St. Louis County Council race could be difference between harmony or misery for Page
The race to succeed St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican who is not running for reelection, could be pivotal to the makeup of the council and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s future.
If Page, who is heavily favored to keep his post, gets past Republican Katherine Pinner in the fall, a win by Democrat Vicki Englund will mean a better coalition on the council to pass his agenda. A victory by Republican Dennis Hancock could keep the opposition coalition that’s frustrated Page for years together.
Since 2021, Fitch has been part of a coalition with council members Rita Days, Mark Harder and Shalonda Webb that’s criticized the way Page has run the county. Days and Webb are likely to return in 2023, while Harder represents a district that tilts toward the GOP.
Englund and Hancock, though, are running in a district that’s split evenly between the two parties. Englund, a former state representative and school board member, noted that Joe Biden narrowly won the district in 2020.
The Democrat from Sunset Hills, who worked for St. Louis County’s economic development agency in the 2000s, wants to bring a more cohesive spirit to a council that’s had a lot of conflict over the past decade.
“We're not just talking about the everyday role of the council. I mean, that's clearly something that is broken,” Englund said. “But we're also talking about a lot of important decisions that need to be made with [federal relief] money, with the Rams settlement money, and with opioid settlement money.”
Englund notes that she has a good relationship with Page and that she served in the Missouri legislature at the same time as Days and Webb’s husband, former state Rep. Steve Webb.
“My opponent just seems to be the same voice as the current Councilman Tim Fitch,” Englund said. “So it's a clear choice for voters if they want more of the same or if they want someone who got into politics 20-plus years ago and got into government service 20-plus years ago to try to solve problems — not create them.”
Hancock is also highlighting his experience in government. He served as mayor of Fenton from 2001 to 2013. He said that experience of working in the municipal arena will be important, especially since county government often has a difficult relationship with its towns and cities.
“I understand their pain points, if you will,” Hancock said. “I understand where they're coming from and what they're trying to do.”
He also said that if elected, he would provide a check and balance on Page’s tenure as county executive — adding that he’s “not running to be somebody’s best friend.”
“Having a government that moves forward, but moves forward slowly and carefully, and carefully considers everything before they do something, is how you get good government,” Hancock said, “rather than just running willy-nilly into whatever today's wind is.”
Both Englund and Hancock say they want to make economic development a major aspect of their potential county council service. They’re also paying close attention to a potential effort by Manchester, which is the 3rd District, to annex unincorporated areas that Page spoke against several weeks ago.
But one additional factor in how this race goes is the county executive contest.
Pinner scored a huge upset when she won the GOP primary over state Rep. Shamed Dogan, even though she didn’t raise any money or actively campaign. Given that St. Louis County is heavily Democratic, Page may have more leeway to use his campaign dollars to help Englund as well as 7th District Democratic hopeful Kristine Callis.
“I think it is going to take on a different role because … the county executive race doesn't have as much attention as it would have,” Englund said.
Hancock said that from what he’s heard from voters, the stakes are high.
“At the end of the day, I have to run my own campaign,” Hancock said. “And that campaign has to be focused on what I'm going to do if I get elected, and convince the folks of the 3rd District that I'm the best candidate of the two of us to represent their interest on the council.”
For his part, Page said the hostility between himself and the council has subsided since he won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary over attorney Jane Dueker.
“I expect the same in November, not only in St. Louis County, but across the state and across our country," Page said. "After elections, folks settle down and work together and take care of the people’s business.”
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum