, 1995-97; mayor of St. Louis, 1997-.
Awards: Four letters of commendation for performance of duty, St. Louis PoliceDepartment; Phi Theta Kappa Society, Most Distinguished Alumnus Award, 2000.
Member: International Association of Chiefs of Police; board of directors, American Association of Industrial Management, United Way, Missouri Botanical Garden, Fair St. Louis; board of trustees, Webster University and St. Louis Science Center.
Addresses: Home— St. Louis, MO. Office— Mayor, City of St. Louis, 1200 Market Street, City Hall, Room 200, St. Lours, MO 63103.
city’s citizens in crime prevention. He also served as secretary to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners. In 1991, Harmon became the first African American chief of police in the 130-year history of the police department. According to an unnamed writer in the New York Times, Harmon “was a popular chief who was considered to be effective fighting crime and challenging a department promotion system that depended on political connections.” In 1995, Harmon was named Police Chief of the Year by the Missouri Police Chiefs Association.
During his tenure as police chief, Harmon began to have disagreements with the city’s mayor, Freeman Bosley Jr. After just four years on the job, Harmon resigned and retired from the force. According to the New York Times, “a battle with Mayor Bosley over control of the department” convinced Harmon to tender his resignation. “The two men feuded for years,” John F. Harris wrote in the Washington Post.
From 1995 to 1997, Harmon was the director of business development for United Van Lines, a nationwide moving company. He also served as director of United Van Lines’ market research and analysis department. However, Harmon had grander plans for the rest of his career. In 1996, he announced that he planned to run for mayor.
In the previous election, Bosley had become the city’s first African American mayor. Harmon decided to challenge Bosley in the Democratic party’s primary. In heavily Democratic St. Louis, where a Republican mayor has not been elected since 1945, the winner of the primary is almost certain to win the mayoral election. In his campaign, Harmon stressed four areas he believed were crucial to the city’s future: education, neighborhood stabilization, job creation and crime. He faulted Bosley for the fact that large companies, such as Ralston Purina, were considering leaving the city. At the same time, St. Louis’ only public hospital was on the verge of closing, because the city had failed to pay its share of the hospital’s budget.
The campaign soon descended into ugly racial allegations, which spread far beyond St. Louis: both the New York Times and the British magazine the Economist ran articles about the dispute. “Only in a city as racially divided as St. Louis could a political contest between two blacks take on a racial tone,” wrote an unnamed writer in the Economist. While Harmon had captured the respect and support of white voters in the city, many African Americans regarded him with suspicion. The local branch of the NAACP claimed that during Harmon’s term as police chief, white officers were routinely treated better than African Americans. The St. Louis American, a weekly African American paper, called Harmon “a more subdued, palatable candidate, propped up by business and white voters.” According to an article in the Economist, Harmon was “older, more articulate and with a professional demeanor…a Colin Powell figure—or an Uncle Tom, depending on your point of view.”
The Democratic primary, which was held in March of 1997, drew 100,000 of the city’s 204,000 voters. When the ballots were counted, Harmon won 56 percent of the vote, while Bosley captured 43 percent. Support for each candidate was clearly split along racial lines: 94 percent of white voters voted for Harmon, 83 percent of African Americans supported Bosley. While the population of St. Louis is roughly half African American and half white, higher voter turnouts in white districts had carried the day. According to an article in the Economist, “The upset victory of Clarence Harmon over Freeman Bosley, the incumbent, for the Democratic nomination for mayor marked one of the sharpest divisions in the city’s troubled history.”
In the mayoral election the following month, Harmon easily defeated two white candidates to become St. Louis’ second African American mayor. Harmon captured 73 percent of the vote, while Marit Clark, a Democratic alderwoman running as an independent, won 22 percent, and Jay Dearing, a Republican, won 5 percent. Not everyone perceived the mayoral election to be a low point in the city’s race relations. Ken Warren, a political scientist at St. Louis University, told the New York Times that the election proved white voters were beginning to transcend racial divisions. “They could have voted for Clark or Dearing, but they didn’t,” Warren was quoted as saying. “So clearly this demonstrates that St. Louisans did not vote on racial lines like they usually have in the past.”
Since his election, Harmon has fought hard to keep businesses in St. Louis. He was able to convince Middendorf Meats, Union-Pacific, Bissinger Candies, and Ralston Purina—businesses that had considered leaving St. Louis—to remain in the city. Before Harmon took office, the number of jobs in the city was declining. However, during his first two years in office, he managed to reverse that trend.
Harmon has also spearheaded the revitalization of St. Louis’ downtown, with plans for a new convention center hotel, transportation hub, and bridge. He has worked with developers to turn abandoned buildings into loft condominiums and rental units, while encouraging the construction of new housing.
Increased gun control is another of Harmon’s long-term goals. In March of 2000, he announced that the city had reached a settlement with gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson, in which the company agreed to make a safer product and change its distribution practices. “After years fighting for safer gun laws, this is an historic moment that means a lot to me personally,” Harmon was quoted as saying in a press release.
In his April 2000 “State of the City” address, Harmon listed many of his other accomplishments in the revitalization of St. Louis. These included building three new public schools, offering tax credits for preserving historic buildings, and replacing high-rise public housing with mixed-income neighborhoods. “Viewing it objectively, I believe it would be a fair characterization to say our city is recovering from a long illness, gaining strength each day,” Harmon said in a speech published on the city’s web site. “… We showed a disillusioned and disengaged citizenry that government is responsive and change is possible.”
Chicago Tribune, Mar. 3, 1997; Mar. 5, 1997.
Economist, Mar. 8, 1997.
New York Times, Mar. 10, 1997; Apr. 3, 1997.
Washington Post, Apr. 6, 1997.
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