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Stream Jabs Stenger In First TV Ad Of County Executive Contest

Rick Stream
Parth Shah | St. Louis Public Radio

State Rep. Rick Stream, the Republican nominee for St. Louis County executive, has fired off the first TV ad of the general election campaign.

And a chunk of  the 30-second spot is an attack against Democrat Steve Stenger, who currently sits on the County Council.

Using a campaign's first ad to attack one's opponent is not typical. But that's also the tactic that Stenger used successfully this summer in his primary contest  against incumbent Democrat Charlie Dooley. Stenger handily defeated him on Aug. 5.

Stream asserts in the ad that electing Stenger would be no different than retaining Dooley. It would be tantamount to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

The ad attempts to portray Stenger as an establishment figure in line with Dooley, rather than a renegade at odds with the county executive for much of the last two years. The spot also attempts to tie Stenger to the same "corruption'' allegations that Stenger had directed at Dooley.

Stream portrays himself, meanwhile, as a conciliatory figure who could bring about real change and would “reach across party lines to build consensus.”

That would likely be mandatory since the seven-member council is dominated by Democrats, 5-2, and that’s not expected to change.

A closer look at the ad’s assertions

The ad states that Stenger has “voted with Dooley more than 98 percent of the time.”

In fact, Dooley doesn’t vote on issues before the council. Rather, like a governor, he can indicate support or veto a measure. 

The “98 percent” presumably refers to all the measures that the council passed, with Stenger’s support, and which Dooley did not veto. In fact, the bipartisan council usually votes unanimously – or close to it – on most issues. And Dooley, like his predecessors, rarely vetoes.

The ad contends that Stenger has backed all of Dooley’s budgets, but Dooley had to change the budget for 2012 when Stenger and other council members in late 2011 balked at proposed cuts in the county’s parks department.

Stream also says in the ad that he would work to improve education. The county executive has no say in school district operations. Stream said in an interview that he planned to use his expertise as a former school board member and veteran legislator to use the county executive bully pulpit to take public stands on education in hopes of influencing the debate.

The ad also cites federal labor statistics that show the county has lost close roughly 59,000 jobs between June 2000 and July 2014. Stenger has been on the council only since 2009, and Dooley has been in charge since late 2003.

Stenger’s campaign declined comment Tuesday about the ad.  Meanwhile, Stream's campaign manager Michael Hafner signaled that more attacks are likely.

Hafner took a verbal jab in a news release at Stenger’s status as a trial lawyer and asserted that the Democrat “has gotten wealthy filing frivolous lawsuits against businesses.”  That accusation isn’t in Stream’s first ad but very well may appear in a future one.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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