South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Stenger and Mantovani face off in Democratic county executive primary

Stenger narrowly defeated challenger Mark Mantovani in the August 2018 Democratic primary.

By Jessica Belle Kramer
For the Call

Mark Mantovani

Incumbent County Executive Steve Stenger is running for re-election in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Aug. 7, and he is being challenged by Mark Mantovani, who has never held public office in the past.

Mantovani, 64, 19 Dromara Road, Ladue, was CEO of Ansira, a marketing agency. He and his wife, Patricia, have three grown children: Claire, 29, Joe, 34, and Gina, 35.

Affton native Mantovani attended Seven Holy Founders grade school, then St. Louis University High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Quincy University, a J.D. from the University of Missouri School of Law and a M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. He also was a 2017 Senior Fellow at Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative, where he studied state and local governance.   

Mantovani is currently on the advisor board at the USO of Missouri, on the board of directors at the International Office of Boys Hope Girls Hope, a board member at the St. Louis Repertory Theater and involved at Annuziata Catholic Church.

Mantovani was formerly the board chairman at the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, on the board of directors at the St. Louis Sports Commission, on the board of directors at the St. Louis Zoo, on the board of trustees at Quincy University and on the board of trustees at St. Louis University High School.

“I believe we lack genuine leadership in St. Louis County and it’s hurting our progress. I’m running for St. Louis County executive to lead the way for a better St. Louis County and restore our region as a place of hope and opportunity for all. Through ethical, effective, collaborative, visionary and inclusive leadership, I will guide the region to reach its potential by ending pay-to-play corruption and focusing on growing our economy, creating more good-paying jobs, protecting the rights of workers and enhancing our safety,” Mantovani said when asked why he is seeking office.

Stenger, 46, 336 N. Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, is a certified public accountant, or CPA, and an attorney. He and his

Steve Stenger

wife, Allison, have two young children.

“My vision is a safe, prosperous county where families can work, live and play.  That has always been my vision and remains so today,” Stenger said when asked why he is seeking re-election.

The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

Mantovani said, “The region is failing to achieve its potential, and the county government is failing to serve the best interests of the community. It’s time for new, visionary and ethical leadership to reinvigorate the region. The current system is broken, mired in corruption, political infighting and negligence and we’re losing ground to other communities in the Midwest. We deserve better.”

Stenger said, “Opioid crisis. When the state of Missouri refused to act, I created a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for St. Louis County which was the first jurisdiction in the state to adopt a comprehensive database for monitoring the sale of prescription drugs, including opioids that can cause addiction and lead to heroin abuse when overprescribed. We also put Narcan is every police car and saved over 150 lives. I’m proud to say that as of today, over 80 percent of the state of Missouri’s population now participate in the county program.”

What other issues do you perceive in your race?

Mantovani said, “Integrity in office: I’ve proposed a bold county ethics policy to ban campaign contributions from those who do business with the county, ending ‘pay to play.’ I’ve proposed a regional approach to our fragmented local government. Safeguarding our schools and children, proposing more engagement on environmental matters and using technology, as I did with my business, to streamline county government and reduce costs.”

Stenger said, “Public safety and crime: I also spearheaded the passage of Proposition P, which is adding 100 police officers to county streets, two officers to a police car, increases diversity in police ranks, improves training and adds more equipment like body cameras and dash cameras to increase accountability of officers on the streets.  I understand that in order to have real public safety, communities and law enforcement must trust each other and work together.

“Economic development: Under my leadership, St. Louis County has brought in over $5 billion in economic development and created/retained over 30,000 jobs.”

Do you believe the St. Louis County Planning Commission is responsive to county residents? How long should appointees serve on the Planning Commission? Is there anything about the zoning process that should change?

Mantovani said, “Not always. The key is finding quality, committed and knowledgeable people to serve versus focusing on term limits. A citizens’ commission should be appointed to review current planning and zoning  policies to suggest changes that are acceptable to residents.

“The planning and zoning commission is particularly difficult for people in south county. There are problems with spot zoning; with the planning department ignoring their own development recommendations in their long-term plans; and the inconvenience of commission hearings for south county proposals being poorly publicized and all hearings being conducted in Clayton. Something like 70 percent of the proposals deal with south county. Hearings could be conducted more conveniently. The interests of south county residents are often overruled by people who don’t live in the community. I would like to investigate a south county planning district comprised of south county residents who would decide south county zoning issues.”

