Despite her huge primary victory on Tuesday, former St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter says she recognizes that the next step toward regaining her job is likely to be a lot tougher.
“The worst is ahead of me,’’ Carpenter said in a telephone interview Friday.
But even so, Carpenter dismissed any talk that she would drop her efforts to return to the office that she had held for almost 34 years.
“There are no deals,’’ she said, referring to speculation that Mayor Francis Slay – a one-time ally – had offered some sort of arrangement for her to drop out as a candidate, in favor of current Recorder of Deeds Jennifer Florida, a fellow Democrat who has filed as an independent candidate on the November ballot.
As it stands, Carpenter will face Florida and Republican Erik Shelquist on Nov. 4.
Florida said in an interview Friday, "I do have the support of the mayor."
Carpenter, 72, said that she and the mayor haven’t talked since July 9, two days before she was forced to step down because she had violated a state law on nepotism. Carpenter had hired a great-nephew to work in the office for three summers, at a total cost of $12,000.
On July 11, Carpenter stepped down. By the following Monday, Florida had been appointed by the mayor to serve out the remaining months of Carpenter’s term.
Carpenter admits that she unintentionally violated that law, which pertains to relatives down to the “fourth degree,” but she denies any other wrongdoing.
Even so, she says the city counselor’s office – apparently at the mayor’s behest – is investigating her records to see if anything else can be uncovered that could keep her out of office or force her off the ballot.
“The mayor is pretty invested in this,’’ said Carpenter, who decades ago had been his babysitter. She and Slay both hail from the 23rd Ward, where Carpenter is still the Democratic committeewoman and where Slay's late father served decades as the committeeman.
Slay had endorsed Carpenter in the Democratic primary, but it's widely believed that he'll publicly switch his allegiance to Florida for the November election.
Carpenter says she's grateful for all the Democratic officials and voters who have stuck with her; on Tuesday, she won 62.8 percent of the Democratic vote.
But now, Carpenter fears that allies of Slay and Florida believe that the only way to force her out of the picture and block her return to office is “to ruin my reputation" with additional accusations.
One possible target, she said, could be her office's technology fund, also known as the "recorders fund,'' which is bankrolled with a surcharge placed on all document-filings (such as deeds and marriage licenses). Then-Secretary of State Roy Blunt championed the fund back in the 1980s, as a way to help local clerks and others raise money for document preservation and equipment improvements.
Carpenter said her office's technology fund has generated enough money so that "the city (general fund) hasn't paid for a piece of equipment in the recorder of deeds' office'' for at least 30 years.
Florida said that she is shifting the fund to the state treasurer's office, as required under state law, although how the monies are spent will remain the jurisdiction of the recorder of deeds.
Florida said she also has asked the city counselor's office to review the procurement process of the recorder of deeds office, so that contract bids and awards are handled properly.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis and a frequent Slay ally, has asked for a state audit of the recorder of deeds' office. The target is clearly Carpenter's tenure.
Meanwhile, Carpenter is believed to have reached out to some Democrats not in the Slay camp -- notably, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
In any case, Carpenter says she's committed to completing her own goals for the office. To do that, she needs to return, she added. "I'm going to run a campaign and I'm going to remain positive."