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Franklin County rejects home rule; Slay coasts to third-term victory

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 7, 2009 - Voters in Franklin County and the city of St. Louis made it clear that they’re happy with the status quo.

More than two-thirds of the voters in fast-growing Franklin County rejected Proposition C, a proposal to give the county “home rule’’ and change its type of government.

And in the city of St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay became only the fourth mayor in the city’s history to win a third term. Slay, a Democrat, did so by capturing almost 61 percent of the vote. He defeated three rivals, including independent candidate Maida Coleman.

The contests in the city of St. Louis and Franklin County were among the top local issues before the region’s voters, who generally turned out in small numbers to determine the results in hundreds of area communities, school systems and fire districts.

In Franklin County, just under 20 percent of its registered voters showed up to turn down a plan that would have patterned the county’s government after that of neighboring St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties – which have a county executive and a seven-member part-time county council. Franklin County’s voters opted to stay with its full-time, three-person commission.

Gene Scott, a former Franklin County commissioner and one of the leaders of the opposition to Proposition C, said, "We're certainly pleasantly surprised with the result. The greater message here is that there will probably be greater scrutiny ... should (the home-rule proposal) be brought back."

Supporters of the proposition, who could not be reached late Tuesday, had said earlier that they feared that their message had been drowned out by the opponents. who were acknowledged to have waged a strong campaign against Proposition C.

In St. Louis, Slay was jubilant Tuesday night. “I’m honored. I thought the victory was a big one,’’ he said, in an interview almost drowned out by the noise at his campaign celebration in the Moolah Theatre and Lounge. He attributed his success, in part, to city residents’ agreement that “we have demonstrated competency and effectiveness in city government."

Slay said his ability to work across party lines was demonstrated by the public support he received by two well-known Republicans – Lt. Gov Peter Kinder, who participated in a robo-call, and former Sen. John C. Danforth, who was featured in a mailer.

But Coleman's spokesman Mary Beary credited Slay’s mammoth spending edge of about 40 to 1 over his rivals. “I think we did tremendously well,” Beary said, citing Coleman’s 34 percent share of the citywide vote. Two third-party rivals, Libertarian Robb Cunningham and Green Party candidate Elston McCowan, garnered only single digits.

About 17 percent of city voters cast ballots.

In St. Louis County, the turnout was even lower – less than 12 percent -- among voters who came out to determine the outcomes in 86 municipalities, 16 school districts and 11 fire districts.

Tuesday's election also saw the formal end to Peerless Park, a small St. Louis County community that was dissolved by its residents a decade ago. Voters in that area voted to join neighboring Valley Park. The move also was OKed by Valley Park voters. 

Of the roughly two-dozen mayoral posts at stake Tuesday, two saw upsets -- in Normandy and Hazelwood. In Hazelwood, incumbent T.R. Carr was ousted by Councilman Matthew Robinson. In Normandy, Mayor Jim Murphy lost to Patrick B. Green.

Among the hottest races, Town and Country Mayor Jon Dalton handily won re-election, despite a spirited challenge from Alderman John Hoffmann.

In St. Charles County, only 11.4 percent of the voters came to the polls. The highest profile contest was the race for mayor in O’Fallon, where just under 17 percent of the registered voters cast ballots. Councilman William Hennessy won, capturing just over half of the total.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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