Stenger said, “I think the Planning Commission is responsive to county residents, and I think it should strive to be even more responsive. I think that rotation of those serving on all of our boards is important. At the close of my first term, we will be looking at all of our boards to determine if it is timely for some individuals to be rotated from some boards.”

What is your position on incorporation?

Mantovani said, “For incorporation of unincorporated St. Louis County, I would support a panel to review some of the restrictions on incorporation.”

Stenger said, “The trend in our community has been disincorporation. We have seen a few of these in recent years. As to incorporation, it has been some time since we have seen such a request. Nevertheless, I remain open to all viewpoints and would engage in conversations and dialogue with all sides.”

Should the county executive attend County Council meetings?

Mantovani said, “Yes, and the county executive and/or his/her office should report to the county about county matters.” 

Stenger said, “Council Council meetings are important for the county executive to attend, and it should be noted that at times, other pressing county business can take precedence. The county executive is not part of the council and does not vote at the meetings, so at times his presence is required elsewhere.”

Do you believe the County Council should approve legislation or voters should approve a Charter amendment prohibiting council members from accepting campaign contributions from developers? What are your thoughts on the county executive negotiating leases with businesses owned by campaign contributors?

Mantovani said, “To restore ethics and confidence in St. Louis County government, I have committed to an ethics plan focused on campaign fundraising reforms. As part of that plan, I have pledged that, if elected county executive, I will not accept donations from anyone who has a contract to do business with the county. Further, if elected, I will not accept any campaign contributions from any source during the three years after my election, and will only raise funds during a future election year, and even then, only from those not having contracts with St. Louis County.

“Only experienced county staff or professionals should negotiate county leases. The Northwest Plaza sham is an insult to our citizens and the process.”

Stenger said, “I didn’t negotiate the lease for Northwest Plaza. That was done by a team of attorneys in the law department.

“I am in favor of campaign-finance limits.  However, I think the County Council’s legislation didn’t go far enough.  It should also apply to self funders to prevent them from simply buying an elected office. The County Council’s amendment related to contribution limits also contains a poison pill that allows the council to have unlimited spending authority with no check or balance. For this reason I think the amendment should be voted down.”

Are you satisfied with the current state of the county’s assessment process?

Mantovani said, “I would work with the county assessor and the community to alleviate any concerns voiced by the people.”

Stenger said, “I think the current assessment process has come a long way from where it was years ago with drive-by assessments. I am in favor of as much actual in-person review and analysis as possible.”

Are you satisfied with the direction the county is headed under County Executive Steve Stenger?

Mantovani said, “No.”

Stenger said, “Yes.”

Do you support a city-county merger?

Mantovani said, “I do not support a merger, or any plan to have a statewide vote. I do support the city of St. Louis re-entering the county, assuming there is no assumption of city liabilities and upon approval by voters.” 

Stenger said, “The group Better Together created a task force and is currently performing a study to look at the duplication of services in our local governments.  Currently we are overspending by $750 million a year on services. They are going to release their findings later this year and provide options on how to streamline government.

“While Mr. Mantovani favors a merger (although he is afraid to call his plan a merger), I think we need to see what the data shows and gather community input before we make any decision in this matter. Our residents should have an opportunity to vote on this matter.”

What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in south county?

Mantovani said, “I have a long history of business success. Overall, St. Louis County is the economic engine of our region and south county is a key component of this. I will focus on south county and all parts of the community. A delegation from south county could be paired with the Regional Economic Council or other regional economic development entities to promote development and be advisors to my office.”

Stenger said, “Under my leadership, the STL Partnership has focused a great deal on economic development in south county. The St. Louis County Port Authority has given multiple grants during my tenure to enhance south county as a place for companies to do business. There is also a successful STL Partnership Business Center in south county on Lemay Ferry Road.  It currently houses 11 startups and has room for more. This incubator provides business support, mentoring and financing to help these entrepreneurs grow and add new jobs.”

What do you see as the status of county finances?

Mantovani said, “The current county executive has an unbalanced budget and has talked of a tax increase. I oppose that. The county budget is in terrible shape, and the County Council agrees. The council has been working to avoid new taxes. By working with the council, instead of against it, we will get the budget under control.”

Stenger said, “St. Louis County has a AAA bond rating and over $100 million in our reserve fund.  I made millions of dollars of cuts from our expenditures to eliminate wasteful spending. I also reformed our pension, saving $300 million. St. Louis County finances are in good shape.”

Should the County Council have its own attorney besides the county counselor?

Mantovani said, “Yes.”

