Hillary Levin, July 25, 2020
We don’t envy the difficult but good choices St. Louis County voters face in the Democratic primary race for county executive. Three viable candidates — incumbent Sam Page, businessman Mark Mantovani and County Assessor Jake Zimmerman — each offer impressive credentials. The county would probably wind up in good hands regardless of which one wins.
Page, 55, former chair of the County Council, took over as county executive last year after Steve Stenger’s scandalous departure and conviction on federal corruption charges. The learning curve was steep for Page, and Stenger left behind no shortage of brush fires and basement blazes for Page to extinguish. Page has had his share of mistakes, but he’s done well enough to deserve a full term so he can captain the county’s badly listing ship into a safe harbor. We recommend Page in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary.
When Stenger ran for reelection in 2018, our enthusiastic primary endorsement went to Mantovani, and we remain confident that he holds the managerial experience and strong backing of the business community to create jobs and attract investment. For Democrats leaning right of center, Mantovani is probably the more attractive choice.
Further to the left is Zimmerman, a firebrand Harvard Law School graduate whose tenure as assessor has provided him with a deep grounding in the county’s finances and politics.
Also running is Jamie Tolliver of University City, a 36-year-old single mother who has never held public office. She seems earnest in her desire to fight for the county’s Black underclass, but this is not the office for her to cut her political teeth.
The front pages and editorial pages of this newspaper have well documented the many missteps Page has made since taking over. He can be prickly and defensive. Although he now denies there’s a problem between him and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, their frosty relations have dealt a serious setback to regional collaboration efforts. He must do better to fix what’s broken in city-county relations because the region’s violent crime, poverty, joblessness, corporate exodus and pandemic health concerns do not recognize boundaries.
Page also needs to rethink some abysmal personnel choices. Chief of staff Winston Calvert has been a one-man wrecking ball with the County Counciland news media. And what possessed Page to name far-left troll Richard Callow as his co-campaign manager? The other co-manager, Jon Clancy, is the brother of County Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy. Jon’s Clancy appointment screams conflict of interest. Did Page not learn anything from Stenger’s mistakes?
Still, given the depths to which the county descended under Stenger, Page has done yeoman’s work repairing the damage while gradually flattening his learning curve and — no small feat — juggling the coronavirus crisis. He deserves a chance to prove that he can do better.