St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial cartoon

The Post-Dispatch political cartoon when it endorsed Steve Stenger over Charlie Dooley.

We believe that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch owes the region an apology for the paper’s reckless promotion of a little-known political hopeful named Steve Stenger, who pled guilty to corruption charges after the paper’s strident effort to elect him as St. Louis County executive in 2014. Since the paper is withholding an apology, we have crafted one for it.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch would like to apologize to the public for its role in the elevation and election of Steve Stenger as St. Louis County executive.

Stenger’s election in 2014 was enabled by his August 5 Democratic primary victory over incumbent Charlie Dooley. In that primary, we strongly endorsed Stenger. “Right now the county needs competent management,” we ended our endorsement. “Steve Stenger offers that.” However, we provided no evidence that Stenger offered competent management, which is a basic failure of persuasive argument. We supplied no evidence of his substantial experience competently managing a large staff or many departments, for Stenger had none.

This is all we could say on behalf of Stenger: “we acknowledge that for better or for worse, he is a lesser-known quantity. A lawyer and a CPA, he has the professional credentials to do the job. He provided a useful check on Mr. Dooley’s overreach on the parks budget and courthouse project. Being the anti-Dooley raised his political profile, but his public record is relatively thin.”

Notice that “the professional credentials to do the job” do not include evidence of competence or management, merely of training and experience in law and accounting. We even admitted we had “relatively thin” evidence about Stenger to go on.

Further, when we said of Stenger that being “the anti-Dooley raised his political profile,” we omitted to say that it was our newspaper that greatly helped to raise Stenger’s profile as “the anti-Dooley” and, in fact, the main credential Stenger had to offer was that he was not Dooley, the county’s first black chief executive.

As for “the parks budget and courthouse project,” those relate to missteps in Dooley’s administration, of which there were a number. The same could be said of another long-term elected Democrat, Francis G. Slay, but we never endorsed against Slay based on the many mistakes and disasters on his watch.

We stood by Slay through convicted corruption in his parks department, a towing scam under the police chief he championed, a horrific ACLU report on the city jails, misdirection of affordable housing funds from the use tax, a fundraising email sent from a Board of Public Service email account, and a civil rights meltdown in the fire department that forced Slay to promote a functionary with almost no management experience to director of the city’s largest and most crucial department in an effort to defuse the appearance of racism.

Never did we attempt to hold Slay personally accountable for the many mistakes and crises in his administration. Yet our endorsement of Stenger over Dooley included a sidebar of links to the following past editorials from us: “Charlie and the Metro garage,” “Charlie and his friends,” Charlie and the Children’s Services Fund,” “Charlie and the parks,”  Charlie and the courthouse bonds,” “Charlie and the crime lab,” “Charlie and the chief,” “Charlie and the FBI report,” “Charlie and the ZMD,” “Charlie and the 1 percent donations.”

We apologize for accepting off-the-record allegations made by unreliable sources such as then-County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, then-Police Chief Tim Fitch and especially Stenger himself that Dooley was at the center of a net of corruption that federal authorities were about to close around him if we did not run him out of office first.

Further, we apologize for calling him “Charlie,” whereas Stenger and Slay were never “Steve” or “Francis.” We acknowledge that white people addressing a black man by his first name in a formal, public context harks back to slavery, when a black man had no last name a white person recognized other than his master’s. And we acknowledge that our political cartoon of Dooley that accompanied our endorsement – captioned “the buck stops here” – included a mocking, racist term for a black man, a black man our newspaper was, in fact, trying to stop.

For these reasons, in addition to the St. Louis region generally, we would like to single out the black community and Charlie Dooley in particular in making this apology.

Dooley may not have been the most competent manager, but we had no evidence whatsoever for our claim that Stenger would be one, and Stenger most certainly proved to be worse than incompetent. Further, we were dead wrong that Dooley was corrupt, as Stenger, McCulloch and Fitch convinced us. Rather, it was Stenger who was corrupt, and our newspaper had a large role in elevating and electing him. We regret the error.

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