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Messenger: Taking care of his friends becomes a Steve Stenger signature

Messenger: Taking care of his friends becomes a Steve Stenger signature

The Crossings at Northwest, formerly Northwest Plaza,

The Crossings at Northwest in St. Ann, formerly known as Northwest Plaza, as seen on Monday, June 27, 2016. Photo by David Carson,

Say this for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger: He’s a giver.

The Democrat who sits atop the county government apparatus has figured out a basic rule of survivability in politics: Take care of your friends.

Among his friends — or so he told me back in November — are St. Louis developers David and Robert Glarner. We were talking about the Glarners several months ago because the brothers had funneled $50,000 in two campaign donations to Stenger through a limited liability company called Givco LLC.

I called Stenger to ask him about the donations, which sparked my attention because he had won his Democratic primary against former county executive Charlie Dooley by criticizing donations that were significantly smaller that Dooley received from developers.

As is common in Missouri campaign finance, the paper trail on Givco was hard to follow. It was not clear where the money came from. To his credit, Stenger fessed up. “They’re friends of mine,” Stenger told me. “They handed me the check. That’s how I know it was from them.”

The donations — now up to $75,000 — became much more relevant when the County Council was presented with a plan this month to move three county offices to the Crossings at Northwest, a Glarner development at the site of the former Northwest Plaza.

Back to November 2015 for a moment: That’s when Stenger told me that the Glarners had no business before the county that he was aware of.

But he told the St. Louis Business Journal this week that he got directly involved in the negotiations with the Glarners over the new county leases in late 2015. That’s around the time he received the second in a series of three $25,000 checks from the Glarners, and when he told me, “There’s nothing transactional,” about the checks from his developer friends.

The proposed 20-year lease could net the Glarners’ company up to $50 million.

That’s a pretty healthy transaction.

When it comes to leasing property from the county, who you know, and how much you’ve paid to their campaign accounts, matters.

The North County nonprofit Beyond Housing learned that the hard way right after Stenger was elected. Under the Dooley administration, Beyond Housing had contracted with the county to lease office space for a health clinic at a development in Pagedale conceived as a community revival project in a part of the county that needs all the help it can get.

But the nonprofit organization had a couple of things working against it. One of its board members was County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who campaigned against Stenger. And the nonprofit doesn’t make campaign donations.

In January 2015, in one of his first acts as county executive, Stenger orchestrated canceling plans for the health clinic. That lease would have cost the county $9 per square foot for seven years. The 20-year deal with the Glarners is for $12.98 per square foot.

The county eventually moved some Children’s Services Fund offices into the development.

In canceling the health clinic, Stenger criticized Erby for not disclosing that she was on the nonprofit board. He has a point. Of course, for that point to carry the day, Stenger would have also disclosed to the County Council his $75,000 in campaign donations from the Glarners. Maybe he figured since it had already been in the newspaper, that was good enough.

Back in November, when I asked the Glarners’ attorney why they formed Givco LLC, he told me that it was to be the vehicle for the development brothers to make their political and charitable contributions. Previously, the Glarners had given money to politicians under their own names or one or another of their various LLCs.

That sounded reasonable. People with lots of money come up with all sorts of reasons for why they do what they do. But, the explanation doesn’t offer much insight into why on March 31, each of the brothers gave $2,500 in political donations in their own names. The recipient of both donations was Sam Page, the Democratic county councilman who is sponsoring the legislation to sign the lease with the Glarners.

Maybe the brothers misplaced their Givco checkbook. Or they just changed their minds. Either way, their investments in St. Louis County Government appear to be ready to pay off.

It’s good to have friends.

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Related to this story

We know that St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger likes to help his friends. We saw an example of his loyalty in January when he wrote a federal judge to plead for leniency for a friend's nephew enmeshed in a criminal drug gang. That makes the most recent demonstration of his allegiance — in this case to political donors and friends who redeveloped Northwest Plaza — unsurprising. Still, it raises eyebrows.

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