Dr. Sam Page is interim St. Louis County executive, serving a term that expires at the end of 2022. He was voted into this interim position by the County Council, which he was chairing as councilman for District 2 at the time of Steve Stenger’s resignation as county executive last April. Rather than serve out the rest of Stenger’s term, the County Charter calls for the appointed interim county executive to face the voters in the next general election. Looking at the candidate field and taking into account the county’s deepening Democratic majority, we can say with confidence that the winner of the Democratic primary for county executive on August 4 will be elected county executive on November 3 and be inaugurated at the first of the year.
That means if Page were to lose the primary, he would be a lame duck county executive for the next five months. Not only is that nearly 20% of the rest of Stenger’s unexpired term, but it also is a very crucial five months. St. Louis County is facing a surging pandemic that has crippled the economy, and now schools are finalizing plans to resume education under uncertain and perilous conditions. We believe the only reason to vote for Page to be reduced to a lame duck status for these critical five months — the only reason to vote against Page on August 4 — would be if Page’s tenure as county executive to date had been a disaster and if one of his challengers were a proven leader. Page took office from a corrupt fraud who left the county in turmoil, and he was hit by an unprecedented pandemic after less than a year in office. Under trying circumstances at best, his performance has not been perfect by any means, but it has not been a disaster. Certainly, his performance to date would not warrant voting him into lame duck status for five months only to take a chance on an unknown quantity for two years of an unexpired term, knowing that the last of those two years will be embroiled in yet another campaign for office.
Two of Page’s challengers are complete unknowns politically. Neither Jamie Tolliver nor Mark Mantovani has ever held political office. Mantovani — whom we endorsed over Stenger in 2018 — touts his success in business as evidence that he would succeed in political office, but in fact he is an untested unknown. We also were disturbed to see that he retained as his campaign manager in this campaign cycle Patrick Lynn, who comes from the same campaign operation that elected Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. Former Stenger operatives are pushing for him through the ChangeSTL PAC. Mantovani’s endorsement by the police association further convinces us that he has drifted from an anti-Stenger to a conservative candidate at a time when the county is showing progressive political potential. Mantovani has sound criticisms of some of Page’s failures in leadership — Page has not successfully catalyzed and united a fragmented county — but we see more hope in working with Page’s known shortcomings than taking a leap of faith on the unknown Mantovani, especially given the campaign company he is keeping.
Page also is being challenged from the left by Jake Zimmerman, currently the county assessor. Zimmerman has a good political track record, including eight years now of running a countywide office of scale, but we don’t believe he promises enough improvement on Page’s potential to vote for five months of a lame duck on August 4. Zimmerman, like Mantovani, has sound criticisms of Page’s shortcomings; Page was slow to put COVID-19 testing sites in North County and his appointees to the police board bungled the process to replace Police Chief Jon Belmar with the kind of transformative and credible police leader the county needs now. But Zimmerman has made no transformational changes in the office he currently runs that would convince us he would govern on issues of inclusion better than Page. Again, we think working with Page’s known weaknesses — and strengths — is preferably to taking a chance on Zimmerman for the rest of this unexpired term.
We believe Sam Page has shown enough potential under extraordinarily difficult conditions to warrant a promotion from interim to actual county executive, especially given the enormous opportunity costs of voting him into lame duck status for the rest of this tumultuous 2020. His challengers have pointed out some areas where he needs to work and develop, and we will hold him accountable for making definite improvements in the next two years, which should be his to govern. We endorse Dr. Sam Page for St. Louis County executive.