For some, politics doesn’t end at the grave.
An effort to oust St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas has taken a pointed turn, with a former aide accusing him of being anti-Muslim and unfairly targeting a Bosnian cemetery.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Trakas, a Republican, calls the charge “an absolute falsehood” aimed at getting signatures on a recall petition being circulated by Democrats to get him out of office.
The anti-Muslim charge could carry weight because the district that Trakas represents, the 6th District in south St. Louis County, includes a large contingent of Bosnian Muslims.
The allegations against Trakas are being levied by Carmen Wilkerson, who was his administrative assistant until he fired her in May. Wilkerson makes the allegations in a letter being circulated by some workers collecting recall signatures. It is addressed “to my Muslim neighbors.”
Wilkerson also recounted the allegations in an interview.
“It was my mistake to not know more about (Trakas) before I took his job offer,” said Wilkerson, a former mayor of St. George who describes herself as a political “independent” and a “liberal with a libertarian streak.”
Wilkerson said that shortly after she began working for Trakas in January, he told her to investigate the Cemetery of Bosnian Islamic Center of St. Louis, 9940 South Broadway near Jefferson Barracks. Trakas told her that he had heard complaints that bodies at the Muslim cemetery were not being interred deep enough and that dogs were digging up bones and scattering them in nearby yards, she said.
“He told me the place was ‘a mess’ and that I should go take pictures of it so that I could ‘find some laws they’re breaking,’” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson said she found no reports of any bones being scavenged from the cemetery. Trakas readily confirms that he had asked Wilkerson to research the cemetery, but said he did nothing more than “exercise due diligence.”
He said he first heard of the matter from the area’s state representative, fellow Republican Cloria Brown, who told him she had received a complaint.
“And then I got a call, maybe two,” about the cemetery, Trakas said, adding that he then drove by the site.
“What I noticed was that the manner of burial was not typical. It was different — not good, bad or otherwise, just different. So I asked (Wilkerson) to get me the applicable ordinances,” Trakas said.
Once it was determined that no ordinances were being violated, Trakas said, “I let the matter drop.”
But Wilkerson alleges that after she researched the cemetery and found no violations, Trakas told her to “keep looking until” she found some. She also says that when she was researching Muslim burial practices, she asked if Trakas wanted to meet with a Muslim funeral director.
“Ernie said, ‘No, I’m not meeting with any Muslims,’” Wilkerson quoted Trakas as saying.
Trakas said he does not recall that Wilkerson ever offered to set up a meeting, and said he simply considered the cemetery issue to be settled.
“I’ve met with imams and I’ve attended meetings at the (Nur) mosque on Reavis” Barracks Road, Trakas said. He added: “The notion that I am anti-Muslim is anathema.”
And the claim that he told Wilkerson to keep looking for a violation until she found something?
“That, sir, is an absolute falsehood, and I categorically deny it,” he said. “Just more lies to besmirch me.”
Wilkerson countered that Trakas’ response does not surprise her. She stands by her claims. “I have independent recollection of things happening exactly like I told you,” she said.
Teresa Douglas, president of the Concord-Lemay Republican Club and a Trakas supporter during last year’s campaign, said she’s never heard him make any comments denigrating Muslims.
“I’m not aware of any statements Ernie made that were anti-Muslim,” she said. “A lot of Republicans worked hard to get him elected, and we like the work he’s done for the 6th District.”
He replaced Kevin O’Leary, a Democrat.
Trakas said that the recall effort was using “nonresidents” to collect signatures, his statement said.
Trakas said the recall-effort workers are not above using deceptive tactics, and he claims they tell people they are signing a petition supporting the use of medical marijuana and then are being given a recall petition.
“It shows just how low some people will stoop to get a signature,” Trakas said. “Let’s face it, when you’re paid for every signature you obtain, there probably isn’t much you wouldn’t say or do.”
To be sure, Democratic operatives want Trakas out of the seat, one that they captured from the GOP in 2008.
The recall effort, dubbed “Voices of District 6,” is managed by Garrett Webb, a Democratic political campaign consultant from Indiana who now lives in St. Louis.
Webb said his consulting company has rules that don’t allow them to carry two types of petitions at the same time.
As to Trakas’ charge that workers are switching petitions, Webb said, “I’m confident that our petitioners haven’t done that.”
Webb said the recall effort needs to garner about 15,000 signatures. He declined to say how many signatures the group has secured, only saying he was confident the required number would be reached.
If the recall effort gets the required number of verified signatures, an election would be held within 90 days to decide whether Trakas retains or vacates his seat. If voters unseat Trakas, another election would be held — and Trakas could run again.
Hired despite differences
Wilkerson said she met Trakas when he was a lawyer and she was a paralegal at the Mickes O’Toole law firm, although she said she never worked directly for him there.
Because she wanted to get back into politics, Wilkerson said she accepted Trakas’ job offer, even though she conceded that “our political philosophies did not line up.”
Wilkerson said she and Trakas discussed her political beliefs in detail before she was hired, and that he knew she was not a member of the Republican Party and supported several traditionally liberal positions.
But she said she believes Trakas hired her because of her knowledge of the Lemay and Affton areas, which are in the northern part of the district. Trakas lives in Oakville, which is in the southern section.
The recall effort against Trakas also contains more standard constituent complaints, with some complaining about slow economic development and zoning delays created by Trakas.
Another claim made by Wilkerson in her letter, which Trakas also denies, is that Trakas directed her to research a house in the 2300 block of Telegraph Road, a conspicuous structure because of its looming, castle-like architecture and ornamental iron fencing, spires and gargoyles.
Wilkerson said Trakas told her he believed the house was owned by a Muslim. “He told me to find out if the house violated any ordinances,” she said.
“Then he told me that the Quran instructs Muslims to build the largest house in the community, so that neighbors will know they will rule over them some day,” Wilkerson said.
Trakas denied Wilkerson’s claims in regard to the house as well, and said, “How would I even know that?”
Trakas said he could not recall any discussion with Wilkerson about the house, “or even having much of a thought about it, other than it’s awfully big.”
(The 8,000-square-foot house was built in 2011 by the owner, Kevin Kulich, a 1976 graduate of Lindbergh High School who works in the steel and pipe business. He said he is not Muslim.)
Trakas characterized Wilkerson’s allegations as “lies to get them to sign the (recall) petition. This is all being made up out of whole cloth.”