Several dozen Democratic African-American officials in St. Louis County are endorsing businessman Mark Mantovani for county executive — and opposing incumbent Democrat Steve Stenger.
“We need a person who’s going to work for all the people in St. Louis,’’ said Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy at an event Saturday at Mantovani’s new regional campaign office in north St. Louis County.
The group, known as the Fannie Lou Hamer Coalition, is pledging to help Mantovani in the August Democratic primary for the county’s top post. There is no well-known Republican seeking the job.
St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby of University City is among the leaders of the coalition, named after a legendary civil rights activist. She says close to 50 county African-American officials have pledged to back Mantovani, who is making his first bid for public office.
African-American voters can make up at least a quarter of the county’s Democratic vote.
Stenger campaign spokesman Ed Rhode replied in a statement, "These endorsements are not a surprise. This is the same group of individuals who opposed County Executive Stenger four years ago and continue to oppose him today.”
“After he wins the primary, the County Executive will once again reach out and offer to work together to continue moving St. Louis County forward,” Rhode said.
Stenger, coalition at odds for years
The Fanny Lou Hamer Coalition was formed in 2014 to challenge Stenger, who angered some Democrats that year because he successfully ousted then-County Executive Charlie Dooley, who is black.
The coalition backed Republican Rick Stream, who narrowly lost to Stenger in the 2014 general election for the county’s top post.
Stenger, Stream and Mantovani are white. Erby said Saturday that Mantovani is doing a better job of reaching out to black voters. She contended that Stenger is overseeing “a divisive administration.”
Mayor Murphy also is part of the coalition. "We need a leader who cares about the people in St. Louis County."
Mantovani said Saturday he will focus on addressing issues that county residents of all ethnic groups. “Too often, this community is racially divided, geographically divided,” he said, “We have a crime issue that affects Metrolink, we have a homicide rate in St. Louis County that is exploding.”
Stenger contends that Mantovani is really a Republican, citing his financial support for GOP Gov. Eric Greitens, among others.
Stenger has pointed to his endorsements from the county’s police and firefighters groups, as well as the region’s major unions. Meanwhile, Mantovani has touted his recent endorsement from the mid-county Hadley Township Democrats, which is racially mixed.
In 2014, Stenger had the support of the region’s most prominent African-American official, Congressman William Lacy Clay. So far, Clay has not said if he will make an endorsement in the county executive contest this time.
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