|First appearance||"Game Day" (episode 1.09)|
|Last appearance||"Transitions" (episode 5.04)|
|Created by||David Simon|
|Portrayed by||Robert F. Chew|
|Occupation||Drug kingpin/Appliance Store Operator|
|Relatives||Melvin "Cheese" Wagstaff (nephew)
Joseph "Proposition Joe" Stewart (often referred to as Prop Joe) is a fictional character on the HBO drama The Wire played by actor Robert F. Chew. Joe is an Eastside drug kingpin who preferred a peaceful solution to business disputes when possible. He was responsible for creating the lucrative New Day Co-Op with Stringer Bell, supplying much of Baltimore with heroin brought into the city by "The Greeks". Joe was a portly and amiable presence, but was often a match in wits for rival drug lords Avon Barksdale and Marlo Stanfield and was able to manipulate most situations to his advantage. His nickname stemmed from his trademark phrase "I've got a proposition for you," going back to his days on the school yard selling test answers. He has the distinction, along with Omar Little, Bubbles, Poot Carr and Wee-Bey Brice, of being one of the few characters from the drug trade to appear in every season and the only drug kingpin to do so.
Joe first appears at an annual basketball game, the Eastside Projects' team versus the Westside Projects. Joe plays on Avon Barksdale's pride, goading him into doubling their wager on the outcome, then bringing in a ringer at the last minute to win the game. That same day, he is visited by stick-up-man Omar Little, who gives Joe some of the Barksdale Organization's stolen narcotics in exchange for Barksdale's pager number. Omar uses the information in an unsuccessful attempt on Barksdale's life but Joe's role in Omar's attack is never revealed to Barksdale. Joe later serves as a neutral go-between, organizing a meeting between Barksdale's business partner Stringer Bell and Omar to discuss a truce.
In season two, Joe's role is expanded, and it is revealed that Joe relies on the Greek's smuggling ring to supply him with heroin through the Baltimore ports. Joe says that he still has to source his cocaine from New York as the Greeks only deal in heroin. Joe accommodates Nick Sobotka at the request of Sergei "Serge" Malatov to resolve a dispute over a bad drug deal between Ziggy Sobotka and Joe's nephew and lieutenant Calvin "Cheese" Wagstaff. Out of respect to Malatov, Joe resolves the dispute in Nick's favour by compensating him for Ziggy's destroyed car (minus the amount owed to Cheese), but warns him to stay away in the future.
Joe's heroin supply is the purest in Baltimore, but he lacks the territory to maximize profits. Due to Avon Barksdale's arrest, the Barksdale Organization is cut off from their Dominican suppliers and is forced to sell weaker heroin. Joe offers Stringer Bell a portion of his product in exchange for the right to deal drugs in some of the Barksdale-controlled towers. Barksdale vehemently rejects the idea, but Bell secretly agrees and Cheese's crew moves into what was previously Barksdale territory. Barksdale is unaware of Bell's move and brings in Brother Mouzone to protect the towers. Mouzone confronts Cheese and wounds him with a non-fatal gunshot. Joe fears Mouzone's reputation and knows it would be a mistake to attack him directly. Joe sets up a meeting between Bell and Omar Little, and Bell tricks Omar into shooting Mouzone. This elaborate deception achieves the shared goals of Joe and Bell: it drives Mouzone back to New York and forces Barksdale to grudgingly agree to the drugs-for-territory exchange with arch-rival Joe.
Joe insulates himself against police investigation by maintaining a strict policy of only meeting face to face. His nephew "Drac" is targeted as a potential inroad for an investigation by Lieutenant Cedric Daniels' major crimes unit, due to his propensity to talk business over the phone. Daniels' unit arrests Joe's lieutenant Lavelle Mann in an undercover bust operation, hoping that Drac would be promoted to replace him. However Joe chooses someone more reliable, thwarting the unit's efforts inadvertently. Daniels tips his hand when he arrests Cheese, believing that he had him on tape discussing a murder. Cheese realizes that the tape is of him talking about shooting his pet dog, and the police are forced to release him. He reports the incident to Joe who, now forewarned about the investigation, passes the information on to Stringer Bell. The unit moves their investigation away from Joe and onto the more violent Kintel Williamson when they fail to make further progress.
Joe extends the sharing of his supply to many other drug dealers in Baltimore, forming the New Day Co-Op with Bell, Ricardo "Fat-Face Rick" Hendrix and Kintell Williamson, among others. He supplies all of these drug dealers with his package, and they receive a discount for the bulk buying; they also agree to avoid bringing unnecessary police attention by limiting violence. As a result, Williamson stops killing people, and the police begin investigating a brewing turf war between Avon Barksdale and up-and-coming Marlo Stanfield.
Joe and the rest of the Co-Op object to the police attention the war creates, as it interferes with their business. Joe meets with Stanfield's advisor Vinson to try to negotiate a settlement, but Stanfield is unwilling to back out of the war, believing that Barksdale is weak. Joe gives Bell an ultimatum - end the war or he will be thrown out of the Co-Op. The ultimatum is defused when Bell is murdered, and Barksdale is arrested, leaving Joe with complete control of the Co-Op.
