Jeff was a National Merit Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in Black Studies and Political Science. He received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and taught political science at Washington University and Dartmouth College. Jeff – whose courses covered elections, public policy, urban politics, race and immigration, and the legislative process – received the Washington University Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence. His former students played major roles in President Obama’s campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida.
In 2004, Jeff ran for the congressional seat vacated by Dick Gephardt, losing narrowly to Rep. Russ Carnahan. His youth-powered grass-roots campaign, chronicled in the award-winning film Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?, stressed face-to-face voter contact; Jeff canvassed every night and held 93 coffees in the district. “Mr. Smith” was reviewed favorably in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and short-listed for an Academy Award.
Urban education is Jeff’s passion. In 2000, he co-founded the Confluence Academies, a group of inner-city charter schools, and served on the Missouri Charter Public School Association Board of Directors. As a senator, Jeff visited 50 public schools, both as a guest and a substitute teacher. For years, Jeff taught ACT prep courses to disadvantaged high school athletes, helping most earn scores above the threshold that would have disqualified them from NCAA sports and cost them scholarship offers.
Jeff has dedicated much of his life to bridging racial divides, especially through sports. He coached basketball teams and camps for 15 years, in addition to coaching youth soccer and baseball. He has served on the board of directors of St. Louis Scores, which brings sports and poetry to urban youth, the National Conference for Community and Justice, which fights bigotry and racism, and Cultural Leadership, which exposes black and Jewish youth to inter-cultural experiences. As a senator, Jeff’s held an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament/health fair, which attracted several thousand attendees.
During Jeff’s tenure in the Senate, he was recognized as the Senate’s leading voice on urban school reform. He sponsored and passed several pieces of major education legislation, including the Missouri Teaching Fellows program, which offers college loan forgiveness for top-flight students who agree to teach in disadvantaged areas after graduating. Jeff was a strong advocate for conservation, helping pass a Green Sales Tax holiday and higher energy efficiency standards for state buildings. Jeff was a champion for non-custodial fathers, sponsoring and passing significant bills to transform the state’s child-support system and assist fathers struggling to pay child support. Finally, Jeff led the negotiations that saved the Historic Preservation Tax Credit, which revitalizes inner-city neighborhoods.
For this work, Jeff was named a rising star by St. Louis Magazine, Alive Magazine, and the Riverfront Times, and he received several legislative and community service awards, including:
- Lewis & Clark Statesman Award – Regional Chamber & Growth Association, 2007, 2009
- St. Louis Business Journal Legislative Award, 2007, 2009
- Green Leader Award – Missouri Votes Conservation, 2008
- Missouri Bar Legislative Award, 2008
- Freshman of the Year – Missouri Chamber of Commerce, 2007
- Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club’s Bill Maritz Memorial Award, 2007
In late 2009, Jeff pled guilty to charges stemming from his attempt to conceal a 2004 campaign finance violation and resigned from the state Senate. He served eight months in the federal prison in Manchester, Kentucky, where he worked on a warehouse loading dock.