Best Local Politician - 2001
George "Buzz" Westfall
Readers' Choice: Mayor Francis Slay
The first job of a politician is to get elected. Buzz Westfall has been passing that test since 1978. He was elected three times as the county's prosecuting attorney, then won three elections to the county's top post. His 1990 win marked the first time since 1958 that a Democrat had become county executive. With his electoral success and his fundraising moxie, many wonder aloud why Buzz hasn't run for offices with more status, clout or geography, either statewide or in D.C. Well, he thought about it -- about 17 years ago. Back then, U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton took him to dinner and urged him to run for Missouri attorney general. "It was such a flattering experience that, had I been able to file that night, I might have done it," recalls Westfall. But then he went to dinner with his wife, Laurie, and they projected -- rather confidently, it seems -- what would happen if he won the race for attorney general, then won re-election, then won the governorship twice. "That would have been the next 16 years of our lives, living in Jefferson City. We're both from St. Louis, and we wanted no part of that," Westfall says. "With all due respect to Jefferson City, we're St. Louisans, and we wanted to raise our children in St. Louis. So I respectfully declined to the senator, who I worshiped then and still do, Tom Eagleton. That's why I've just been a local politician; I'm content to be a local politician and I'll play out the string here." The string appears to have grown longer. Westfall said just "eight or nine months ago" that he thought he had had enough of politics, but he's reconsidered. Part of his indecision about whether to run in 2002 has to do with the Russian-roulette game St. Louis voters play with the mayor. "I'm on my fourth mayor in 10 years. Just think about that when you're talking about continuity and city-county relations -- it's just hard to get going. You just get to start to know somebody, and they're gone." He admits that he and Clarence Harmon "did not have a good relationship personally" but that this has changed with the new mayor. "Now I've got a mayor that I respect and I like personally. That's what's changed biggest for me. That was a big factor in me reconsidering running, that Francis Slay won the race." Westfall backs the downtown stadium, but only if the Ballpark Village concept gets done. If the Cardinals move to the county or Illinois, he says, it will be the "death knell" for the city, and that's bad news for the 2.5 million people in the metro area. Westfall lived in the city until he was 25, starting out in the Clinton-Peabody projects up until the fourth grade. Then he moved north, living near Fairgrounds Park and attending Perpetual Help and Holy Rosary parochial schools. He still describes himself as a "city kid," even though he oversees 350,000 people in unincorporated St. Louis County and has indirect control over the rest of the 1 million suburbanites. The conversion of the Wagner Electric plant in Wellston into a job-training center and the memorial in Clayton constructed for policemen and firemen who have died in the line of duty are what he views as his recent accomplishments. To borrow U.S. Rep. Tip O'Neill's maxim, if all politics are local, then Buzz Westfall is all politics.