FLORISSANT (KMOX) – The stage at the County Executive candidates forum was big, not only because it’s likely the only face-to-face debate between Charlie Dooley and Steve Stenger, but also because those two shared it with three other challengers.
Dooley and Stenger, who’ve volleyed bitter attack ads over the airwaves lately, hugged each other and shared a comment over sips of bottled water, but that’s where the pleasantries ended.
Dooley declared that all of the others “don’t even know what they don’t know.” His theme of the night: “Experience does count. Leadership does matter.”
Stenger’s retort: “We have suffered from a lack of engaged leadership for ten years.”
It was like that for much of the night.
The first question, by a moderator from the League of Women Voters, was what each man would do in his first 100 days in office. Every challenger — Stenger, Republicans Tony Pousosa and Rick Stream and Constitution candidate Joe Passanise — promised to do some form of audit of county government.
They cited, in no particular order, scandals including the Children’s Services Fund, the health department embezzler, trash hauler lawsuits, and police board contracts.
Later, when an audience member’s question specifically referenced an audit, Dooley said he’s been pushing for one — but the Council “for whatever reason” won’t approve it.
The other candidates limited their attacks to Dooley and mostly shied away from critiques of each other, although Pousosa did take aim at Stenger and Stream a few times. Stream later told KMOX News he preferred to just let Stenger and Dooley duke it out.
Passanise dubbed himself a “citizen-candidate” and vowed to hold regular town hall meetings. He expressed a fear that radioactive waste that’s buried the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton could also be mixed with dirt used to fill area subdivisions.
Two questions related to a merger and/or increased cooperation between St. Louis City and County, which hit on a sweet spot for Pousosa.
“I am the only candidate from the beginning who opposes the city-county merger,” he stressed.
A prompt about invigorating north county hit a nerve with Executive Dooley, who took offense and rattled off big businesses like Express Scripts and Boeing that call the area home.
“Things are happening in north county! How dare you say nothing’s happening in north county!” Dooley shouted.
“How dare I mention.. Jamestown Mall?” Stenger responded.
Meantime, Stream simply stated: “In the area of job creation, the county is failing.” He said county government used to be “professional, competent and honest,” but isn’t anymore.
For two hours — and 18 questions — Dooley pointed to county successes and Stenger to county scandals. Dooley touted jobs numbers and low crime statistics, Stenger to controversy at a women’s shelter and a lack of raises for county employees.
On that point, Dooley said he was “somewhat flabbergasted, quite frankly” about employees wanting raises. “Where do we get the money from?” he asked.
The last words of the debate were, “Time is up Mister Dooley.” “Moving forward, making a difference.”