What started as a candidate forum turned into a shouting match last week between 6th District Republican County Councilman John Campisi and his Democratic challenger, attorney Steve Stenger.
Political newcomer Stenger seeks to unseat Campisi, who first was elected in 2000 to the County Council.
At the Oct. 16 forum sponsored by the South County Chamber of Commerce, Campisi and Stenger traded jabs over Campisi’s voting record and Stenger’s residential history in south county.
Stenger criticized Campisi for voting unanimously with the County Council in December 2006 to amend the county’s solid-waste code for the future establishment of residential trash districts in unincorporated areas.
Since early 2007, Campisi has contended he was misled by former 3rd District Republican County Councilman Skip Mange into voting “yes” to establish trash districts. Campisi reiterated last week that he believed he was voting to set days for trash pickup while still allowing residents to choose their own waste haulers.
However, the language in that ordinance stated that the County Council would award bids to one hauler per district. All eight trash districts now are established, including four districts in south county.
Since early 2007, Campisi has attempted to pass legislation to repeal the trash districts, but Stenger said at last week’s forum that those efforts do not make up for not reading the legislation establishing them.
“I think it’s unbelievable that a sitting county councilman admits to the press the reason why he voted on this debacle … was that he did not read the legislation,” Stenger said. “… He wants to blame (County Counselor) Patricia Redington. He wants to blame (County Executive) Charlie Dooley.
“Certainly, they share their portion of the blame. It’s undoubted. But he just can simply not say that the buck stops here in south county. He won’t say it. He didn’t do his due diligence on the bill, and that is why south county has trash districting. If he sits here and says: ‘My vote wouldn’t have mattered,’ that’s not leadership. If he sits here today and tells you that he’s been against it from the start, that’s not leadership. Leadership rests upon accountability. This man sitting next to me, he doesn’t want accountability.”
Campisi reiterated that Mange misled him and that he did not believe he was voting to establish one hauler per district. He also accused Stenger of “lying” about the matter.
“What (Stenger) is talking about is a bill that came down at the last minute, five minutes, 52 pages long that a councilmember leaned over to me and told me everything I wanted in the legislation was going to be in there,” Campisi said. “What he’s doing is he’s lying to you. He’s been lying to you from the start. What he does is twist the truth. And the truth is what I voted for was to have districts that would have a Monday or a Wednesday trash pickup … but you would have the choice (of) trash hauler within that district. And it was minimum standards that I voted for. It was not anything to do with one trash hauler per district. So he’s lying to you from the start.”
Mange publicly has stated to the County Council that he made no such assurances to Campisi.
While Stenger attacked Campisi’s voting record, Campisi questioned Stenger’s residential history in south county.
“There are documents that I think you need to know about of my opponent, Steve Stenger,” Campisi said. “He lived in March of ’07 in Cottleville. Then he says he owned or rented an apartment in south county. And then he lived in and bought a house in December of ’07 in south county. Now, some of this would say that my opponent is a carpetbagger. I would agree. He’s in the area, but what does he really know about south county? Nowhere near what I know.”
Campisi was referring to the city of Cottleville’s March 2007 Involuntary Annexation Plan of Intent for the Timberwood Trails Subdivision that stated Stenger, who serves as the city’s prosecuting attorney, is “a Cottleville resident.”
Stenger told the Call he has never lived in Cottleville, but owns rental property in that city with two partners. Stenger also said he meets the requirements of the County Charter to run for a County Council seat.
Section 2.020 of the County Charter states that a County Council member “… shall be a qualified voter and resident in his district for at least one year preceding his nomination.”
Stenger’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for the 6th District seat was effective as of the Aug. 8, 2008, primary.
With the charter’s residential requirement in mind, Stenger said he moved back to south county “well before August” in 2007.
“In the last six years, I’ve lived in and out of the district,” Stenger said. “I lived in the district for about a year and a half back in 2006 or 2004 and then I moved back again in 2007 at some point … I’ve been certified by the secretary of state. I’ve met all the qualifications necessary under the law. I’m a longtime resident of the area. I believe that John Campisi is grasping at straws.”
Campisi said Stenger should provide documentation to prove he meets the residential requirement to run for County Council.
“Even if he just moved into the district … he’s still a carpetbagger no matter how you look at it,” Campisi said. “He hadn’t lived in south county. He may have just made the requirement, but he still has not lived in south county … He still owns a house in Clayton.”
County records show that Stenger owns two homes — one within the 6th District at 9322 Rambler Drive, 63123, and one in Clayton at 336 N. Forsyth Blvd., 63105.
Stenger said he owns multiple properties that he refurbishes and either sells for profit or rents.
As for the trash-district issue, Stenger disputed at last week’s forum that he is “lying” about Campisi’s December 2006 vote in favor of establishing trash districts.
“No. 1, I’m not lying,” Stenger said. “Anyone here in this crowd can go check the council journals. It’s not a lie. The question is did you (Campisi) vote for the trash bill or didn’t you? Did you vote for the trash bill? Let’s answer it.”
“What I did was I voted for your right to have your own trash hauler is what I’ve done,” Campisi said. “And by doing so, I think that you should have the right to have your own trash hauler.”
After Stenger replied to Campisi’s statement, the two candidates engaged in a heated exchange at the forum that drew cheers and jeers from those present.
“He’s avoiding the answer to the question,” Stenger said. “… He voted for the trash bill.”
“No, I didn’t,” Campisi interjected. “I voted against it.”
“No, you didn’t …,” Stenger said. “You voted for the trash issue.”
“You didn’t listen,” Campisi said.
“You simply voted for it,” Stenger said.
“As a lawyer, you need to listen,” Campisi said.
“I think you are not telling the truth,” Stenger said.