Stenger said, “The county Charter prohibits the County Council from having an attorney outside of the 25 attorneys our county has on staff for utilization of every department. The county executive appoints the chief county attorney and the council approves the appointment, as they did with the current attorney.”

What will you do to address the problems exposed by the unrest in Ferguson?

Mantovani said, “I will work with the Forward through Ferguson Commission and will actively engage with the community and the commission, which has convened.  I will focus my attention on the four key elements of that report: Child Well-Being and Education Equity, Economic Inequity and Opportunity, Health Equity and Transportation.”

Stenger said, “St. Louis County has implemented more recommendations from the Ferguson report than any other government.”

Should the city of St. Louis enter the county as a municipality?

Mantovani said, “Yes, but not merge governments. This is a very important distinction. The county need not accept any cost of debt or other issues that county voters fear. Further, there must be a vote of county residents to approve anything. I oppose any statewide vote as favored by my opponent.”

Stenger said, “No.”

What is your greatest accomplishment for the county?

Mantovani said, “Building a coalition of energized supporters from all parts of the region and across racial and socioeconomic lines who realize the potential of our county, the failure of current executive leadership and the need to create change for the benefit of the entire region.”

Stenger said, “The passage of Proposition P, which is adding 100 police officers to county streets, two officers to a police car, increases diversity in police ranks, improves training and adds more equipment like body cameras and dash cameras to increase accountability of officers on the streets.  I understand that in order to have real public safety, communities and law enforcement must trust each other and work together.”

How will you attract new businesses and jobs into the county?

Mantovani said, “The county executive is in the position to influence marketing and business development strategies for the entire region. I will work to engage the business community and coordinate with the various economic development partners to streamline efforts and provide clear direction on responsibilities. I will personally participate in the process. My key objectives would include: (1) Creating more positive momentum for the region so people and businesses want to be here. (2) Communicating effectively with businesses in the Midwest, extolling the virtues of doing business in our region.  (3) Easing any inefficiencies at the government level that provide roadblocks, (4) Providing more support for businesses as they run into challenges and (5) Eliminating the pay-to-play politics in county government, as businesses don’t want to locate in communities characterized by corrupt practices.”

Stenger said, “Under my leadership, St. Louis County has brought in over $5 billion in economic development and created/retained over 30,000 jobs. I meet regularly with local CEOs and business leaders as well as elected and civic officials. I work daily to attract and retain companies to our region. I do most of this work through collaborating with the economic development apparatus for the region.”

Has the county violated the Sunshine Law?

Mantovani said, “Yes, the current county administration has violated this regularly.”

Stenger said, “No.”

What are your thoughts on the county’s lease for a new North County Government Center in the former Northwest Plaza mall?

Mantovani said, “I agree with the County Council’s ethics commission that the multimillion-dollar real-estate deal with County Executive Steve Stenger’s biggest campaign donors should be investigated by law enforcement. (1) The lease is very expensive for the county — $18 per square foot plus expenses…. (2) The 20-year lease term is ridiculously long. (3) Other property was available for no additional cost. There is nearly 300,000 square feet of vacant space that the county is either paying rent for or owns. (4) Few ‘new’ jobs were created as many were moved around from other areas…”

Stenger said, “This is a good deal for taxpayers and was the right thing to do.  Additionally, the County Council approved this lease with a 5-1 vote. The lease is a market-rate lease at $18 per square foot for exceptional space and has resulted in over 2,500 jobs and $300 million of economic development for our region.”

Do you have plans to expand MetroLink? What will you do to improve MetroLink security?

Mantovani said, “First priority is to improve the safety and operations of the current system. Ridership has plummeted 15 percent. The county, which is in charge of MetroLink security, needs to step up and create real safety. The county police officer in charge today says MetroLink is safe. Ridership does not concur.”

Stenger said, “It is premature to talk about MetroLink expansion without addressing the crime issue first.  St. Louis County has 44 police officers working on the line and while crime has decreased on the line, Metro has a long way to go to make the line safe. We will continue to assist them in any way we can.”

Should the county spend more or less on the Metro budget? What changes would you like to see, if any?

Mantovani said, “We shouldn’t spend any additional money until we solve the security problem. The key is to make sure security is working, as MetroLink has lost both riders and revenue over the last four years.”

Stenger said, “I believe that now that new leadership at Metro is imminent, all expenditures of Metro should be closely examined and evaluated before any budget request is met.”

Are changes needed to the county Charter at this time?

Mantovani said, “I support the County Council’s attempts to enhance county government as proposed.”

Stenger said, “No.”

Do you support the construction of a new county police station at Sappington and Gravois?

