Fraser bests Odenwald in 5th District

Democrats to control County Council for first time since 2000

By BURKE WASSON

For the first time in 16 years, the County Council’s 5th District has a new leader. And because of that change, the council will have a Democratic majority for the first time since 2000.

Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-University City, told the Call last week that as the 5th District’s new councilman in 2007, she plans to bring many of the same goals for which she has worked as a state representative.

“My basic agenda for the county is to make sure that we maintain our strong neighborhoods and vital economic aspects throughout this area,” Fraser said. “And I think it is very important that we are vigilant in making plans for the future. I really believe that. Specifically, we do need emergency preparedness. We need to start thinking about that. We need to look at it in a broad way and then specifically develop a plan that will work in a way that we can all check on each other.”

Fraser defeated 16-year Republican incumbent Kurt Odenwald in the Nov. 7 election, receiving 53.77 percent of votes in the 5th District race.

The County Council also will see a new 3rd District member as Republican Colleen Wasinger received 55.43 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Kathleen Schweitzer. Wasinger will take the seat being vacated by outgoing Councilman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country.

Seventh District County Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, was re-elected last week by receiving 63.57 percent of his district’s votes over Democratic challenger Steven Biggs.

First District County Councilman Hazel Erby, D-University City, also was re-elected last week as she ran as an unopposed incumbent.

Democratic County Executive Charlie Dooley was also re-elected last week by a wide margin over Republican challenger Joe Passanise.

After the Election Day shuffle, the County Council will have four Democrats — Fraser, Erby, 2nd District Councilman Kathleen Birkett of Overland and 4th District Councilman Michael O’Mara of north county.

The three Republicans on the council will be Quinn, Wasinger and 6th District Councilman John Campisi, R-south county.

Fraser, Wasinger and Quinn will be sworn in Jan. 1, at which time Mange and Odenwald will step down.

Odenwald, who leaves serving as the council’s chairman, said he attributes his exit from the council to the Democratic wave that spread through a majority of voters nationwide on Nov. 7 and Fraser’s willingness to campaign on that premise.

“The reason we lost is there was just this tsunami,” Odenwald said. “Actually, someone called and said I got dragged down in the Democrat vortex. It looks like that was going to happen no matter. I think that’s unfortunate, but life goes on. That’s politics. There is life after politics, and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Fraser last week highlighted numerous areas in which she would like to see improvement in St. Louis County. These include improving health care, passing a seat-belt law and dispersing more state funds for education in order to cut residents’ property taxes.

“There’s several things that revolve around state responsibility where the state has dropped the ball in terms of children’s health care,” Fraser said. “And I think that that’s an area we need to be very tuned into and find out how we can help the children who’ve been kicked off Medicare. Another issue is the seat belt. The General Assembly has not, because of the rural influence, has not passed seat-belt legislation. And I’ve looked into possibly making sure we have a primary seat-belt law in the county.

“That’s an area that I worked on there and am tuned into for here. An area that concerns me greatly is the inequity in funding education throughout the state and that St. Louis County is disadvantaged by the powerful rural caucuses. And we should work closely with our legislators so we should change that inequity. And that has a direct impact on our taxes here in the county. About 70 percent of our property taxes go to schools. And if the state would give us our fair share, perhaps we wouldn’t have so much property tax. And I’m going to say that again. If the state would give St. Louis County school districts its fair share of money, perhaps the citizens of our county would not have the giant tax bills.”

As for the County Council’s new Democratic majority, Fraser said it is a welcome change and that she would be working to unite both the council and the county as a whole.

“I think it’s the right direction,” Fraser said. “I think we need to be really working with a vision to the future and looking at ourselves as a region. We have over 240 different governances in St. Louis County. The one group who represents us all is the County Council. Period. If you take any 10 people and ask them what school district they’re in, what fire district, what school college district, TDD (transportation-development) district … everybody’s in something. But the one thing we all share is the one, single county and county government. And I believe that is crucial to our growth and our understanding. And I believe that’s the way we want to move is to look at how we can plan for the future as a county.”

Looking back at his time served on the council since 1990, Odenwald said he especially is proud of his efforts to pass a countywide smoking ban — which was unsuccessful in the council in both 2005 and 2006 — to cut property taxes, initiate an energy-saving program for senior citizens and low-income families and expand the area’s MetroLink transportation rail system, which he believes should stretch to Lemay.

But the first change that Odenwald recognized during his time on the County Council is now something the council does each week — participate in meetings at 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday in Clayton, instead of 3 p.m. on Thursdays.

“I think for anybody who wants to participate in the process, the fact that they can now come to our meetings at a time that’s convenient for them — in the evenings — is probably one of the most significant changes that I was responsible for as chairman of the council,” Odenwald said. “And again, one which the Democratic members of the council and the Democratic county executive had fought tooth and nail against for years. And I think for the people in the county, that will be a long-lasting thing. I think more so than any individual issue that might come up and then go away. I think that’s something that will always be there. Hopefully, that won’t change. I think once we implemented it and saw how well it has worked, we saw how much more citizen involvement we have had at our meetings.

“Of course, there are some council members who would rather not have citizen involvement at the meetings. I’ve never been one of those. But I think there would be a large outcry if there was any attempt made to curb back the significant citizen participation that my leadership helped bring to the council. So I’m particularly proud of that.”

Odenwald said while he is pleased to now spend more time with his wife and four children, he leaves the County Council shocked at the rudeness he perceived in this year’s election toward Republicans.

“I had never encountered such venom and such vile in my life at a polling place,” Odenwald said. “And my family did on Election Day. My daughter was working in Webster Groves, and they were just rude and they were mean. But again, they weren’t comments directed at anything that I did or didn’t do. It was: ‘Oh, he’s one of those God-awful Republicans. I wouldn’t vote for a damn Republican if my life depended upon it. Your dad is horrible.’ It was a whole mood that was flamed by the type of campaign. It’s what my opponent promoted. Not just her, but the whole Democratic party.

“People can say whatever they want to me. But don’t you dare do that to my children. I tell you, if I had been around, I would have punched that son of a bitch (at the Webster Groves polling place). And you can print that.”

Fraser acknowledged last week that voters across the nation and in St. Louis County were ready for a change in leadership and said she would work her best to facilitate that switch.

“I think people all over the country were looking for that change,” Fraser said. “I think that’s about consistent. But I’m very clear that that image of change and image of fresh ideas and action, I believe, is what many people all over the country are looking for.”