Updated at 11:45 a.m. with comments from Mantovani
The Democratic primary for St. Louis County executive is becoming a little more crowded.
Mark Mantovani announced Wednesday he will run for St. Louis County’s top post, less than two years after he nearly upended an incumbent county executive.
That puts him on a collision course with St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman, who have already announced they're in the August race.
"It’s not that complicated. I think our community just isn’t making enough progress," Mantovani said in an interview. "I think we’re still treading water. We’re not focusing enough on the right, substantive issues. We continue to be passed by other Midwestern cities. We’re losing too many of our young people. We underperform in almost every category. We don’t move people out of poverty like we should. We have way too much violent crime."
Supporters urged him to run again
Mantovani is a retired business executive who came within less than 2,000 votes of defeating St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in 2018. The campaign was contentious, with Stenger questioning Mantovani's Democratic credentials. Mantovani focused some of his campaign on whether Stenger’s actions as county executive corresponded with political donations, a message that was validated when Stenger resigned while facing corruption charges.
He said that people come up to him on a daily basis asking if he would run again for county executive.
"I think I’d be sort of ashamed of myself if I just sat on the sidelines," Mantovani said. "If I saw the challenges that the community has. And if people are asking me to help, and I chose not to do so."
Page appointed Mantovani to the Board of Freeholders, which is to explore consolidation opportunities for St. Louis and St. Louis County. But he resigned from that board to consider another county executive bid.
Mantovani made regionalism a focal point of his 2018 campaign. And he said on Wednesday that the St. Louis region needs to be more collaborative and less fragmented if it wants to compete with other metro areas.
"As a region, we have got to recognize that we here are not competitive with one another," Mantovani said. "Our leadership needs to recognize that we are all on the same team. Our competition isn’t city or county, depending on where you live. Our competition is Nashville and Kansas City and Indianapolis. And we have to have more of an outward-facing focus in terms of how we are going to compete with the rest of the world."
The impending three-way race among Page, Zimmerman and Mantovani will mark the first time in several decades that three well-funded and well-known candidates will compete in the Democratic primary for county executive.
In a statement, Page said, “being county executive today is a tremendous opportunity to make lives better.”
“Mark and I have very different experiences and outlooks,” Page said. “I look forward to the campaign.”
Zimmerman said in a statement that he welcomed Mantovani to the campaign.
“St. Louis County stands at a critical crossroads, and I look forward to comparing my record against Mark's and Sam’s any day,” Zimmerman said. “We have very different visions and views. I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat committed to reform. And I’m clear about where I want to lead the county as well as the absolute need for transparency. Now, voters will have a choice between a progressive leader and others who want to take St. Louis County in a different direction.”
Numerous Missouri political candidates have won election after losing their first race. Mantovani said having the experience of 2018 makes him more "comfortable and familiar" with the rigors of a campaign, though he added it's not necessarily easier knowing "what type of sacrifice you make to do it."
As for Page and Zimmerman, Mantovani said he's hoping that the impending campaign focuses around ideas about moving St. Louis County forward. He also noted that he stands out in the race since he's never been in elective office before and doesn't plan to use the county executive's post as a springboard to run for something else.
"A million people live in St. Louis County. St. Louis County matters," Mantovani said. "And the potential leaders, those people that have the ambition to lead this part of our community, need to focus on substance — not on matters that in some respects are best in the margins."
No Republican has announced for the post yet. But given that St. Louis County is becoming a heavily Democratic jurisdiction, the winner of the Democratic primary will be positioned to serve as county executive until 2022.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org