Steve Stenger’s resignation, indictment, and guilty plea to three federal corruption charges that carry a maximum of 60 years in federal prison came out of nowhere to most people. But not to Charlie Dooley. The man who spent a decade as St. Louis County Executive before Stenger defeated him in a vicious, racially-charged 2014 primary election says he saw it coming.
“The atmosphere in St. Louis county was extremely toxic,” said Dooley, sounding like a man who still has very good sources inside 41 South Central Avenue in Clayton. “People looking over each other’s shoulders, so all that’s going to take time. So at least we start the healing process with Sam Page and the County Council moving forward.”
Appearing on The Jaco Report for his first comments on Stenger’s demise, Dooley, who served as St. Louis County Executive from 2004 until 2015, called new County Executive and former County Councilman Sam Page “a good man, completely honest and committed to open government.”
Dooley refused to become involved in the controversy over Page’s selection, in which Page was selected by the County Council to replace Stenger. Many in the African-American community were upset that Councilwoman Hazel Erby, the most senior Democrat on the Council, was bypassed in favor of Page. All Dooley would say about that was “The County needs to move forward now.”
Dooley also refused to gloat over Stenger going from County Executive to federal felon in less than a week. Stenger defeated Dooley in the August, 2014 Democratic primary, after a campaign that was filled with what many heard as racial dog-whistles, and during which Stenger accused Dooley—falsely, as it turned out—of corruption.
When asked what went through his mind when he first heard of Stenger’s indictment and resignation, Dooley said “The first thing I thought was about the citizens of St. L
ouis county, about how they entrusted him with their lives and he disappointed everybody.”
Dooley was less reticent about charging Stenger with lying and racism during that 2014 primary election, which was held just four days before Michael Brown was gunned down on Canfield Drive by police officer Darren Wilson, and the word “Ferguson” erupted internationally as a symbol of dreadful race relations in the St. Louis area, particularly between white police and black civilians.
During the campaign, Stenger and his two chief allies—then-Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and then-County Police Chief Tim Fitch—attacked Dooley for alleged corruption. They pointed to a suspect contract given to Sansone Construction to help build the new County crime lab, claiming Dooley had somehow rigged the bid process to favor a campaign donor. An FBI investigation found no wrongdoing, and the U.S. Attorney in St. Louis declined to press any charges.
“He said I was doing the same things he ends up being indicted for,” Dooley said. “But the damage was done, especially with white voters.”
Dooley ended up losing every majority white township in the County to Stenger, something that had never happened before. When asked if he though white voters were more likely to believe the false corruption charges because he is black, Dooley said “There’s no question about it.”