After weeks of resisting debates, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is now calling for a debate with his Democratic rivals just days before the Aug. 5 primary.
In a release sent out Friday afternoon, the Dooley campaign called for a debate for the morning of July 31 or Aug. 1 – a Thursday or Friday – that would include County Councilman Steve Stenger and the other Democrat who has filed, Ronald E. Levy.
(Levy has not returned repeated calls from St. Louis Public Radio. He previously has run for office as a Democrat and as a Republican.)
Dooley’s challenge offered no details about place, format or who would moderate.
Dooley's spokeswoman Linda Goldstein said the new proposal was unrelated to Dooley’s agreement a week ago to participate in a session proposed by St. Louis Public Radio and cosponsored by the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Details are still being discussed.
Dooley earlier had said he wouldn’t agree to a debate until Stenger released more details about his taxes. Months ago, Dooley had made public 10 years of his federal and state taxes, and Stenger had followed with copies of his federal taxes for six years.
Last week, Stenger provided copies of his state taxes for those years as well. He has said he couldn’t release information for taxes prior to 2007 because they involved the finances of his ex-wife. Dooley contends that Stenger has been making excuses to avoid providing more details about his finances.
Stenger's spokesman Ed Rhode questioned the sincerity of Dooley’s latest debate challenge, which also referred to their dispute over taxes.
“We’ve already agreed to debates proposed by five different media outlets,’’ Rhode said, adding that Dooley has rejected most of them or has yet to fully commit. “We don’t think Mr. Dooley is serious about debating.”
Stenger, who has sought debates for months, Tweeted a photo Friday of all the debates that he has accepted.
The latest back-and-forth over debates comes as the two campaigns have been sparring over Stenger's TV attack ad featuring County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who backs Stenger. Dooley’s campaign had sent a cease-and-desist letter to various TV stations calling for the ad to be taken off the air because of alleged inaccuracies.
Among other things, Dooley has said that the ad improperly implies that he personally has been a subject of an FBI investigation. The ad highlights three FBI probes into controversies involving county government.
At the TV stations’ request, the Stenger campaign has added his photograph to the ad to make clear that Stenger is responsible for the content. Stenger spokesman Rhode said the ad will continue to air until the Aug. 5 primary.