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Partisan Fights In Two County Council Districts Add Spice to Aug. 5 Ballot

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

In the west St. Louis County contest for the open 7th District seat on the St. Louis County Council, Ballwin Alderman Mark Harder has received the endorsements of a number of Republican heavy-hitters, including retiring Councilman Greg Quinn and state Auditor Tom Schweich. 

But his chief rival for the GOP nomination – Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul – believes that support may backfire and help Paul, who embraces his own renegade image after he beat back an impeachment effort in 2013.

“I’m running against the establishment Republicans,’’ said Paul, who calls his opponent’s endorsements “nothing more than political favors’’ that could hurt the public. “This is Jefferson City ‘blood money,’ ” said Paul.

Harder, in turn, says he best represents the “conservative values’’ that the district holds dear. Harder also cites his experience in the Republican Party and running a real estate business.

The two also face former Ellisville Mayor Walter S. Young, but it’s Harden and Paul who’ve raised the most money and generated most of the sparks.

The 7th District Republican contest is arguably the most combative among three County Council seats on the Aug. 5 ballot. In other districts, the incumbents have no primary opposition.

In the 1st District, Democratic incumbent Councilwoman Hazel Erby is facing a challenge from lawyer Wesley Bell and perennial candidate Alexander Jones.  The Aug. 5 Democratic victor is guaranteed the council seat because there’s no other opposition in November.

And in the 2nd District, in northwest St. Louis County, voters will choose a replacement for the late Councilwoman Kathleen Kelly Burkett, a Democrat who died in April. The victor will serve through 2016.

The Democratic nominee is Sam Page of Creve Coeur, a physician and former state representative who was the Democrats’ unsuccessful choice in 2008 for lieutenant governor. The Republican nominee is Robert Saettele, a city councilman in Bridgeton who also is a businessman.  Because of the district’s partisan demographics, Page has the edge.

Democrats in 1st District battle over economics, gay rights

Erby, D-University City, has served on the council for about a decade. She captured the 1st District – which encompasses areas of northern and eastern St. Louis County – after the councilman, Charlie Dooley, stepped down in 2003 to take on his current job as county executive. 

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, saw several of her bills go down in defeat on Tuesday. The council typically approves most of its bills without stiff opposition.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, is running for another term on the St. Louis County Council.

“I’ve been on the ground. I’ve been fighting for the people I represent since 1972, even before I came on this council,” Erby said in an interview. “Which is why a group of my peers voted for me to take County Executive Dooley’s place (on the council).  That didn’t just happen for no reason. It’s because I was there and in that room that day. Everybody said, ‘You’re the one to do it.’”

Bell, a Ferguson native who has served as a municipal judge and a municipal prosecutor, says that the 1st District needs new blood.

Erby has generally sided with Dooley in a number of high-profile clashes on the council. One of the battles involved efforts to set up minority participation goals for county contracts. 

Dooley preferred Erby's legislation, but the council ended up passing versions that he opposed. Erby said, though, that she was proud to take on the issue.

“The inclusion bill was my goal. I took it on,” Erby said.  “Just thankfully, the county executive agreed with me. So I don’t take it on as the two of us against the world. I move about independently and doing what I think is right. And so, if he joins me in that fight, that’s great.”

Meanwhile, Bell said he wans to focus on the district’s economic decline and population loss. 

Credit Courtesy of Wesley Bell's Facebook page
Wesley Bell, left, is seeking to oust Erby.

“You can look on the St. Louis County website and see which district is losing the most population. It’s District 1,” Bell said. “You look at the district that the schools are struggling the most and losing more businesses and jobs: It’s our district.”

“We need more progressive and proactive leadership,” Bell continued. “We need leadership that’s going to go after some of these businesses and jobs to bring them back here and not just hope that things fall in our lap.”

Among other things, Bell said he was critical of Erby for voting against a bill adding gays and lesbians to the county’s non-discrimination laws. “Let’s not discriminate against anybody,” he said. “It’s not 1814, it’s 2014.”

For her part, Erby said she voted against the legislation because “the group who was pushing that bill was asking to be classified as a protective group. I don’t believe that it’s necessary.”

“I’ve said many times that the group pushing that or anybody… if they were mistreated in terms of housing or a job and I knew about and they came to me, I’d be marching out in the front with everyone of them,” she said. “I like people, I care about people, all people. I make no exceptions about a title or some letters or anything like that. I think people are all equal.” 

Republicans in 7th debate who’s most in tune with district

Compared to other contests on the primary ballot, the 7th District Republican battle is a low-cost affair.

Harder has raised $18,625, while Paul has collected $11,240, according to their final campaign-finance reports.  But Harder got a last-minute boost this week with $26,125 from the national and state Association of Realtors.  

St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin,
Credit Courtesy of Mark Harder's campaign website
Mark Harder

Young hasn’t filed any campaign-finance reports, signaling that he’s raised and spent very little.

Harder, 53, says his experience in business and politics give him an edge in confronting the problems now facing St. Louis County. “Both parties are seeing the corruption,’’ he said. “Wasteful spending must cease.”

Harder’s key themes center on lower taxes and less government. “I’ve seen what government can do’’ to help or hurt business, he said.

Harder is calling for “a full top-to-bottom audit of St. Louis County government.” In addition, he’s promising to focus on the needs of the county’s growing elderly population.

But his strongest card could be all of his Republican endorsements, which have been pouring in during the last week. They include U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin; Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka; Schweich and a number of area Republican state legislators.

Said outgoing councilman Quinn: “Having represented this district for 24 years, I have had the opportunity to work first hand with Mark on issues that have moved our party and community forward.  I believe Mark’s hard work, dedication, and conservative values are what we need to continue the fight for smaller government and lower taxes.”

But Paul contends that Harder may be too close to business and political interests.  Paul says that what the 7th District needs instead is his brand of independent activism.

Paul, 33, is the North American procurement manager for Amdocs Inc., a software and data firm.

Paul cites his opposition to special tax breaks for business development, an issue at the heart of his impeachment battle. He had opposed a Wal-Mart project, now dead, that had relied on tax incentives.

“I’ve saved 250 residents from eminent domain,” Paul said, adding that he also has been a longstanding opponent of red-light cameras at intersections. Both matters will be high on his agenda if he wins the council seat.

“Ellisville is a microcosm of what the county is today,’’ Paul said.

Paul agrees with Harder that an audit of county government is needed.

Paul, Harder and Young also are emphasizing their opposition to any sort of reunification of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Paul calls any such proposal “essentially a city bailout’’ and says that the 7th District residents are dead set against it.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.