Race for county executive centers on experience, Dooley, McNary say
By SCOTT MILLER
The race for county executive centers around one factor — experience, according to two of the three candidates.
During a forum last week, Democratic incumbent Charlie Dooley and Republican challenger Gene McNary both claimed they had the most experience. When responding to residents' questions, however, the two often agreed on the problems and solutions for south county.
Dooley, McNary and Libertarian Theo. "Ted'' Brown Sr. are vying in the Novem-ber election to serve the final two years of the late George R. "Buzz" Westfall's term.
Westfall died in October 2003 and Dooley unanimously was selected by the County Council to serve as county executive until the November election.
Both Dooley and McNary said the Lam-bert-St. Louis International Airport provides a tremendous opportunity for economic development, for example, and both said south county does not need any U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Devel-opment programs because affordable housing is not hard to find now.
While the two agreed on those issues, each candidate offered some differing in-sights on economic stimulus and job growth in south county.
During opening remarks, however, experience was the focus.
McNary said, "My qualifications are that I was elected St. Louis County prosecuting attorney and served two terms, eight years. I was elected four times county executive, two times as county prosecuting attorney. I wouldn't have been elected to any of those but for the support I had in south county. I know south county. I've been involved, and you know me."
Dooley responded, "There's no one running for county executive that has more experience in representation in St. Louis County consecutively. I have over 25 years as a public servant in St. Louis County."
The two also discussed economic development in St. Louis County.
Dooley said, "I want to make sure this county remains the economic engine of this state and this region. An example, the 472 acres of the Lambert Airport for redevelopment. We're talking about creating 12,000 new jobs and economic impact to $6 billion to $7 billion.
"The other is down in south county where we put forth the casino, the gaming that is going to create 2,000 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs," he said, "but more importantly, $300 million investment in 80 acres of land that is contaminated, that has been left dormant for 25 years."
McNary said, "I think there are some serious issues facing our county. I think transportation is important, including the (Lam-bert) airport. It's an amazing problem, but also an amazing opportunity. A redistribution center creates tremendous opportunities for jobs. I think the job ahead of us is to revitalize and attract young people into affordable homes. It takes infrastructure. It's takes some green in those areas.
"I think St. Louis County has slipped," he continued. "In my opinion, the parks are in disrepair. The health department is not do-ing its job. It's been mismanaged. And we have now spent the bond retirement fund because we have an $18 million shortfall. My judgment is that we've had some fiscal irresponsibility. We didn't have that on my watch."
Responding to questions about creating jobs, McNary said, "I think a lot of it is related to infrastructure and also to a friendly business climate. I've been told more than once, I was told just a couple hours ago, the permit procedure in St. Louis County is pure harassment. It takes forever to get a permit. The government is filled with bureaucrats."
Dooley replied, "First of all, we are bringing jobs to south county. The gaming with Pinnacle (Entertainment Inc. at the former National Lead site) will create 2,000 permanent jobs. Another thing you can do in St. Louis County is work with the incubator system. We have three incubators in St. Louis County. What incubators do is assist small businesses. And we all know that small business creates more jobs than any other activity.
When asked about HUD programs, Dooley said, "I am for affordable housing throughout St. Louis County, but it has to be done in a way it's not crowding one area. But one of our great assets in the St. Louis metropolitan area is that we have affordable houses already. I think that's one of our strengths."
McNary said, "I am opposed to HUD just the very mention of it. I think that south county has affordable housing. I think to give HUD any control over a housing plan is absurd. When it comes to social engineering and shoving something down a community's throat, I'm opposed."
In closing, McNary said, "I intend to run a lean, effective, efficient and responsive government. I've done it before. I have the experience. I can provide the leadership to move this county forward. And I have the enthusiasm. I'd like to really move the county forward. I want the job. My opponent is a darn right good guy. I'm just better qualified."
Dooley concluded, "One of thee things I love about this job is you go across the community and every place is a little different, the south county, the west county, the north county, the central county. But let me tell you this, I will never do anything to infringe upon those rights. If south county wants something or they don't want something, I'm going to listen to you. I'm going to listen to what you want. I want this county to stay vibrant. The symbol of St. Louis County is a plow. You cannot plow a straight line looking back."