PHOTOS: Stenger edges Mantovani for re-election, Mantovani so far not contesting


Pictured above: County Executive Steve Stenger and his wife, Allison, at his Aug. 7 victory party. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger scraped by with a victory in the Democratic primary for county executive last week against retired Ladue businessman Mark Mantovani, the one exception on a day residents overwhelmingly voted for change.

“In this case I’m almost considering this a landslide,” Stenger said after edging Mantovani 50.29 percent to 49.71 percent, 91,891 votes to 90,837.

Despite heavy attack ads from Mantovani, Stenger managed to hold on to his seat as every other county incumbent with an opponent was shown the door.

The victims included Stenger’s closest allies in county government, county Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, a seven-term incumbent who was defeated by newcomer Wesley Bell, and two-term incumbent 5th District County Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, who was defeated by newcomer Lisa Clancy.

Conventional wisdom said Stenger had the upper hand in the race because of heavy turnout by union voters against Proposition A, or right-to-work. That was defeated overwhelmingly.

But the progressive wing of the Democratic Party unexpectedly came out in force to turn out the old guard.

Still, without a well-known or well-funded Republican challenger in November, the Democratic primary is widely seen as a proxy for the general election, with Stenger nearly guaranteed a victory this fall.

On the GOP side, Paul Berry III defeated Concord resident Daniel Sampson with 31,841 votes, or 56.48 percent, to Sampson’s 24,533 votes, or 43.52 percent.

Mantovani did not concede the night of the election, but issued a statement the next day that said “the movement” would go on without him, and he would probably not ask for a recount.

But he noted that there are hundreds of outstanding military and provisional ballots yet to be counted that he believed added up to more than the 1,000-vote gap between himself and Stenger.

The actual numbers of outstanding ballots are smaller, with 20 military ballots and roughly 400 provisional ballots left to be hand-counted and “adjudicated” to see if they’ll count, Democratic Elections Director Eric Fey said.

That process continues this week. The results won’t be updated into the final vote count until the county Board of Election Commissioners certifies the results Tuesday, Aug. 21. At that time, someone could file for a recount, Fey said.

‘The movement’ continues, Mantovani says

On a night that voters chose newcomers instead of the status quo in every other key county office, Mantovani stayed neck-and-neck with the incumbent county executive.

But as returns slowly trickled out, Stenger never lost his narrow lead.

The candidates sparred over a number of issues during the campaign, including Stenger’s relationship with the County Council and the county’s lease for a new North County Government Center at the former Northwest Plaza mall, which Stenger said is one of the greatest economic development projects in county history and Mantovani said is a pay-to-play folly intended only to benefit Stenger’s top financial donors.

During the campaign, Mantovani signs could more easily be spotted in west county, while Stenger’s were more frequently seen in south county.

The campaigns’ disparate bases of support were echoed in their watch party locations. Mantovani held his shindig at the Hilton Frontenac, while onetime Affton resident Stenger held his at LiUNA Event Center in Sunset Hills, the Laborers’ Local 110 union hall.

But in Stenger’s case, most of the union supporters were across town at the Proposition A watch party, celebrating the defeat of the right-to-work law first approved by the Missouri Legislature after Gov. Eric Greitens was elected in 2016.

At Mantovani’s watch party, he said he was already looking into procedures for contesting the results. The final tally didn’t come back until after midnight due to some ballots that had to be handcounted at election headquarters.

But he said in a statement issued the day after the primary that he does not plan to contest the results at this time.

“I know that many of you are discouraged about the missed opportunity to change the direction of the region. Remember this: Assuming the outcome remains the same, the loss was purely mine. There’s nothing wrong with the positions we took or the arguments we made. Leaders know that you win as a team, but it’s a leader’s loss, and I’ve said many times (and I’ve meant it) that if our movement had a better candidate, we’d have a better outcome. If there is any blame to be apportioned over this outcome, the blame is mine alone.”

He added in an email update sent out Aug. 13, “As previously stated, at this time, we have no active plans to contest the election results. Mark placed a call to Steve Stenger last Thursday morning to offer his best wishes and his help in serving the people of St. Louis County and moving our region forward. He has not received any response.”

Mantovani made several speeches at his watch party, but never conceded given the close results. He said he wrote two speeches depending on whether he won or lost, but not a third option for a neck-and-neck race.

“We’re kind of hanging on here by our fingernails,” Mantovani said after 89 percent of the precincts had been counted. “But practically speaking, it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing you should concede.”

Alluding to the hand counting of ballots and a few other alleged election irregularities that had come up during Election Day, he said, “It doesn’t necessarily pass the smell test, so we’re going to probably make sure that things are done properly before we make any final conclusions.”

He also noted that he had seen the county’s outdated election equipment firsthand during a tour of the new Northwest Plaza election headquarters when he filed for office.

“Little did I know five months later here we would be, held hostage by those damn antiquated machines,” Mantovani said. “Such is life.”

County ‘headed in right direction,’ Stenger says

Across town at Stenger’s watch party at LiUNA, the host didn’t emerge for five hours as the race remained close throughout the night and vote totals came in later than usual.

But when he did, he joked, “Another landslide,” referring to his narrow general-election victory in 2014 over Republican Rick Stream.

“This was a long hard fought campaign, but today’s victory shows that voters believe we’re moving St. Louis County in the right direction,” Stenger said. “We have brought real and positive change to St. Louis County over the last three-and-a half years.”

But Stenger said that he is not worried about a possible recount. In Stream’s recount, Stenger gained votes.

“I want to acknowledge Mark Mantovani for running a hard, aggressive campaign, and as you heard him just moments ago, he fought to the very end,” Stenger said.

He declined to talk about the defeat of his close allies McCulloch and Dolan, saying he would need a few days to process.

And he was definitely taking a day off, he added.