Joe recruits former Barksdale Organization soldier Slim Charles as his lieutenant to supply the independent dealers that have arisen to replace the Barksdale organization in Western Baltimore. However, problems arise; Marlo Stanfield has taken control of much of the Barksdales' prime territory, and the New York drug organizations are taking over territory in Eastern Baltimore. The Co-Op votes to negotiate with Stanfield and recruit him to strike back against the New York drug dealers.
Joe contacts Stanfield, who turns down his first offer. Joe manipulates Omar Little again, inducing him to rob a card game which Stanfield attends, by pretending that he wanted to make amends for his involvement in the Stringer Bell/Brother Mouzone incident. After Omar robs the card game, Joe offers Stanfield another meeting and claims he could protect him against such surprises in the future. Joe also explains that he has contacts within the Baltimore police department and courts. Joe routinely shares information about police activity with other Co-Op members. Although much of his information is actually public record, Joe is also aware of the case against Kintel Williamson that was suspended and inconclusive. Stanfield agrees to work with the Co-Op. With Stanfield's help, the New York dealers are driven out of Baltimore. Joe also offers Stanfield advice on how to deal with a police surveillance camera, discovers the identity of the unit investigating Stanfield and tries to encourage Stanfield's transition into being less violent and more business-minded.
Stanfield frames Omar for murder and plans to have him killed while in prison. Omar escapes the charges and plots revenge on Stanfield. Omar forces Joe (at gunpoint) to agree to betray Stanfield, but Omar ultimately double-crosses Joe and steals an entire Co-Op shipment as it is delivered. The Co-Op decides that Joe should cover the expense of replacing it, and Joe threatens to cut them off from his supplier, forcing them to back down. Omar returns to sell the shipment back to Joe for 20 cents on the dollar; Joe, ever the opportunist, informs the Co-Op that the price is 30 cents on the dollar, allowing Joe to recoup some of the losses from the theft.
Stanfield is perturbed by the robbery and suspects that Cheese, who was responsible for collecting the shipment, was involved. To protect his nephew Joe is forced to reveal his suppliers' identity and arrange for Stanfield to meet with Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos. At the end of the season, Joe and the rest of the New Day Co-Op resume business as usual, but have put a bounty on Omar's head.
The fifth season opens over a year later. Joe's advice has allowed Marlo Stanfield to successfully avoid prosecution despite an ongoing major case unit investigation. Joe finds that he is losing territory in the redevelopment and gentrification of Eastern Baltimore and proposes a division of new territory in Baltimore County to compensate the East side drug dealers. Stanfield objects and then sows the seed of dissent in Joe's organization by suggesting that Joe should allow Joe's lieutenants to manage the new territory.
Stanfield approaches Joe for assistance with money laundering and obtaining literally clean bills. Joe claims that he is happy to help and puts Stanfield in touch with several of his contacts. Joe uses a pastor with charitable organizations abroad to launder money - he makes "donations" to the charity and then receives 90% of his funds back as cashier's checks. Joe introduces Stanfield to a pastor who can provide the same service. But privately Joe describes "civilizing" Stanfield as an ongoing uphill struggle. Stanfield is concerned about having his money in foreign banks and Joe helps him to obtain a passport to visit the bank. Stanfield also requests clean bills from Joe and is accommodated. Joe is unaware that Stanfield is using the money to pay tribute to The Greek and is plotting to usurp his supply connection. Stanfield also hopes to get revenge on the now retired Omar Little while Joe is happy to have escaped further involvement. Stanfield offers a bounty on anyone connected to Omar but Joe does not reveal Omar's connection to Butchie. However, Cheese betrays Joe for the reward and Stanfield has his enforcers murder Butchie.
Joe fears reprisal from Omar and decides to leave town. He arranges for Slim Charles to watch Cheese closely as he suspects his betrayal. Joe arranges flowers for Butchie's funeral both as a gesture to his friend and to signal to Omar his innocence in the murder. Cheese has created a feud with Co-Op kingpin Hungry Man over the new county territory and Joe publicly reprimands his nephew. Stanfield gets the agreement of The Greek that he will consider him an insurance policy if Joe is unable to continue to handle their supply. Stanfield then seizes on Cheese's feud with Hungry Man to convince him to betray Joe. Cheese gives Joe up as he is packing to leave town. Stanfield corners Joe in his home, and Joe correctly guesses that Cheese betrayed him. Stanfield rejects Joe's final proposition of disappearing quietly, and has Chris Partlow shoot Joe while he watches.
Actor Robert F. Chew appeared in David Simon's previous series Homicide: Life on the Street, in the three part episode "Blood Ties", playing Wilkie Collins, a drug kingpin who hates violence. Collins provides the police with key information about which drug dealer was shooting at them so that the police would not interfere with his business. Collins and his wife are subsequently murdered by the Mahoney drug cartel for his betrayal. His young son witnesses their deaths and helps the police arrest their murderer. Chew also had a small role in Simon's HBO mini-series The Corner in which he played a shoe salesman.
- "Org Chart - The Street". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-25.
- "Character profile - Proposition Joe Stewart". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-08-05.
- Joe Chappelle (2008-01-06). "More with Less". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 1. HBO.
- "The Wire episode guide - episode 51 More with Less". HBO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
- Scott and Joy Kecken (2008-01-20). "Not for Attribution". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 3. HBO.
- "The Wire episode guide - episode 53 Not for Attribution". HBO. 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
- Dan Attias (2008-01-27). "Transitions". The Wire. Season 5. Episode 4. HBO.