Saying there’s more work to be done, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page officially announced his bid to keep his job on Thursday.
With a Democratic primary on the horizon, Page told a crowd of supporters at the Machinists Hall in Bridgeton that he’s the best person to pick up the pieces of a county that went through a tumultuous time — and still faces big challenges.
“I want to restore trust and integrity in St. Louis County government,” Page said. “Next spring, I’ll be filing for county executive to keep going and keep us going in the right direction.”
The St. Louis County Council selected Page to serve as county executive after Steve Stenger resigned when facing corruption charges. Before reaching that office, Page served as a member of the county council, a state representative and a Creve Coeur city councilman. He’s also an anesthesiologist.
Former St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley introduced Page. He said that Page helped cleanse the county of the turmoil and criminal activity of the Stenger years. Dooley also alluded to how Page led a bipartisan coalition to combat Stenger, getting elected as council chairman an unprecedented three years in a row.
“Now I wish the best for St. Louis County. We did not have the best,” said Dooley, who lost to Stenger in a bitter 2014 Democratic primary for county executive. “And let me tell you something, my friends: We paid the price. But even more importantly: It takes a brave individual to stand up and say, ‘This is not right.’”
Since Page took over as county executive, he’s persuaded the council to fund body cameras for the St. Louis County Police Department. He’s also appointed a slew of new people to his administration, including former state Rep. Cora Faith Walker as policy director and former Councilwoman Hazel Erby as the head of the county’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
“I like to see equity and inclusion in every aspect of everything we touch, for people of color and for women,” Page said. “We've got a lot of work ahead of us. And I'm looking forward to getting this going.”
Recently, Page has encountered his first big test as county executive after a jury awarded a police sergeant nearly $20 million in a discrimination lawsuit. Page appointed four new members of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners — which is slated to become majority female for the first time ever.
“I want to make sure that our officers and our leadership are working together as a team and they understand each other,” Page said. “I want to react to what we learned in that verdict, but I don't want to overreact to it. Our St. Louis County Police provide excellent police services in St. Louis County. And I do not want that disrupted while we go through this period of evaluation and change.”
Zimmerman in the running
To stay in office for another two years, Page will have to get past County Assessor Jake Zimmerman — who like Page served in the Missouri House before transitioning into county government.
Zimmerman has served as assessor since 2011, when that office became an elected position. He’s won re-election to that post without trouble, rarely attracting competitive Republican opponents. And as of now, he has more money in the bank than Page for a race that could require each candidate to spend millions of dollars on television ads.
“We look forward to a vigorous campaign and debate on the issues,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “We must have higher standards of integrity, fairness and equity — rather than backroom deals that benefit a few at the expense of the rest of us. This campaign will come down to who has the vision and courage to move the county forward on a new path, protect our values, and clean up government.”
In some respects, Page and Zimmerman will be competing for the same left-of-center voting coalition that elected St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell: progressive white voters who live in eastern and central parts of St. Louis County and African Americans who reside in north St. Louis County.
Both candidates have been hitting on themes that appeal to that coalition, including their support for abortion rights, gun control and overhauling the criminal justice system.
“Equity and inclusion is a root cause of all the troubles we have in St. Louis County,” Page said. “And it's the root cause of racial and economic segregation. St. Louis County has a long history of segregated neighborhoods. And that's developed poorly over time. It's given us pockets of poverty.”
Page said he’s preparing to run against Zimmerman — or possibly more candidates if they decide to enter the fray. He added next year’s election “will really be a referendum on whether or not St. Louis County is headed in the right direction.”
The winner of the general election will serve through 2022.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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