Two weeks away from the August primary election, and the Democratic candidates for St. Louis County Executive are gearing up for the final push.
Incumbent executive Steve Stenger is heading into the primary election with a significant financial advantage over rival Mark Mantovani.
Stenger still has $1.5 million in the bank, while campaign finance reports show Mantovani with $742,000 in cash on hand. Mantovani has contributed more than $1.2 million of his own money since announcing his candidacy last year, and has said he’s prepared to add more in the final weeks. (It’s worth noting that the campaign donation limits that are now in place are for statewide and legislative candidates, meaning that the executive race is exempt.)
Since April, Stenger has spent almost $1.4 million in his bid for a second term – a good portion of it on TV ads. Mantovani, a St. Louis businessman, has spent just under $700,000.
Stenger earned the support of the county police, firefighters and labor unions. Mantovani has been backed by a group of several dozen black Democratic leaders in north St. Louis County.
The two candidates have been waging war on each other in a series of nasty ad campaigns for months, with Mantovani accusing Stenger of being corrupt and Stenger questioning Mantovani’s political allegiances.
Mantovani’s campaign has hit Stenger’s administration with accusations of corruption, negligence and pay-to-play allegations, with claims that Stenger’s donors have been getting “sweetheart deals” from the St. Louis County government.
He’s also pointed to the stalemate between Stenger and the county council, where there has been an inability to work together on several issues, fighting a veto-proof majority council for the last two years. Stenger, however, has touted his work as the executive on the campaign trail, saying he has cut $31 million in wasteful spending, while also discussing the work of the St. Louis County in establishing the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to help stem the abuse of opioids.
Stenger, meanwhile, alleges that Mantovani is only running as a Democrat because a Republican stands little chance of winning in an area where decades have passed since a Republican won that seat. He points to Mantovani’s $20,241 in donations to former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, saying he’s shown a history of Republican support.
Mantovani responded to those claims in a video, saying that he not only voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election, and that he and his wife also contributed the maximum donation to the campaign
Opponents of Mantovani compare his record to that of Greitens, two men who both faced claims of flip-flopping parties, running under the platform of an outsider, having never held a public office.
But the parallels between Mantovani and Stenger are also interesting, with both men growing up in working-class families in Affton, graduating from Catholic high schools, and trained as lawyers.
The two candidates perceive different issues as the top priorities, with Stenger saying the opioid crisis is one of the forefront issues, next to public safety, crime, and economic development.
Mantovani has placed economic development at the forefront of his campaign, saying it’s time to change how things are done and figure out how to grow. He also says ethics will be a major issue, saying he has a proposed plan to ban campaign contributions from those who do business with the county.
Another major issue is that of incorporation. Stenger says he will be open to all viewpoints and would engage in conversations with both sides, while Mantovani says he would support a panel to review some of the restrictions on incorporation.
The two men face off in the August 7 primary, where the winner then heads to the November general election where they would face either Paul Berry III of Maryland Heights or Daniel Sampson of south St. Louis County. The Democratic primary winner is expected to coast to a win in November, as Democrats have continuously held the office for decades.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.