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Labor Could Turn Tide of Heated St. Louis Primary as Incumbent Labeled Aggressively 'Anti-Union'

St. Louis County Council member Steve Stenger is asking labor to help him in his bid to become County Executive, claiming incumbent Charlie Dooley’s anti-union record should be enough to encourage union members to get out the vote. With low turnout likely (65,000 of the county’s 700,000+ voters are expected to make it to the polls for the August 5th Democratic primary), every vote will count.

Stenger has earned endorsements from former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, current St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, past County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, Planned Parenthood and Greater St. Louis Labor Council, but still needs union support if he wants to unseat Dooley. The race has been growing more and more contentious in the leadup to the primary with Dooley taking to the airwaves with wild claims against his opponent.  

Stenger has asked that Dooley release FBI files about a member of his administration, health department official Ed Meuth, who committed suicide after it was revealed that he had stolen money from the county by creating a phantom company and diverting taxpayer money to it.  Stenger claims that Meuth may have stolen up to $3.4 million from taxpayers. Dooley has now said that he will share the file with members of council.

Dooley has blocked all requests for a candidate debate though public forums have been held. This past weekend KSDK had both candidates in the studio.

For the region’s workers the race could be increasingly important since a victory for Stenger would give labor a passionate government official at a time when many Missouri politicians are still attempting to enact “Right-to-Work” and other anti-worker laws. Dooley, in fact, attempted to appoint one of the leading advocates of the state’s ALEC-driven “Right-to-Work” movement into a county position.

To help workers understand the benefits of choosing Stenger, the St. Louis Labor Tribune listed some of Dooley’s anti-union achievements:

• County contracts have gone non-union, costing county taxpayers additional money when that work has to be redone.

• Dooley attempted to appoint Republican right-to-work advocate and 2012 gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence to the county’s Police Board. (Under fire, Spence later withdrew his name from consideration.)

• Last week, after the St. Louis County Council gave final approval to three bills aimed at broadening minority participation in county contracts, Dooley said he would veto one sponsored by Councilman Mike O’Mara (D-Florissant), international representative of the United Association and member Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, that would require contractors with contracts of at least $25,000 to have apprenticeship training programs.

Dooley has argued that apprenticeship training – which is done primarily by unions – is too expensive for some minority and female businesses.

Stenger, on the other hand, firmly supports apprenticeship and understands its value:

“He’s no longer even passively anti-labor,” Stenger said. “We’re under attack.”

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Stenger said: “If you talk to labor unions across the board, what they will tell you is the apprenticeship programs are really the opening door – the door that opens – for minorities in the trades. They start out as apprentices and move up. That’s what we want to see.”

West End Word has also highlighted the difference between Dooley and Stenger on issues pertinent to the race:

Employment:

– Dooley says his economic policies created 5,000 new jobs in the county just in 2013. He points to statistics that show the county was first in the state for business start-ups, while having an unemployment rate well under the national average.

– Stenger says that as an accountant for 20 years and an attorney for local businesses for 17 years, he knows what’s needed to create jobs. He pledges to support a Regional Chamber plan to increase collaboration between the region’s two states, 15 counties, and municipalities. He says these efforts will promote new economic growth.

Crime and Safety:

– Dooley says crime has declined in the county because of improved lighting and increased patrolling, so that the crime rate is the lowest it has been since 1969. He says he will continue to address issues such as dangerous abandoned buildings.

– Stenger says he will improve public safety by working with law enforcement officials including the St. Louis County Police Chief, police officers, and other first responders. He says he will insure appointments are current and conflict-free on St. Louis County’s Board of Police Commissioners.

Health Care:

– Dooley says that in 2013, more than 52,000 adult medical patients and 12,000 dental patients with limited or no medical insurance received treatment at county health clinics. He points to a county health department’s high score from the Missouri Institute of Community Health.

– Stenger says whether it’s a burning landfill or a flu outbreak in our schools, he will insist that we have an accountable public health department whose sole focus is the health of its citizens. He says he wants a complete review of the county health department in the wake of the recent scandals plaguing the department.

Both candidates say they are committed to transparent government. However, Stenger says Dooley’s administration has been plagued by questionable county budgeting, the hiding of true costs for public projects, and inaccurate budget forecasts that have hurt business and growth.

The Democratic primary will be held August 5th.

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