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Dooley kicks off re-election bid, with governor at his side

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 24, 2010 - With Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay on hand, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley kicked off his re-election bid Saturday with a barbecue at his new headquarters in Clayton and a campaign message centered on investment in jobs and the economy.

Dooley also promised to continue taking a tight fiscal approach to county government, which he has led since 2003.

"I'm going to continue to do the things that make sense for our region, and that's creating jobs and opportunity," Dooley said. "Working with our small businesses, expanding our large corporations, continuing to work with our municipalities, doing the things that make St. Louis County a great place to work, to play" and build a good life.

Nixon praised Dooley's "tireless advancement" of job creation efforts, and lauded his leadership during the reconstruction of Highway 40/Interstate 64 as among the reasons Dooley deserved re-election.

"He's an asset we need to have," Nixon said in an interview as he mingled with dozens of Dooley supporters who had shown up, despite the heavy rains that curbed any outdoor activities.

Dooley and his administration, said Nixon, "have been leaders to create jobs in this area, and it's important that I have a solid partner in St. Louis County working each day to move this economy forward."

Nixon also took note of how Dooley first took over the post of county executive, when Democrat George R. "Buzz" Westfall died unexpectedly in October 2003. "Dooley stepped into big shoes," Nixon said, referring to Westfall's political prominence. Nixon added that he was impressed at the time with how Dooley, then the senior Democrat on the County Council, deftly and compassionately took over the reins of state government.

But Nixon's visit also underscored the statewide political prominence of St. Louis County, which the governor candidly acknowledged. "The people here are our voters," Nixon said.

That's definitely true politically. Within the past decade, St. Louis County has become a solid Democratic bastion. Depending on the election, St. Louis County is home to anywhere from one-fifth to one-fourth of people who vote for the Democrat in statewide contests. And it has provided the statewide margin of victory for many Democrats in close contests, most notably U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in 2006.

Dooley faces a little-known challenger in the August Democratic primary -- Ronald Levy, of Affton. As a result, the county executive is expected to focus most of his campaign attention and attacks on his likely Republican rival, lawyer Bill Corrigan, in the November general election. Corrigan's campaign could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The latest campaign reports show Dooley with a hefty financial edge: $1.09 million in the bank, compared to $544,000 for Corrigan.

Both Nixon and Slay contended that Dooley's re-election would help the state and city work better with the county, for the benefit of all three.

"We need to work even more closely together as this region to compete better as a region globally, so that we're stronger, and when St. Louis city is stronger, St. Louis County is stronger," Slay said. "And when St. Louis County is stronger, St. Louis city and the entire region are stronger as well."

Slay has been a proponent of allowing the city of St. Louis to re-enter St. Louis County as one of its municipalities, ending a split that goes back to 1876.

Dooley emphasized the regional effort to persuade China to locate a Midwest transit hub at Lambert St. Louis Airport. One of his top aides, Mike Jones, heads the China Hub Commission. Success, said Dooley, could be a potential "game-changer" that would "create excitement and create jobs."

Dooley also emphasized his support for Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax hike for Metro, the regional public transit agency. Almost two-thirds of the county's voters voted for the tax increase.

But in the current economic and political climate, Dooley's campaign apparently wants to be careful about how it frames the sales tax measure. When campaign manager John Temporiti referred to Proposition A as a "transit sales tax," Dooley interjected, "No, not a tax—an investment." The exchange touched off laughter.

Some supporters see Proposition A's wide margin of victory as a signal that key progressive voting blocs are energized, and hope that support will transfer to Dooley in the fall.

Dooley told supporters that his economic message will center on his belief that businesses, not government, create jobs.

He added, "The government's job is creating an environment for you to grow and prosper."

Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies contributed to this report.

Former Beacon intern Puneet Kollipara is a Washington University student who writes about politics and transportation.