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Democratic stalwart in Jefferson County faces stiff challenge for county exec nomination

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 23, 2010 - One of the region's most significant contests on the Aug. 3 ballot is also, according to some political insiders, one of the most ignored.

Voters in Jefferson County will take the first step toward electing their first-ever county executive and a seven-member County Council. After the November elections, the county will formally do away with its old form of county-commission government and follow through with the dictates of the new charter the county voters approved in 2008.

Democrats and Republicans on Aug. 3 will each choose a nominee for the top county job and for those council seats.

But even though the battle is particularly vigorous between the two Democratic contenders for county executive, Chuck Banks and Randy Holman, both sides fear that most of the general public hasn't tuned in.

"You go door to door to talk about the charter, and people think you're talking about the cable company,'' said state Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City.

The interim county executive is former Presiding Commissioner Banks, a Democrat and former businessman who also is a former mayor of Pevely. From 2000-2004, he was a top aide to then-U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-St. Louis County. Banks, 56, had been the county's presiding commissioner since 2006. He is backed by county Sheriff "Glenn" Boyer, several Jefferson County mayors and and a number of unions, including the Greater St. Louis Labor Council.

But most of the county government's elected officials, and many of its state legislators -- including McKenna -- are supporting county Assessor Holman. The State Council of Firefighters and Teamsters Local 600 are among the unions also backing the assessor. Holman, 49, has been assessor for 16 years and worked in the department for eight years before that. He also was a member of the Festus School District's Board of Education for 15 years.

The victor of the Holman-Banks battle on Aug. 3 will face in November one of two Republicans -- Avery A. Fortenberry or Ken Waller -- and Libertarian Daniel McCarthy.

So far, the GOP contest has been low key. The Democratic fight is not.

Banks and Holman each say he has a vision on how Jefferson County -- the sixth largest in the state -- can best prosper under the new form of government. Both say they are committed to attracting business and jobs.

Banks adds that he will tackle the county's infrastructure needs and estimates that 30,000 failing sewer systems need to be replaced. Holman is promising a "proactive," collaborative approach to the new government.

But although both Democrats say they're focusing on policies, the key issue appears to revolve around personality.

Banks contends that his opposition is largely the  'good ole boys' network in the Jefferson County Courthouse who he says have banded against him because they don't want change or challenge. Banks added that he's surprised, and somewhat hurt, that some county legislators are backing Holman.

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said he simply saw Holman as a better choice and "a good man for the job."

But Holman said that county officials have defected from Banks because they "want somebody they know they can work with."

"You cannot be divisive or adversarial," continued Holman, recounting another official's oft-quoted observation that "it can't be 'my way or no way.' "

Is he referring to Banks? "Absolutely,'' Holman replied.

Some public officials who back Holman privately go even further, with one decrying Banks' "bull in a china shop'' approach.

Even one of his allies, Crystal City Mayor Tom Schilly, acknowledges that Banks "gets a little abrasive."

But Schillyadded quickly, "We need people who are a little abrasive. ... Under pressure, some people will fold. Chuck Banks is not that type of individual."

McKenna, meanwhile, said that Holman's way of forging consensus was a better way to move the county forward. "I've never seen him make a rash decision,'' the state senator said of Holman. "He can bring everyone to the table for compromise."

Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, sought to tamp down any divisive talk by saying that his group's endorsement of Banks was based on the recommendations of union locals. He added that the council had no beef with Holman.

The latest campaign finance reports showed Banks with a fiscal edge. He had raised $115,482.18, spent $46,536.47, with $69,117.97 on hand. Holman reported that he had raised $69,046.30, spent $35,269.26, with $34,534.10 on hand.

However, both sides agree that money likely won't be the major factor in the contest.

And both sides also hope that Jefferson County voters, regardless of their leanings, show up at the polls -- after they learn the difference between charter and Charter.

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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