Gateway to the Worst

ST. LOUIS—With a population of 1 million, St. Louis County, Missouri, is at the geographical center of its metropolitan area. The county accounts for just under 40 percent of the area’s 2.6 million population. Three Missouri counties, three Illinois counties, and the independent city of St. Louis directly border St. Louis County and have a combined population of about 1.6 million. During happier times, we have celebrated our burg, the place where Lewis and Clark embarked and returned on their voyage of discovery, as the “Gateway to the West.”

Easily more than 1 million people travel between St. Louis County and the surrounding jurisdictions every day, and sometimes multiple times per day, for work, school, shopping, medical care, recreation, or dining. St. Louis County, of course, has no border controls. When traveling in or out of the county, no one is required to stop, show identification, or have his temperature taken.

On November 14, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, unilaterally ordered the indefinite closure of all of the restaurants within his jurisdiction. None of the heavily populated surrounding jurisdictions have ordered restaurant closures at this time. As a result of Page’s action, several restaurants have announced they are ceasing business permanently. Restaurant traffic in the rest of the metropolis is booming thanks to the surge of St. Louis County residents dining out in their jurisdictions.

Because of the porousness of the borders of St. Louis County and the always dynamic travel and commerce between the county and its neighboring jurisdictions, there is no public health rationale for the restaurant lockdown. An exasperated restaurant owner says, “It’s like we’re in a third-world country.”

The order forcing restaurant closures represents anti-scientific authoritarianism at its worst.

Meanwhile, thousands of jobs have been extinguished and investments ruined in St. Louis County. Bankruptcies and foreclosures on both homes and businesses and related mental health crises, divorces, and suicides are inevitable due to the county executive’s irrational and unfounded action. Because the restaurant shutdown violates not only the scientific method but also plain common sense and all other means of knowing, it gives the sensation of being an attack on the foundation of reality itself.

The predicate for the lockdown is “baseless” and “without evidence,” as the left-leaning national media ceaselessly say about the policies of right-of-center politicians whom they would destroy. Specifically, the mayor of the city of St. Louis—a Democrat, by the way—and the physician in charge of metro area COVID-19 response coordination say there are no data that support the finding that restaurants are contributing to the spread of the virus. But the St. Louis County restaurant shutdown was imposed anyway because its author is a left-wing authoritarian who relies on the Big Lie to work his will.

Sam Page, Hometown Tyrant

It’s a sign of our times that the Lysenkoist county executive who ordered the restaurants closed, a left-wing Democrat “honored to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood,” is a medical doctor and anesthesiologist, a man who has made, and continues to make, a fortune putting other people to sleep.

Page ascended to the county executive’s office a year-and-a-half-ago when the man who had won countywide election to the office, Steve Stenger, also a Democrat, was convicted of federal bribery offenses and sent to prison. As a county council member elected to represent a district with one-seventh the entire county’s population, Page employed his domineering personality to get the Democratic majority on the council to install him as executive pending an election for the unexpired term.

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged early this year, Page was undeterred by his lack of an electoral mandate. He asserted that he would personally control all spending of the massive, almost by definition unmanageable and unaccountable, amount of federal aid dollars that poured into the county’s treasury from the first congressional relief package.

While the legality of his action was in doubt, Page prevailed through sheer arrogance enabled by a divided opposition. A few of the four Democrats on the seven-member county council made noises objecting to Page’s power-grab of the federal funds—$174 million—but they backed down from aligning with Republicans to assert council control over the spending.

Page seized control of the federal funds in April. By September, according to an oversight investigation by Republican U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of St. Louis County, $100 million was still under Page’s direct control, unallocated to recipients as Congress had intended.

Page also ordered draconian lockdowns earlier this year without clear legal authority but by brandishing his medical degree with a bully’s insistence that a “state of exception” exists. To paraphrase an old Tammany Hall maxim, “What’s the Constitution among experts?”

When devastating riots broke out in parts of St. Louis County this summer, Page, covered with his virtue-signaling face mask, was missing in action.

Sam Page is living proof that one can walk like a fascist, talk like a fascist, and govern like a fascist while being praised as a progressive and functioning as a passive accomplice of the violent thugs of Antifa.

Last week, St. Louis Business Journal uncovered information that a company owned by Page and others received one of the area’s largest payouts from federal taxpayers—$5.4 million—through the Payroll Protection Plan. After pocketing the millions of federal aid dollars, Boss Page’s firm apparently believed it essential to public health and welfare to spend $71,000 of it on political campaign contributions.

Earlier a local TV news station reported that Page, in violation of the St. Louis County Charter, works weekends and takes a salary from his anesthesiology practice. Relevant to this issue is that St. Louis County does not have an appointed county manager accountable to the elected council. Page is elected to be the full-time executive, with powers including and exceeding those of an appointed manager. 

None of Page’s predecessors has been allowed to violate the charter’s explicit requirement that the executive “shall devote his entire time to the duties of his office.” Lawyers, for example, who’ve held the county executive’s office were not allowed to work and profit from their private law practices. 

