Chalana Oliver reaches out to community for Jake Zimmerman

Chalana Oliver will never forget the day she learned she would be sworn into the Missouri Bar.

Oliver, the political director for state Rep. Jake Zimmerman’s campaign for St. Louis County Assessor, recalls reading her name from an online list on April 31, 2010.

“I collapsed on the floor and started bawling,” she said. “Everything I fought for. Folks who said I couldn’t do it along the way. My grandparents telling me I could do anything. All of that culminated. My mom picked me up and said she was proud of me.”

Oliver, a proud graduate of Hazelwood Central High School in North St. Louis County, said the memory still brings tears to her eyes. She graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich.

Since January, Oliver has put all her energy into getting Zimmerman, 36, elected as County Assessor, a position that residents voted in August to make an elected post. Zimmerman’s Republican opponent is L.K. “Chip” Wood, 56, the chairman of the L.K. Wood real estate company.

The election is Tuesday, April 5.

Oliver stands by Zimmerman, she said, because it would be an insult to her and her community not to fight for what’s right.

“I’ve always tried to stand up for folks who didn’t have a voice,” she said. “That basic core ideal is driving me every day. I am determined to stay in it for the right reasons. It’s easy to get off track. That’s why I surround myself with people and mentors who have the same ideals as I do.”

The Assessor’s Office is responsible for locating all taxable properties and establishing value for the properties. In August, St. Louis County citizens voted to elect their assessor because they were upset that property values have been fluctuating so much over the past few years, Oliver said. The appointed County Assessor’s Office has been accused of performing negligent “drive-by” appraisals of residential properties and hiking up the valuation.

“In reality, no one is excited about paying property tax,” Oliver said. “But if they felt they were over-assessed, their phone calls were not being answered. A lot of folks walked away feeling like they didn’t get a fair shake. That’s the whole crux of our campaign: to give the fairest assessment.”

Zimmerman, who represents the 83rd District in the state House, graduated from Harvard Law School.  He served as deputy chief legal counsel to former Missouri Governor Bob Holden and as assistant attorney general under Jay Nixon. Zimmerman said Oliver’s path reminds him of his own because he also worked on a Democratic campaign just out of law school.

“It didn’t take much time working with Chalana to understand that she is immensely talented,” he said. “Having someone like Chalana on the team – someone who can reach out to mayors and educators – that’s what we need more of in this office. She acts as an open set of arms to the public within all segments of the community.”

Zimmerman has the support of U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, County Executive Charlie A. Dooley, the St. Louis Clergy Coalition state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and large number of African-American elected officials at the state and municipal level in St. Louis County.

Oliver said though this race will affect African-American neighborhoods, the voter turnout in April elections is often low.

“A lot of folks feel like they don’t have a voice and voting is one of the main things you can do to make your voice heard,” Oliver said. “African Americans tend to feel they don’t have a part of the political process, but we have the right that others fought and died for.”