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Page, Mantovani differ on direction of St. Louis County

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KPLR 11
Republican Mark Mantovani, left, and Democrat Sam Page at Tuesday's St. Louis County executive debate, hosted by KPLR 11 at its studio in Maryland Heights.

The two candidates for St. Louis County executive have much different views about the direction the state’s largest county is heading.

“I believe St. Louis County is on the wrong track,” Republican retired businessman Mark Mantovani said during a debate Tuesday that was broadcast on KPLR and streamed on various Nexstar Media Group websites in St. Louis. We have a budget that is grossly imbalanced, we have crime out of control in the region, and our government is not performing effectively.”

Democratic incumbent Sam Page, meanwhile, urged voters not to “gamble” on whether Mantovani’s business background would translate to running county government, which has a budget of $1 billion and 3,800 employees.

“I’ve managed St. Louis County through four crises,” said Page, who took office in 2019 after Steve Stenger was indicted on federal corruption charges and resigned. “Rebuilding county government, the civil rights conversations after the death of George Floyd, and guiding us through the pandemic.”

He said that in the past year, crime has decreased in St. Louis County. “We’ve created thousands of jobs, and we’ve addressed mental health and substance abuse.”

The hourlong debate, the only televised one between the two candidates, covered a wide range of topics, including inflation, crime and mental health.

The sharpest contrast on the issues came on the topic of balancing the budget, which is expected to have a $41 million deficit. Mantovani rejected the need for a tax increase, saying he could close that gap through reducing “waste, fraud and abuse.”

“I think there’s been a gross number of dollars wasted on ridiculous litigation by the county executive that is probably more political than it is meaningful to the people of St. Louis County,” he said.

Page called the accusations of fraud nothing more than political platitudes.

He said he would again ask voters to implement a tax on online sales, though a similar effort failed in April. And he said changes he had made to county government, such as centralizing services and moving many of them online, would lead to enough savings to stave off cuts.

A recent poll by a Republican firm showed Page leading Mantovani 48% to 43%, just outside the margin of error. President Joe Biden won St. Louis County in 2020 with 61% of the vote.

No-reason absentee voting is already under way at seven locations across the county, and the polls open at 6 a.m. Nov. 8. Voters will need to have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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