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Contest for St. Louis County executive is running below the radar

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, left, is a Democrat. His Republican rival is Paul Berry III.
Jason Rosenbaum, Jo Mannies I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, left, is a Democrat. His Republican rival is Paul Berry III.

For most of the summer, the Democratic primary for St. Louis County executive ruled the TV airwaves – setting a spending record of more than $6 million.

But since incumbent Steve Stenger’s narrow August victory, the contest for the county’s top post has been almost invisible.

Stenger still faces another election next week. He is heavily favored to win in the Democratic-dominated county. He’s facing three opponents: Republican Paul Berry III, Libertarian Nicholas Kasoff and Constitution Party nominee Andrew Ostrowski.

Stenger – who still has close to $700,000 in campaign cash – admits he hasn’t done much campaigning.

“It’s more low-key than the primary was,” Stenger said.

He then added, “I, of course, and my team never take anything for granted.”

Most of the post-primary attention directed at Stenger has centered on his continued fights with the County Council, controlled by fellow Democrats. Stenger downplays the disputes.

“Those kind of micropolitics really don’t play into whether the business of government gets done, because the business of government gets done,” he said. “Because I think we all have in our hearts an interest in doing the people’s business.”

If elected to a second term, Stenger said he would continue to focus on economic development.

“Under my leadership, St. Louis County brought in over $5 billion in economic development, private investment, in our community,” he said. “We created or retained over 30,000 jobs.”

Stenger said his additional objective would be to highlight the need for more improvements in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

Stenger’s Republican rival, Berry, is a former bail bondsman who admits serious personal financial problems. Berry has been evicted from apartments five times in 14 years, and admits owing tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent and a court judgment.

Among other things, Berry says that the county executive’s salary of $140,000 a year would resolve his financial problems.

Berry has been attending area GOP rallies, and says he has yard signs posted around the county.  

His last campaign report showed him with less than $1,000 in the bank.

“None of us are perfect candidates,” Berry said. “But they’re going to have to weigh what I would call the deliberate fleecing of St. Louis County by Steve Stenger versus the personal debt that I have and my plan to repay.”

While Stenger has been low-key when it comes to his own general election campaign, he says he has donated money to help defeat Proposition B, the county proposal that would give the County Council more power when it comes to allocating and spending county money.

Berry says he’s planning to run ads during this final week,to try to defeat Stenger.

Stenger says he has yet to decide whether he’ll run any ads.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

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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