STL American - Black Dems Endorse Mantovani for County Executive

Democratic challenger for St. Louis County executive Mark Mantovani held an opening for his North County campaign office on Saturday, May 5 with an event celebrating his endorsement by a coalition of black elected Democrats.

The Fannie Lou Hamer Democratic Coalition of St. Louis County (FLH Coalition) joined Mantovani for an event at his North County campaign headquarters in Florissant to support his efforts to unseat controversial incumbent Steve Stenger.

Stenger, also a Democrat, took office in 2015 after running a campaign accusing the incumbent Charlie Dooley – the first black county executive – of corruption. Though Dooley also was accused of corruption by Stenger ally Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor empowered to file charges, Dooley was never charged with corruption.

The St. Louis County Council is now investigating Stenger for possible corruption in his personal negotiation with a campaign donor on the lease for the former Northwest Plaza.

Hazel Erby, a member of the St. Louis County Council and the FLH Coalition, said the county needs a new leader who can address systemic issues in the St. Louis area.

“The last four years on the County Council have been some of the most divisive and challenging that I can remember,” said Erby, who has been a council member representing from Ferguson through parts of University City for 14 years. “We have had a divisive administration led by a county executive who has shown little interest in St. Louis County as a whole and who uses bullying tactics on everyone: council members, citizens, county elected officials and stakeholders whose opinions may differ from his.”

Erby has been a longtime political opponent of Stenger.  In 2017, she and several other members of the County Council filed a lawsuit against Stenger seeking an end to a hiring freeze in the county auditor’s office, which is still ongoing.

Erby said Mantovani’s candidacy is in line with the values of the FLH Coalition, which was formed in 2014 to support candidates who actively advocate for the concerns of African-American voters in the St. Louis area. The organization’s priorities include addressing disparities in education, housing, economic status and criminal justice enforcement. Members include 45 elected black elected officials from throughout the county.

“Mark understands that when we all have equal access to opportunity, the entire region prospers and grows,” Erby said.  

Mantovani’s career has included founding both a law firm and a financial consulting company, as well as a stint as CEO of marketing agency Ansira. He has served on the boards of St. Louis organizations including St. Louis University High School, Boys Hope/Girls Hope International and the St. Louis Zoo.

Mantovani also made news in 2017 for his collection of 44 presidential signatures, one from each chief executive except for Donald Trump.

At the event, Mantovani said he was honored to receive the endorsement both because of the values of the group’s members and because of the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer, an activist for voting rights and black women’s issues in civil rights-era Mississippi, achieved significant political progress despite meeting with often violent resistance.

“She was tougher than tough,” Mantovani said. “She was determined and resolute in her commitment to improve the lives of those in her community, as are all of us here this afternoon.”

Mantovani said the lessons of Hamer’s determination in the face of adversity are just as relevant to today’s political struggles.

“She was known for the quote ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,’” Mantovani said. “But my favorite thought from Fannie Lou Hamer is a different one. She said, ‘You can pray until you faint. But unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.’ That’s why we’re here today.”

Mantovani said he is running for county executive to combat what he called the “decline” of St. Louis County, including population decline, economic stagnation and a rising homicide rate. Mantovani said what is often pointed to as investment in St. Louis County is in reality just the movement of money from one part of the county to another.

Mantovani placed the blame for what he sees as county government dysfunction squarely on Stenger, his primary opponent. Stenger’s reelection bid includes an attack ad against his challenger, with other campaign ads focusing on his opposition to national Republicans and commitment to combating opioid drug abuse.

Financial disclosures released in April showed Stenger as the highest earner among Missouri political campaigners, outraising everyone but U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill with $2.4 million in the bank. Mantovani, who donated $1 million to his own campaign, had a balance of $821,000 at the time.

“The St. Louis County government is simply bogged down,” Mantovani said. “It is bogged down by corruption charges; it is bogged down by a county executive who can’t maintain a professional working relationship with peers.”

Stenger’s big-dollar donors include real estate developers Robert and P. David Glarner, with whom Stenger negotiated the lease deal for the former Northwest Plaza. In 2016, the County Council approved the deal, but an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in February 2018 found it was costing taxpayers millions, not saving them money as the Stenger administration had promised.

This type of behavior, Mantovani said, makes Stenger “a pawn of the region’s concrete cartel.”

“The county executive frequently acts like a petulant child, motivated by his own financial interests and not the public good,” Mantovani said. “He confuses public service with self-service, and he deserves to be fired.”

Mantovani said repairing relationships with the County Council and county government employees would be one of his top priorities upon taking office. Mantovani said he also supports the policy priorities of the Forward Through Ferguson commission and reunifying St. Louis’ city and county governments.

More information about Mantovani’s campaign can be found on his campaign website, markforstl.com. The county executive primary election will take place alongside primary elections on Tuesday, August 7. 

 

Ryan Hawkins