Local Dems should follow example of U.S. Democrats

By BURKE WASSON

Voters nationwide rode the proverbial Democratic wave last week and stamped out Republican majority leadership in Congress. For the most part, we at the Call couldn’t be happier. But on a local level, some of that Democratic fervor has us a little nervous.

Longtime Republican County Councilman Kurt Odenwald was ousted last week by state Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-University City, in the race for the county’s 5th District seat. Fraser is the first candidate in 16 years to defeat Odenwald, and her victory also gives Democrats the council’s majority for the first time since 2000. We are impressed by Ms. Fraser’s record in the Missouri House and hope the best for her when she takes office.

But more importantly, we want to extend a bit of caution to her by revisiting the last time St. Louis County had a Democratic majority.

In 2000, before 6th District Councilman John Campisi shifted power to the Republicans with his election, the council was quite blatantly not as open and inviting to county residents as it is today. Want proof? Look no further than the 3 p.m. meeting time at which the council met on each Thursday.

Most anyone with a full-time job was forced to compromise their livelihood just to take an interest in local government. To steal a phrase from former Democratic Vice President Al Gore, it was “an inconvenient truth.”

Despite resistance from county Democrats — including then-Councilman and current County Executive Charlie Dooley — the council opened itself to more public involvement in 2001 by meeting at 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday.

Last month, Dooley and Fraser both stated to us in candidate questionnaires that they support retaining night meetings. For the good of the county, we hope they stand up to some fellow Democrats who once took a page from President Bush by ironically opposing such openness in government.

We are also sorry to see Odenwald go and feel that his exit is more a reflection of anti-Republican sentiment than a rejection of his character.

From pushing for night meetings to championing utility assistance for seniors and low-income families, Odenwald accomplished much. While we raised our eyebrows at his attempt to legislate morals through a countywide smoking ban, we still believe Odenwald is the 5th District’s best choice.

In the seemingly bizarro world of St. Louis County — where Republicans are, more often than not, the good guys — change could be cause for concern.

Prove us wrong, Democrats.