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Government, Politics & Issues

With labor allies, Stenger to announce Tuesday that he's challenging Dooley

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 11, 2013 - St. Louis County Council member Steve Stenger, D-Affton, is expected to declare on Tuesday his plans to challenge St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a fellow Democrat, in 2014.

Stenger’s announcement isn’t unexpected; he has telegraphed his likely intentions for months. The real news is expected to be provided by his likely supporters, who are to join him at the kickoff.

Although Stenger isn’t commenting, sources say that he will be accompanied by area labor leaders and possibly St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch — who made news when he declared he wouldn’t back Dooley because of a series of controversies and scandals that have rocked his administration.

The region’s top union leaders, including Greater St. Louis Labor Council chief Bob Soutier, announced weeks ago that after years as solid allies, they would no longer back Dooley.

The aim of their appearance would be to show, at minimum, a split within Democratic ranks. The divide is largely prompted by the controversies:

  • The appointment of a county real estate official with a felony conviction for embezzling federal housing funds;
  • The hiring of a tax collector who owed back taxes;
  •  A $3.7 million crime lab contract that has drawn in the FBI.
  • Possible embezzlement of more than $1 million by a top administrator in the county health department, who directed county money to a company that he set up. The administrator committed suicide when his supervisor raised questions.

In office for a decade, Dooley has not been personally linked to any of the controversies, but he has taken some political hits.
Dooley has played down any political defections, saying that labor -- and McCulloch -- were never among his most active allies.

His backers already include St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, whose own re-election bid this spring was aided by Dooley's help.

County Assessor Jake Zimmerman, who also will be on the 2014 ballot, said this summer that he will back Dooley as well.  (However, some Democrats speculate that Zimmerman might reconsider if Dooley decides against seeking re-election.)

So far, the business community also seems to be on Dooley's side. Retired Washington University chancellor Bill Danforth and former McDonnell-Douglas Corp. chief John McDonnell cohosted an event Thursday night for Dooley.

Political activists are expected to play close attention to the next round of campaign-finance reports for Dooley and Stenger. They will be due Tuesday – the same day that Stenger is to launch his challenge.

(Update) Through spokeswoman Pat Washington, Dooley said Monday that he wasn't surprised by Stenger's decision. "At least the voters will have an opportunity to have a clear choice,'' he said.

Washington said that Dooley will have a more detailed statement after Stenger's formal announcement on Tuesday. (End update)

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