Rita Heard Days and Kelli Dunaway

Democrats Rita Heard Days (left) and Kelli Dunaway won seats on the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday. They will represent the 1st and 2nd districts, respectively.

RYAN DELANEY, RACHEL LIPPMANN | ST. LOUIS PUBLIC RADIO

(St. Louis Public Radio) - Two Democrats captured vacant St. Louis County Council seats Tuesday, giving the party control of the governing body that was shaken up by Steve Stenger’s resignation as county executive.

Former state Sen. Rita Heard Days easily won the race in the heavily Democratic 1st District, which takes in parts of central and northern St. Louis County — including Ferguson and University City. Days beat Republican Sarah Davoli with 84% of the vote. 

In the 2nd District, which includes municipalities like Maryland Heights, Hazelwood, St. Ann, Chesterfield and Creve Coeur, Democrat Kelli Dunaway bested Republican Amy Poelker with nearly 60% of the vote.

Stenger’s fall contributed to the two special elections. The 2nd District seat became open when Sam Page took Stenger’s place as county executive. And Hazel Erby resigned from her 1st District seat to lead diversity efforts in Page’s administration. 

Dunaway will fill out a little more than a year of Page’s term in the 2nd District. She will have to run for election next year if she wants to serve a full four-year term. 

Dunaway is the director of learning and development for the Bryan Cave law firm. She had briefly run for the 2nd Congressional District, but ended up dropping out to support eventual Democratic nominee Cort VanOstran.

During the truncated campaign for county council, Dunaway promised to restore faith in a county government rocked by Stenger’s guilty plea on pay-to-play charges. She also pledged to make economic development decisions with racial equity in mind, citing racial segregation as a major impediment to regional growth.

When she takes office, Dunaway could have to make a decision on whether to void a lease St. Louis County signed with the owners of the Crossings at Northwest in St. Ann. Stenger moved a number of county services to the former mall, but some council members are looking into whether campaign contributions contributed to the decision.

While the 2nd District is Democratic-leaning, members of both political parties felt the Dunaway-Poelker race would be competitive. Poelker won numerous elections as an alderwoman in traditionally Democratic St. Ann. And she gained fans for her advocacy against a merger between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Days returns to legislative fold

Days will serve the rest of Erby’s term, which runs through 2022.

Days is a former state senator and representative. And she also was the Democratic director for the St. Louis County Board of Elections from 2011 to 2015. In addition to her county and state service, Days also was a member of the Normandy School Board.

Days developed an extensive legislative track record in Jefferson City, serving in House leadership when Democrats had control. She served in the Senate during a time when the margins between the two parties were closer than they are today, and often was a key figure in opposing the GOP majority’s policies. 

In some respects, Days’ return to county government marks the further erasure of Stenger’s political legacy. In 2015, Days says Stenger was behind her ouster from the elections board. That move angered some of the region’s African American leaders, many of whom had opposed Stenger’s election even after he won the Democratic primary.

Days is also a longtime ally of former county executive Charlie Dooley, who Stenger defeated in a bruising August 2014 Democratic primary. Dooley served as treasurer of Days’ campaign committee for the council.

With Days and Dunaway winning, the Democratic majority now has the numbers to push through agenda items that may not have passed under GOP rule. That includes a measure that bars landlords in unincorporated parts of the county from rejecting tenants based on their source of income — such as Section 8 housing vouchers.

But unlike the state Legislature or Congress, party affiliation tends to matter less in county politics — as Republicans and Democrats worked closely together through part of Stenger’s administration. Council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, a Republican from south St. Louis County, has been complimentary of Page’s leadership since he became county executive.

Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/dunaway-and-days-win-st-louis-county-council-seats-democrats-regain-majority

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