SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — For more than 20 years, a Democrat has held the title of St. Louis County Executive. Now, some Republican candidates are hoping to change that, but first they have to survive a primary.
Tony Pousosa, an alderman in Green Park and Republican State Committeeman for the 1st Senatorial District, believes he can stage a quiet upset against his two opponents, both of whom have a little more experience in public service.
Pousosa (pronounced “Poe-so-sa”) doesn’t have the typical politicians resume which, he says, can be helpful with voters increasingly wary of traditional politics. Pousosa is a first-generation Cuban, and he still gets a tension in his chest when he talks about his father’s escape from the communist regime at gunpoint.
Pousosa — after a few conversations with GOP higher-ups about the lack of candidates for the county executive race — decided by August of last year he would run. He put together a small campaign team and began knocking on doors and announcing his intentions at local community meetings across the county. The relentless door-knocker may have worked himself into an advantage.
“I’ve been working since September 2013,” Pousosa said. “I would caution anyone against believing that just because they can raise more money that that means they can win an election.”
Pousosa says he’s been encouraged in the past to run as a state representative thanks to his long involvement in county legislative issues. But he says municipal government is where he belongs.
“I think it’s easy to go to Jefferson City or Washington and forget about back home,” Pousosa said. “Keep it local. This is where things are going to shape your life. This is where the decisions are going to more directly impact your life every day.”
Pousosa says the county lacks real leadership, chiding incumbent Democrat Charlie Dooley for what he calls a “scandal plagued” term of office.
“We’ve had the FBI investigating us, we have our own county executive giving out contracts as prizes for donors,” Pousosa said. “We’ve got them making decisions without letting the people have real input. That’s not leadership. That’s just doing what you feel like, and that’s not what the work is supposed to be.”
Pousosa will have a busy summer. Rick Stream, a term-limited member of Missouri’s general assembly and former budget chairman is also seeking the seat. Stream has connections with larger donors and more exposure to public life.
Pousosa says he has an advantage though. He’s been more active in local politics than either of them on the county level and that, he hopes, gives him the edge.
A firmly conservative Republican, Pousosa says he wants every department in the county audited by the state, opposes the sales tax increase for roads, and says the long proposed city-county merger is “not in the best interests” of county residents.
“For years we’ve seen the city and the county merging different departments or sharing things,” Pousosa said. “All under the guise of efficiency. When, in reality, it’s the government thinking for us and pushing this merger without the input of the people, and that’s a slippery slope.”
Pousosa says he is most frequently asked about his position on the merger, and that county residents are largely opposed to the issue. He says problems with fraud in other county operations show they aren’t ready for a merger.
A surgical team member at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Pousosa has two sons and has lived nearly 20 years in the county. Pousosa is banking on a failed 2012 county council run to help boost his name recognition. In 2012, Pousosa took about 45 percent of the vote in an attempt to oust the current Democratic challenger to Dooley, Steve Stenger.
Largely, any hope Pousosa has of winning comes from turning negatives into positives. On the fundraising front, he believes he has the edge.
“Look at where I get my money and look at where [Stream] gets money,” Pousosa said. “My money is coming in small amounts from hard working county residents. [Stream] is taking special interest money. He took money from red light camera companies, and then he voted with them.”
Pousosa said average residents wouldn’t respond to Stream bending to special interests or ducking votes.
“He deliberately missed a vote on Right-to-Work,” Pousosa said. “Why? Was it because he knew he was running for executive?”
Ultimately, Pousosa thinks his message will penetrate.
“Do you want to be controlled or do you want to be in control?” Pousosa said. “That’s a definite difference when it coms to local government. Most of the time the word and the deed do not match.”