St. Louis County has lurched from rampant corruption under County Executive Steve Stenger to near stability upon his imprisonment then back to chaotic infighting during the pandemic and, now, progress-stalling, incessant political bickering. Anyone involved who tries to protest innocence or suggest that it’s the other side’s fault is being disingenuous at best. All helped create this mess, and once this political season is over, all must commit to a more businesslike approach to resolving their differences. The next county executive must lead the way.
Voters have a choice in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for county executive between a proven rabble-rouser in Jane Dueker and the far more sedate incumbent County Executive Sam Page. The choice is far from ideal. Both candidates offer strengths but also substantial amounts of baggage. Despite the many criticisms we’ve leveled at Page, he is the one most likely to heal rifts instead of deepening existing wounds, which is why we recommend him in the primary.
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Page should be concerned that he is being challenged from Dueker’s more conservative side of their party and that he is likely to face a serious challenge by Republican Shamed Dogan in the general election. There are clear signs that his progressive tendencies don’t match the mood of the electorate. Page must find better ways to connect with the county’s moderate middle.
Page, 57, an anesthesiologist, tries to blame a “pre-civil war” instigated by the radical right for the headaches that befell him after imposing well-justified mask mandates and restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic. But two Democrats on the County Council also have blocked his agenda for reasons rooted in efforts by Page and his council allies to use unlawful tactics to install a Page crony as council chair. Rita Heard Days was forced to fight in court to win her rightful place as chair. Page, not the radical right, spawned that fight, and it’s up to Page to make amends.
Dogan, a state representative, is Black like Days. He not only possesses the ability to lure independents and moderates from both parties to his side but also disaffected Black voters. The onus is on Page to fix what he helped break before the November general election.
Page keeps suffering enormous embarrassments because his senior staffers keep doing stupid things. He says he can’t police them 24 hours a day. True, but Page certainly hasn’t discouraged the hubris and cockiness that undergirds his appointees’ recklessness. He can, and must, do better to instill a sense of 24-hour-a-day professionalism from the top down.
Dueker is a tough, whip-smart attorney with a take-no-prisoners approach to any cause she takes on. Those traits, while admirable in some settings, could easily backfire in the give-and-take world of county politics. Where Page might apply a surgeon’s scalpel to fix a problem, we worry that Dueker’s instrument of choice would be something closer to a sledgehammer.
For more election information, visit stltoday.com/voterguide.