Page, on the other hand, sanctimoniously asserts that he can violate the county charter because his lucrative income from medicine is in the “interest of public health during a pandemic.” Although violation of the plain language of the charter is clear, there is no prescribed legal penalty for such a violation. Apparently, any remedy would have to be a political decision.

Republicans Concede Defeat Before the Race

Sam Page is the most hated man in St. Louis County, and he held that distinction before winning the Democratic primary election in August and the general election in November. So why has his unpopularity not driven him from office?

In the Democratic primary, Page used incumbency to raise corporate funds, mobilize the avaricious public school and other government employees’ labor unions, and deploy the party regulars. Sixty-two percent of primary voters wanted to oust Page, but he survived by winning a 38 percent plurality. 

Anti-Page votes were split between Mark Mantovani, a wealthy, ostensibly reformist businessman with 29 percent, and another party machine candidate, county tax assessor Jake Zimmerman, who with 24 percent proved to be the spoiler enabling Page to secure the nomination. A minor candidate also took some anti-Page votes.

The self-financing Mantovani was a DINO—a Democrat-in-name-only. He spent heavily on radio ads urging Republicans to request Democratic primary ballots to vote against Page. Had Zimmerman not run, Mantovani might have prevailed. Given what was at stake, we have reason to wonder whether Zimmerman’s candidacy was really an effort to divide so that Page and his machine could conquer. In his concession remarks on primary night, Zimmerman was effusive in his support for Page.

Republicans meanwhile had conceded the office to whoever won the Democratic nomination. The Republican Party failed to recruit or finance a viable candidate in the general election.

Republicans not long ago were dominant in St. Louis County. Decades of administration by Republican county executives had given the jurisdiction a reputation for clean, efficient government, and public safety. For decades, St. Louisans voted with their feet to leave the city for the suburban county. Almost all of the migration took place during times of clean-government Republican control of the county offices.

One Party Rule and Urban Decline

Today, as in the decaying and hopelessly one-party city of St. Louis, Republicans in St. Louis County are outsiders.

The Democratic Party here is like the ruling party in “perfect dictatorships” where nominal opposition is allowed to exist as a legal formality but is prevented from having support or even attention from the big publicly traded corporations, the mainstream media, and the tech giants. Every element of the ruling class, including the fashionably “woke” clergy of the Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, supports the Democrats and gives cover to the Democrats’ core constituencies of pay-to-play labor unions and far-left radicals.

The boundary lines are frozen between St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis, whose government is completely independent of the county. That is, the city, unlike most U.S. municipalities, has no legal capability to expand its territory and annex populated parts of the county. This state of affairs, known locally as the Great Divorce, was put into place as part of the Missouri state constitution of 1876 when city business and political bosses considered it a burden to share local government with what was then the entirely rural surrounding county.

In 1950, the city’s population was a little more than 850,000. The county’s was a little more than 400,000. Today, the city is home to fewer than 300,000 people; the county’s population is a bit under 1 million. Since Democrats took control of county government about two decades ago, the county’s population plateaued and began to decline. Just a few years ago, the county had more than 1 million inhabitants.

The combined population of the city and county of St. Louis today is almost exactly what it was 70 years ago when Missouri’s only U.S. president was in office. Meanwhile the U.S. national population has more than doubled.

Exurban jurisdictions far from the urban and old suburban core have grown, but metropolitan St. Louis is not what one could call a boom town.

Of course, Democratic Party machine politics and the ravages of left-wing ideology are not the only reasons for the phenomena of demographic decline in St. Louis and St. Louis County, but they should not be overlooked as major causes of the problem.

It is tragic but somehow fitting that as St. Louis County spirals ever downward, today’s county executive is an apparently keen practitioner of political grifting, a licensed physician, stalwart of the abortion industry, and enthusiastic subscriber to all left-wing fashions.

Sam Page has seized personal control of hundreds of millions in federal aid dollars. He has lined his own pockets with federal aid to his own medical practice, which he carries out in violation of the county charter. So far, he has managed to get away with it all because of the bullying manner behind his Teflon face mask.

Tyrannical Page is the imperious Jack Kevorkian of St. Louis County’s small businesses and jobs, abusing power and public monies, deciding by no authority other than his megalomania which enterprises and family livelihoods are worthy to live and which deserve to die.

In a just world, Sam Page would become his crooked predecessor’s prison cellmate. But St. Louis County voters don’t have to wait for the wheels of justice to grind. They have the power to petition for a recall election to remove their anesthesiologist-in-chief’s knee from their necks. Will they awake from their ideologically induced slumber to do so?

About Joseph Duggan

Joseph Duggan is the author of Khashoggi, Dynasties, and Double Standards (Encounter). He is a former White House speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush and a former Reagan State Department appointee, as well as an international business and public affairs consultant. He lives in St. Louis.

Photo: Hermann Mueller/Getty Images

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