Treasurer's Race Heats Up: Wessels Files Suit Against Williams A Week After Calling for Wahby to Step Down from Party Post
It seems as if 13th Ward Alderman Fred Wessels is trying to pick-off his opponents in the race for City Treasurer like it's a dodge ball game.
First he called for candidate Brian Wahby to step down from his current position of Democratic Central Committe chairman after a conveniently-timed policy change gave Wahby control of the party's voter database. Now Wessels is suing 30-year-incumbent Larry Williams on behalf of St. Louis tax payers.
The lawsuit, filed today, accuses Williams of illegally awarding a contract to a campaign contributor. Wessels, according to KMOX, claims that the $1.5 million annual contract for collections and maintenance of city parking meters was not vetted by a "professional review committee" and was not signed by the comptroller -- thus violating the city charter -- before Williams gave it to Duncan Solutions Inc., which had previously given him $3,600 in donations.
Williams was already a vulnerable incumbent. He stepped into scandal when the public learned a few months ago that one of his employees was getting paid for hours he was not working. As of January, Williams' campaign had $44.16 cash-on-hand.
The lawsuit comes less than a week after Wessels went after Wahby, who, incidentally, worked as Williams' assistant in the 1990s.
Week before last, Wessels called the State Democratic Office to request the party's database of Democratic voters, known as the Voter Action Network. These voter lists help candidates direct their mailers and phone calls. Wessels says he was told "there would not be a problem except that the office was swamped and that they would send me the necessary information" the following week.
But last Tuesday, Sara Ferrill, Missouri Democratic Party's administrative and party affairs manager, emailed Wessels to tell him that the process had been changed over the weekend.
"This weekend we had our State and Executive Committee meetings in which we adopted a new VAN policy," she wrote. "With respect to that new policy, I cannot give you access to the VAN for this race, you will need to contact the St. Louis Central Committee Chairperson, Brian Wahby for access."
That is, Wessels would have to contact one of his opponents in the race in order to gain access to information he needs for his campaign. A strange situation indeed.
"Both the timing and outcome of the state decision reeks of backroom politics," Wessels said in an email to Daily RFT. "This is the type of behavior that gives the city the appearance that our system is rigged."
Wessels called for Wahby to either resign his post as party chairman or drop his bid for Treasurer. Two of the other candidates, state Representative Tishaura Jones and 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, have backed Wessels' position.
On Wednesday, Wessels sent Wahby a letter requesting the voter database. In that letter he also states, "I find the timing of the change of policy to be suspicious, to say the least. I think that your control over VAN access is a clear conflict of interest."
He ends the correspondence, "You should do the right thing and step down as City Chairman if you continue in the race of Treasurer."
Wahby, though, seems to be holding his ground. As the Post-Dispatch's David Hunn reported, Wahby countered that "This is a phony controversy," and that "If anybody asks for access to the VAN, there's no reason I wouldn't give it to them."
As of today, Wessels has not heard back from Wahby.
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