Sam Page is the new top official in St. Louis County.
The County Council on Monday night appointed the Democrat to take over the post left vacant when Steve Stenger resigned Monday after being charged in federal court with directing county contracts to a campaign contributor.
Page, now the council’s chairman, will serve as county executive until a November 2020 election to fill the remainder of Stenger's term, which lasts through 2022. He will have to give up a lucrative anesthesiology practice to take the post.
“County government has been dysfunctional for too long,“ Page said in brief remarks after he was selected to be the county executive. “The best interests of St. Louis County have taken the backseat to the personal desires of our past county executive, and our administration will do what is best for the taxpayers no matter what. Now we will move forward together. We can only change things in our county government if we work together, and that is exactly what we will do.”
Page was a reliable ally of Stenger’s when he was first elected in 2014 and remained a supporter when the dynamics of the council began to shift in 2017.
“I would hope we continue to try and incorporate minority opinions into the legislation that moves forward, especially the hot topics,” he said after a coalition opposed to Stenger was sworn in in January 2017.
But later that year, Page began to clash more frequently with Stenger, especially on budgetary issues. By the start of 2019, when Stenger was sworn in for a second term, the council, led by Page, had turned completely against Stenger.
Several councilmembers cited that leadership in leading the anti-Stenger bloc in their decision to appoint Page. That included Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, a Blackjack Democrat who nominated Page to be county executive.
"I know I have a relationship with Sam," said Walton Gray. "He's the chair. We work well together. He promises to be inclusive. And the main point is I already know where he stands on a lot of issues."
Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, said that he believes Page "is the right man at the right time."
"Eighteen months from now is a different story," said Trakas, referring to the 2020 election cycle. "But in the next several months, significant and wholesale change is going to take place in county government. And we need the right leader for that. I believe Sam Page is that person."
Page’s council seat would be filled via election, with the candidates selected by the party leaders of the townships in the 2nd District — which covers an area stretching from Hazelwood to Creve Coeur. The earliest the election could be held is August.
Until that Democratic-leaning seat is filled, the council will be split 3 to 3 between Republicans and Democrats. That will likely mean that a Democratic and Republican member will serve as chairman and vice chairman for the first time in recent county history.
'Stay woke and pay attention'
Page’s appointment was not without controversy.
Members of the audience were frustrated that they would not be able to make public comment until Tuesday, when the council holds its regular meeting. Hazel Erby, D-University City, also objected to the lack of public comment and expressed her anger with the process by voting against Page. She was the lone no vote.
Afterward, Erby told reporters that she wanted to be selected as county executive. Had Erby been chosen, she would have been the first woman to hold a countywide office in St. Louis County history.
"I plan to stay in my seat, work hard, work with Sam," said Erby, D-University City. "We've worked these past couple of years together. But I just hope we don't have what we've had in the past. And that's what I saw this week. I saw promises and commitments. You know, you have to be careful about the promises you make.
"I just ask you all to stay woke and pay attention," she added. "You'll see."
Stenger resigned Monday after the grand jury indictment was unsealed, saying in a letter that “it is in the best interest of our County and my family that I resign as St. Louis County Executive immediately.”
He is accused of steering insurance and marketing contracts to John Rallo, a major campaign contributor, even though Rallo had no marketing or consulting experience. Stenger pleaded not guilty.
Walton Gray said the quick appointment of Page showed that "the county council was in charge."
"We knew what we were doing," Walton Gray said. "We ran it efficiently, so that we were prepared for a day such as this."
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann
St. Louis Public Radio reporters Jason Rosenbaum and Chad Davis contributed to this report.
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