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Voters on April 7 will resolve dozens of local contests, issues

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(via Flickr/lowjumpingfrog)
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A touch-screen voting machine. Most voters in St. Louis County are expected to use the touch-screen machines in tomorrow's municipal elections.

What if you held an election and hardly anyone showed up?

That’s often been the case for the region’s April elections, when contests for local offices – from mayors to school board members – are on the ballot.

Turnouts of less than 15 percent aren’t unusual, even though the results often have more of an impact on people’s lives than many higher-profile contests.

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said over 900 candidates are running for local area offices this spring. There also are dozens of ballot proposals-- some to raise taxes and others to expand municipal boundaries.

"These elections will affect the taxes you pay, the rules you follow in your town,'' Robertson said.

He blames the traditional low turnouts, in part, on the campaigns themselves -- and news outlets. "These elections that matter so much, have much, much less publicity," he said. "There's much less money going to media, to campaigning for these offices. So there's less of an overall effort to get out the vote region-wide."

Still, the St. Louis League of Women Voters has high hopes for the coming April 7 election. “We have had great crowds at all of our forums,’’ said Pat Jones, the league’s forum coordinator.

Two of the region’s cities – St. Charles and Florissant – have competitive contests for mayor.  Several other intriguing mayoral races are in Jennings, which has five contenders; Black Jack, which has four candidates; and Brentwood, which has three vying for the city’s top job.

But St. Louis County’s marquee contest on April 7 is in its southeast area, where residents in the county’s 6th District will select a new county council member to replace Democrat Steve Stenger, who was elected last fall as the new county executive.

For information about complete ballots and polling places, contact the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners and the St. Charles County Election Authority.

Stakes high in St. Louis County's 6th District

The district consists primarily of unincorporated south St. Louis County, spanning much of Gravois Road east to the Mississippi River.  Since most of that area is not within any municipality, the county councilman had power and responsibility over development and public safety.

Three candidates – Democrat Kevin O’Leary, Republican Tony Pousosa and Constitutional Party contender Cindy Redburn – are running to serve out the rest of Stenger’s term on the council, which runs through 2016.

As of right now, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger effectively has a five-person coalition on the St. Louis County Council — including its two Republican members.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
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The St. Louis County Council currently has one seat vacant.

Politically, the 6th District is considered swing territory. Stenger’s predecessor, for example, was a Republican who, in turn, had ousted a Democrat.

As a result, the county GOP sees the 6th District special election as a key opportunity to pick up a seat – which would give Republicans three seats on the seven-member council.

Stenger currently gets along well with Republican councilmen Mark Harder of Ballwin and Colleen Wasinger of Town and Country, but a third GOP member on the council could complicate Stenger’s ability to move controversial measures through the council. That would be especially true if Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City and a frequent Stenger critic, sides with the Republicans on some issues – giving them a majority.

The Republican 6th District candidate, Tony Pousosa,  is a Green Park alderman who unsuccessfully ran against Stenger in 2012.  Pousosa lost a bid for county executive last summer when he was defeated in the Republican primary by Rick Stream.

Pousosa’s top issue for years has been his opposition to any merger or reunification of St. Louis County with St. Louis. His slogan, “Stop the Merger,” is all over his campaign materials.

Pousosa also has long criticized the county council for being too insular. He’s called for placing fiscal notes on bills and holding town hall meetings to solicit public input on hot-button legislation.

“People know my character and that I will put up a fight no matter who the other opponent is," Pousosa said earlier this year. "I will call on all residents of south county to look at who they want to be their representation. Do they want to have their voice heard? I think that’s the direction that we need to go.”

Meanwhile, Democrat Kevin O’Leary is a relative newcomer to local politics. For years, he owned a bar called O’Leary’s with actor John Goodman, a south county native. Goodman donated $25,000 to O’Leary’s county council bid soon after the St. Louis County Democratic Party tapped him as the nominee.

O’Leary said in an interview that he decided to run because “it was time to give back to the community.” He stressed that he wants business development to be more streamlined and his office to be more communicative with residents.

“All the things that are important to the folks out here and in the rest of the district are the same things that are important to me,” said O’Leary, an Oakville resident who grew up in Affton. “I’m out here to listen to the people. That’s what they’re paying me for, so that’s what I intend to do. Without trying to simplify it, I’m going to be out here and I’m going to have to earn their respect. You don’t just get respect.” 

St. CharlesCounty

St. Charles city Mayor Sally Faith, a former Republican legislator, ousted a Republican incumbent four years ago. Now she’s facing a former member of the city council, Mike Klinghammer, a fellow Republican who has spent the last few years on the St. Charles County Council. All the citywide offices in St. Charles are nonpartisan.

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Sally Faith

Faith’s slogan – “Promises Made, Promises Kept” – reflects her focus on her record.  She points to efforts to create jobs, improve government “transparency’’ and promote public safety. Among other things, Faith cites new businesses, her regular newsletters to residents and her cost-cutting efforts – such as early-retirement incentives – to address the city’s declining revenue.

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Mike Klinghammer

Klinghammer is highlighting his years on the city council and his work to improve the city’s roads and infrastructure, including the construction of a new fire station.  He also is promising to focus on job creation.

For a high-profile mayoral race, the Faith-Klinghammer contest is noticeably low-budget. Her last report showed Faith had raised just over $43,000.  Klinghammer reported raising just over $30,000.

Elsewhere in St. Charles County, other noteworthy ballot measures include several boundary expansion proposals sought by St. Peters and Lake St. Louis.

St. Louis County

Residents in 15 county municipalities will resolve competitive mayoral contests, including a five-way battle in Jennings. Nearby Black Jack has four contenders, and the mid-county community of Brentwood has three candidates for the city’s top jobs.

"Unopposed" will win the 2015 municipal elections in St. Louis County.
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"Unopposed" will win the 2015 municipal elections in St. Louis County.

Florissant, the county’s largest, is seeing a spirited rivalry between incumbent Mayor Tom Schneider and Mark Behlmann.

Schneider won the office four years ago after serving 32 years on the city council.  Behlmann is a former developer who served 18 years on the Hazelwood School Board.

For most of the St. Louis County mayoral contests, the biggest issues revolve around encouraging economic growth, dealing with stagnant city revenue, protecting public safety and improving communication with the public.

Meanwhile, most of the candidates for local offices in St. Louis County – from mayor to council member – face no opposition.

An earlier story detailed the city council races in Ferguson, where eight candidates are running for the three open spots.

St. Louis

April 7 also will conclude the few remaining contests in St. Louis.

Because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, most aldermanic races were resolved in the March primary. In fact, city Republicans failed to field contenders in the two wards with the largest GOP voting blocs: the 12th and 16th wards.

Republican candidates are competing in only five of the 17 wards on the April ballot. That’s fewer than the seven Green Party candidates.

Only one city-wide race is on the ballot: Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, a Democrat, is facing low-profile challenges from Republican Erik Shelquist and Green Party candidate Jeffrey Schaefer.

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.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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