State Rep. Rick Stream, the Republican nominee for St. Louis County executive, says that county Prosecutor Bob McCulloch should think seriously about whether he should remain in charge of an investigation into the Ferguson police shooting last month that set off weeks of unrest.
“I’m not calling on him to step aside,” Stream said in an interview. “But I do think, if a quarter of the population in the county has no confidence in your ability to do an impartial investigation, that’s something that should be seriously considered by the prosecutor. That’s his decision.”
Stream added that he strongly believes that special prosecutors should be appointed to handle cases of police shootings that kill somebody. He acknowledged that state law likely would need to be changed to include such a requirement.
Stream, a state representative who currently heads the House Budget Committee, says his cordial relationships with many state House members could help get such a law passed.
As it stands, only a judge can name a special prosecutor to replace McCulloch, unless he voluntarily steps down. Gov. Jay Nixon, a fellow Democrat, declined to replace McCulloch during the few weeks when Nixon had emergency powers in the region.
Republicans optimistic about Stream's chances
Stream’s comments reflect his campaign’s heightened effort to woo African-American voters who traditionally vote Democratic. He plans to open a campaign office in Normandy shortly. And he’s portraying himself as the candidate who can “heal St. Louis County.”
Such initiatives are aimed at defeating the Democratic nominee, Steve Stenger, who scored a huge victory in the August primary over County Executive Charlie Dooley. Stenger was helped by a strong endorsement from McCulloch.
But McCulloch’s support has been causing Stenger political problems since the Aug. 9 police shooting in Ferguson that killed teenager Michael Brown. McCulloch's office is now presenting evidence to the county’s grand jury investigation into the shooting. Some fellow Democrats have called on Stenger to disavow McCulloch or join their call for a special prosecutor.
Stenger has maintained that he’s sticking by McCulloch. But Stenger also has emphasized that he had proposed an economic development plan for north St. Louis County earlier this summer, well before any proposals by Stream. Stenger also has been quietly talking with the area's African-American politicians and pastors, allies have said.
Stenger's campaign said in a brief statement Monday: "We're confident voters in St. Louis County will not vote for Rep. Stream after they are reminded he voted to reduce the minimum wage while passing tax cuts for the wealthy, voted to restrict access to voting for citizens, and voted to cut Head Start for our children."
Meanwhile, Stream has been up front that he believes that the "political schism'' between county Democrats could help his campaign, especially if Republican voters come out strongly on Nov. 4.
At the opening of his Creve Coeur campaign office over the weekend, Stream contended that fellow Republican Bill Corrigan, the GOP nominee in 2010, might have defeated Dooley if more Republicans had turned out.
Republican activists say they believe Stream has a serious shot of winning the county executive post, despite the county's Democratic leanings, if overall Democratic turnout is low and African-American voters are split.
African-American activists increase pressure on Stenger
Some north county mayors and legislators announced last week that they were forming a new political group, although most emphasized that they were not endorsing Stream.
However, on Monday, a group of community activists declared that they are launching a campaign to ensure that Stenger does not get elected in November because of his ties to McCulloch.
“To continually put in front of the public the callous and moral bankruptcy of Bob McCulloch, when you have such a large percentage of people asking him to step down from that case, that’s just a slap in the face of the people,” said Zaki Baruti of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition. “We’re going to keep reminding people of that slap in the face.”
The move comes after Baruti’s group unsuccessfully called on Stenger last week to sever ties with McCulloch and to pressure the prosecutor to step down as head of the investigation. Baruti says his group now is telling voters, particularly black voters, to cast their ballots for any of Stenger’s three opponents in the Nov. 4 election.
"Because of his close ties with Bob McCulloch, we say that he needs to be punished for not doing what is morally right,” Baruti said. "We cannot continue as a people…voting for a particular political party that does not respond to our issues in an appropriate way. That's what we are calling for … a voter rebellion at the ballot box for not voting for Stenger.”