Louis G. Berra, who was a key assistant to one St. Louis mayor and a behind-the-scenes adviser to others, died of kidney cancer Wednesday (April 18, 2012) at his home in Crestwood. He was 68.
Mr. Berra also was president of Community Program Development Corp., a consulting firm on housing, development and other issues that he founded in 1977 after serving as the late Mayor John Poelker's top aide.
Mr. Berra grew up immersed in politics in the city's Hill neighborhood as the son of Louis "Midge" Berra, a longtime alderman and Democratic leader. Another relative was the late Paul Berra, once the St. Louis comptroller.
But he never ran for elective office himself, preferring to work out of the spotlight.
"He was a quintessential gentleman with an extraordinarily insightful political mind," said former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr.
During his first term in the early 1980s, Schoemehl recalled, advice from Mr. Berra helped him make major reductions in the city workforce without crippling the city's capacity to operate.
Mr. Berra also has advised Mayor Francis Slay, former Mayor Clarence Harmon and the late St. Louis County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall, all Democrats. He also worked across party lines. A prominent area Republican, Robert Baer, said Mr. Berra assisted him on strategic issues when he led the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District and Metro, the area transit agency.
At Metro, Baer said, Mr. Berra put him in touch "with different decision-makers and organizational groups" to build support for the successful campaign for a sales tax increase in St. Louis County in 2010.
Mr. Berra was a graduate of St. Louis University High School and earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in urban affairs from St. Louis University.
Before joining the mayor's office, he was deputy director of the agency that carried out the federal government's Model Cities program.
The funeral will be private. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. May 12 at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, 5130 Wilson Avenue.
Among the survivors are his wife, Barbara Berra; six daughters, Natalie Spence of Sunset Hills, Laurie Berra of Rock Hill, Karen Berra of Boca Raton, Fla., Lydia Berra of Crestwood, Connie Berra of Creve Coeur and Tina Berra of Crestwood; a sister, Rose Marie Bianchi of St. Louis; and seven grandchildren.