Primary opponents Dooley, Stenger agree to debate; date to be scheduled

Aug. 5 race hits airwaves with dueling campaign ads

By Gloria Lloyd

Since County Executive Charlie Dooley released a decade’s worth of his tax returns this spring, he has maintained that he will not debate one of his Aug. 5 primary opponents, 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, unless Stenger also released a decade of tax returns.

Dooley debuted a campaign commercial last week that repeated that challenge, asking what Stenger has to hide— “Who is this guy, anyway?” — and why he paid $21 in taxes on $221,000 of income one year. By the end of the week, Stenger released state tax returns dating back to 2007, and Dooley accepted a debate invitation from St. Louis Public Radio.

A date for the debate is not yet set, but it is tentatively scheduled to take place at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where St. Louis Public Radio is headquartered.

Besides Dooley and Stenger, Affton resident Ron Levy is seeking the Democratic nod for the county executive’s post in the Aug. 5 primary.

A poll commissioned by Stenger and conducted in April by pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research found that only 32 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in the county would vote to re-elect Dooley, but the Dooley campaign says its own polling shows Dooley is ahead in the race by 37 percentage points.

Although campaign-finance reports for the current quarter are not yet due, at the end of the spring quarter Stenger had outraised Dooley three quarters in a row, becoming the first candidate to raise more than $1 million.

Stenger helped his campaign with a $200,000 loan to his campaign and large labor support, and Dooley was helped by a $100,000 donation from Jeanne Sinquefield, wife of Rex Sinquefield.

Among the many issues they disagree on, Dooley and Stenger take differing viewpoints on whether those numbers mean Stenger outraised Dooley.

Dooley’s campaign maintains that Dooley, not Stenger, was the first candidate to raise $1 million.

“Mr. Stenger has loaned himself $200,000,” Dooley told the Call. “If you subtract that, he has not made more or raised more than I have.”

“I’ve outraised him three quarters in a row, which is really unheard of in a race of this magnitude, and particularly where we have an incumbent that’s been in office for 10 years,” Stenger told the Call last spring. “I anticipate a spirited race — it’s a very important office for St. Louis County … I hope there are many debates, because I really want to get to talking about the issues.”

However, Lisa Pannett, campaign manager for Green Park Ward 1 Alderman Tony Pousosa, who is running for the Republican nomination for county executive against Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, said it is Stenger who does not want to debate potential opponents for county executive.

For months, Pousosa has unsuccessfully extended an offer to Stenger to debate, with the League of Women Voters as a moderator, she said.

“We’ve been trying for the last three months to get anybody to show up for a debate. He’s not willing to show up,” Pannett told the Call. “Stenger won’t show up. You want to debate about the dogs (at the county animal shelter)? Let’s debate about it. Maybe we can get a real debate and try to get some answers.”

Dooley released a decade of his tax returns in March, four years more than Stenger, who explained that he can only release the previous six years of his state and federal returns because earlier returns would violate his ex-wife’s privacy.

The returns show that Stenger’s gross income declined from a high of $766,596 in 2007 to a low of $14,123 in 2008, climbing back up to $314,404 in 2012, the most recent year available since Stenger files an extension each year.

Dooley and his wife, who then worked for General Motors, made $110,224 the year he became county executive, in 2003, according to Dooley’s returns.

Dooley, who is retired from Boeing, formerly McDonnell Douglas, made $25,000 from a pension and $12,000 from his salary as a councilman. A council salary is now $20,000.

Currently, the county executive position pays $140,000, and Dooley’s income is roughly $200,000 in recent years, including his and his wife’s pensions.

The more positive commercial of the two Dooley released last week is narrated by Dooley’s daughter Stephanie and focuses on positive statistics of St. Louis County, his 35-year marriage to wife Sandra and his service in the Vietnam War.

The county is first in the state in job growth, has the lowest crime rates in 43 years and offers free mammograms for residents at county health centers, Stephanie Dooley says in the ad.

In Stenger’s television commercials released the week before, Dooley’s administration is depicted in a different light: The ads outline Dooley’s 2011 attempt to close county parks, multiple FBI investigations and a rebuke from St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.

“I’m supporting Steve Stenger for county executive because this corruption is a disgrace,” McCulloch says in the ad. “Ten years is long enough.”

Since last year, Stenger has contended that the county is under three separate FBI investigations, for the Edward Mueth theft at the Department of Health, a subcontract for the police crime laboratory that was awarded to a member of the police board and the operation of the Children’s Service Fund.

Contrary to the commercials, however, Dooley denied to the Call that the county government has ever been under investigation by the FBI.

“It was indicated that (the) Charlie Dooley administration was under investigation. That is an untruth,” he told the Call. “That is not so. It has never been — my administration has not been under any investigation since I have been county executive.

“That is wrong. What they investigated was the (health department) theft. That’s a fact.”

In a month that the County Council clashed on diversity bills, Justice Center cost overruns and a proposal for an audit of the Department of Health, Dooley received some good news when the FBI confirmed that Mueth, the county health official who allegedly embezzled up to $3.5 million through a phony company, acted on his own, with no accomplices.

Mueth killed himself in September, after county officials found out he had created a phony company that won bids for millions in county computer contracts that he oversaw himself.

In a June 2 letter to County Counselor Pat Redington, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan wrote that the FBI has concluded its investigation into the theft and found no one involved other than Mueth. Callahan did not provide any details on whether the FBI uncovered how Mueth carried out his crimes.