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In Ad On Controversial Oakville Project, Dooley Hopes To Appeal To Senior Voters

National Church Residences

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s latest attack ad focuses on a divisive south St. Louis County housing complex for the elderly. The ad is an attempt to attack Dooley's Democratic rival, Councilman Steve Stenger, and also appeal to elderly voters.

If history repeats itself, the elderly will be among the largest voting blocs in the Aug. 5 primary.

Dooley’s ad, which went up Monday, asserts that “in June 2013, Steve Stenger voted to eliminate affordable senior housing.”  That’s not entirely true.

The ad is referring to a controversial low-income housing project in Oakville for the elderly. The complex is being built by National Church Residences. The ad does not mention the project by name.

The County Council initially voted unanimously for the Oakville project. But then last summer, it voted 5-1 to have the county Planning Commission take another look at it. The vote came after hundreds of south county residents packed a council meeting objecting to the project.

Stenger, who represents the south county area, was among the initial supporters. He also was among those who voted to ask the Planning Commission to do another review.

Dooley opposed such a review, noting that the project was already under construction and that approval had been given long ago.

Dooley's spokeswoman Linda Goldstein said at a news conference Monday that Stenger’s vote was irresponsible because St. Louis County could have been slapped with a lawsuit if it had tried to block the project after work was already underway.

The Dooley campaign also released copies of an internal memo that Stenger sent to County Counselor Pat Redington, asking her to “draft a resolution of intention to be filed in the St. Louis County Council to initiate a petition to revert, change or amend the zoning of the subject property.”

Credit (Campaign Photos)
Steve Stenger and Charlie Dooley

In the end, the Planning Commission did not rescind its approval of the project. And the council did not overturn its approval. But Stenger has sided with south county residents who complained that they got inadequate notice about public hearings on the project.

Goldstein said that the residents did get proper notice and that Stenger switched sides for political reasons.

Goldstein acknowledged that the issue could pose a political risk for Dooley because it has become a polarizing issue in south St. Louis County.  For example, some opponents brought up the issue during last week’s candidate forum.

Stenger’s campaign replied in a statement that “Charlie Dooley has his facts wrong again.”

But the Stenger camp chose not to discuss the Oakville project, either. Instead, it brought up another matter important to many elderly – taxes.

“Steve Stenger has always stood up for seniors.  He stood up against Charlie Dooley to keep property taxes low,” the statement said, apparently referring to a 2011 dispute over county parks. “Steve also understands that seniors on fixed incomes suffer the most from increased taxes, which is a direct result of the Dooley administration’s fiscal mismanagement.”

Goldstein was joined by Marylen Mann, founder and chairman emeritus of OASIS, a group that focuses on elderly issues. Mann praised Dooley’s commitment to the elderly and cited the general importance of low-income housing for the elderly.  Mann did not single out the Oakville project.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.