Mantovani said, “The current station clearly needs to be rebuilt. However, oversight is needed because the county Port Authority is buying five parcels of land that only requires two parcels. What is the county going to do with the other three parcels? Why is the Port Authority buying this land without an appraisal? The council— not the county executive — is asking the right questions.”

Stenger said, “Yes.”

What will you do to oversee spending from Proposition P?

Mantovani said, “I will fully participate in requests for Prop P funds. The county executive should work collaboratively with the council to prioritize use of these funds. This is not what is happening now.”

Stenger said, “I established an accountability portal on the St. Louis County website so residents can see where every dollar of Prop P is being spent.  Further, I continue to fight at times against the County Council to make sure Prop P dollars are being spent for its intended purpose.”

What is your opinion of the performance of county Auditor Mark Tucker?

Mantovani said, “I’m in no position to evaluate his performance. According to reports, there has not been a lot of activity, but I don’t have enough information to place blame. It is not in the scope of my knowledge to assess whether the auditor’s efforts are being hampered by a lack of cooperation from the administration, as some suggest.”

Stenger said, “I think he should be fired ASAP.  Further, I was opposed to his hiring in the first place.  He has no accounting experience and has not performed an audit in the 16 months he has been employed by county government.”

What are your thoughts on the St. Louis County police?

Mantovani said, “County police do their duty and their jobs. I look forward to working with them to provide the best police and public-safety services in America.” 

Stenger said, “I think the St. Louis County Police Department is one of the best police departments in the country. We have a strong leader in Chief Jon Belmar.”

What is the biggest issue facing St. Louis County today? What will you do to fix it?

Mantovani said, “Our county government is at a standstill due to the failed relationship between the current county executive and the County Council. The county government is at a stalemate and community progress is at a snail’s pace.

“I have committed to a ‘Better Government and Ethics’ plan comprised of sound governance policies to restore confidence in St. Louis County government and heal the broken relationships that exist under our current leadership.

“As part of that plan, I have pledged to build an open and collaborative relationship with the County Council and county employees. As such, the County Council will be properly informed, prepared, staffed and empowered to perform its crucial functions in a professional and orderly manner. All Sunshine Laws will be observed faithfully, and my administration will deliver a transparent government operation that conducts the people’s business openly. County employees can expect me to partner with them in delivering world-class public service to the residents of St. Louis County.”

Stenger said, “We are currently facing an opioid crisis. 

“When the state of Missouri refused to act, I initiated a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program for St. Louis County which was the first jurisdiction in the state to adopt a comprehensive database for monitoring the sale of prescription drugs, including opioids that can cause addiction and lead to heroin abuse when overprescribed. We also put Narcan is every police car and saved over 150 lives.

“I’m proud to say that as of today, over 80 percent of the state of Missouri’s population now participate in the county program.”

What are your thoughts on how the current County Council is operating? Should the County Council continue pursuing its lawsuit against the county executive?

Mantovani said, “The council has been forced to confront the county executive because of his dictatorial and dishonest approach and his unwillingness to collaborate. He is often missing in action. I am proud of the council members on both sides of the aisle for doing their jobs and working to stop the corruption.”

Stenger said, “The County Council is currently completely dysfunctional and should reconsider its mission to serve the people of St. Louis County. As of late the council has been completely consumed with politics and has turned its attention away from the needs of its residents. The lawsuit is a perfect example of the dysfunction. While the executive branch led by me looks for ways to bring better public safety, economic development and reduce expenditures, the council seeks to hire additional attorneys and staff and give itself and its members unlimited spending authority.”

If elected, will you accept campaign contributions from developers with projects pending or recently approved in the county?

Mantovani said, “No. My Ethics and Better Government Plan will eliminate the practice of collecting campaign contributions from anyone doing business with the county and ban fundraising by the county executive until an actual election year. There will be no full-time, pressure fundraising like my opponent.”

Stenger said, “I will abide by campaign finance laws.”

What is your opinion of a subdivision proposed at the Tower Tee property?

Mantovani said, “Having grown up approximately one mile from Tower Tee, I have a measure of nostalgia and some concerns about the plan to develop the entire site. Green space has its value —  especially around the proximity  of the tower. We should engage with the community, and we have to make certain that the subdivision is properly planned and executed to ensure that any development is liveable and successful.”

Stenger said, “I will reserve my opinion after I have seen the proposed subdivision. I have not seen a current proposal, and it is my understanding that potential proposals have been potentially changed dramatically.”

More to Discover