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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri Democratic Party, not local official, controlling access to voter list

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 7, 2012 - The state Democratic Party is intervening in St. Louis' increasingly combative -- and crowded -- battle for city treasurer by making sure that each candidate has access to the party's highly sought-after voter list.

One candidate, St. Louis Alderman Fred Wessels, had been concerned because initially it appeared that access to the list might be controlled by one of his rivals: St. Louis Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby.

But in emails that Wessels made available to the Beacon, state party executive director Matt Teter wrote this week that the party will oversee access to the list, known as VAN for short.

Teter said in an interview today that the state party has always controlled access to the list, and that it was inaccurate to say that local officials ever controlled the access.

But access isn't cheap. It will cost Wessels and other citywide candidates $2,500 apiece to get the list for all city voters. (The per-ward cost is less, just under $400.)

All the candidates also need to be in good standing with the state party, i.e. paid-up membership dues, which amount to $50 a year.

Wahby said he has no objection to the state party overseeing candidates' access to the list. "That's a policy I support as well," he said.

Wahby is a member of the state Democratic Party's executive committee. He said his chief concern was that all candidates, regardless of where they are running, have paid their dues and have equal access to purchase the VAN list.

As for Wessels, he doesn't plan on purchasing the VAN list, largely because of the cost. Wessels said he is acquiring an alternate list, presumably free of charge, that "I actually think is better."

Meanwhile, Wessels also is embroiled in a suit that he filed Monday against incumbent city Treasurer Larry Williams, who is seeking re-election. Williams has been city treasurer since 1981.

The suit alleges that Williams has acted improperly by outsourcing management of city parking garages, now overseen by the treasurer's parking division, to a private firm at a cost of the city of about $1.5 million a year.

Wessels says the firm, Duncan Solutions Inc., has already been paid about $4 million since 2009. DSI also has been a campaign donor to Williams.

In January, Williams signed a 10-year contract with DSI.

Among other things, Wessels' suit alleges that the contract violates city ordinances and the charter because the deal was not also signed by city Comptroller Darlene Green, whose office is supposed to handle all city contracts.

Wessels' lawyer, Elkin Kistner, also is representing some former treasurer's office employees who are suing Williams. The deal with DSI has led to the layoffs of 70 city employees in the treasurer's office.

Williams' office has yet to return calls from the Beacon seeking comment.

Aside from Wessels and Wahby, Williams' challengers in next summer's Democratic primary include state Rep. Tishaura Jones and Alderman St. Louis Alderman Jeffrey L. Boyd, D-22nd Ward.

No word if any of them will be purchasing the state Democratic Party's VAN list.

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