For the first time since a special election on Feb. 6, 2007, there will be more than one candidate on the ballot for Ward 4 City Councilman in Florissant.
Incumbent Keith English is campaigning to hold onto his seat against challenger Jeff Caputa. Both men come from labor backgrounds, with English sitting as a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1, and Caputa is a member of the Cement Masons Union Local 527.
Geri Debo held the Ward 4 seat for 20 years until she stepped down in early 2007, paving the way for the special election that elected English. He won the seat with 52 percent of the vote, and 14 months later, he ran unopposed to win his first full term on the city council.
Both men recently sat down with Florissant Patch to discuss what drove them to run for public office and to let the constituents of Ward 4 know how they plan to represent them on the city council.
Caputa has been a resident of Ward 4 for 24 years, all while happily married to his wife, Terri. He has three children, Michael, Jeff and Kelsey, and he has been a member of the Cement Masons Union Local 527 for 25 years.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Caputa believes that he has the experience and leadership skills necessary to best serve the people of Ward 4. He is a strong proponent of engaging the youth of Florissant and involving them in the political process.
“The youth of our community represent our future," Caputa said. "We have to reach out to them and educate them on how Florissant is governed and what they can do to get involved. Even if they don’t want to get involved, as long as we keep them educated on how they are governed, Florissant will be the better for it.”
Currently, Caputa is a member of the Local 527 Examining Board as well as the North County Labor Club Executive Board. His family has a strong union history, and the principles of union labor combined with the numerous leadership roles he has held throughout the years are what he believes has prepared him for public office.
“I’ll work with anyone to the best I can to get something done," he said. "People who know me know this, and they know I’ll bring this attitude to the city council.”
Besides the politics of union business, Caputa also helped Ward 5 councilman Keith Schidroth on his campaigns for city council and his recent 2010 run to represent the 76th district in the Missouri State House of Representatives.
If elected, Caputa would like to improve community involvement through a citizen group that would focus strictly on citizen issues and ways to resolve them. The Neighborhood Watch Program is also something he would like to see expand.
“Safety should be a priority for everyone,” Caputa said. “The Neighborhood Watch Program is something I would like to hit the ground running on. People want to be involved, they just need someone to show them the way.”
English, the current president of the city council, discovered his drive for public service as a student attending Hazelwood Central High School. It was here that Debo, his teacher at the time, instilled in him what it meant to be a public servant.
“Being a councilman is bigger than just sitting behind a desk and collecting a paycheck,” English said. “You have to get yourself involved and help people when they need it. It’s your job to step up.”
English's family also has an extensive labor history with his father and 18 other members of his family having been involved with the IBEW Local 1. He points to his record in supporting labor as indicative of his own strong ties with area unions besides his own.
“I’ve never voted against labor. I’m mindful of our dollars, and more importantly, I know we have to give the work we have to those who live in our community,” English said. “We can’t just throw around the labor badge. When I was in school, one in four Florissant laborers were union, now it’s one in 10. If you can’t give the people what they need, everyone loses.”
English has dedicated his time to the city of Florissant outside of his role as city councilman as well. He was awarded the North County Incorporated Public Service and Community Development Awards in 2010 for his Ward 4 Reach Out Program. Through the program, he organized area high school students to improve and makeover the homes of Florissant’s senior population, instilling community awareness in the youth while helping some of Florissant’s most needy citizens at the same time.
He has also helped to fund free prostate cancer screenings for Florissant citizens and employees. A prostate cancer survivor himself, English raised and personally donated funds for the project, which he helped launch last year.
Asked about how he would best represent the people of Ward 4 if re-elected, English promised to maintain the reputation of high integrity and public service he has established since being first elected. As long as the people he represents continue to tell him he’s done a good job, that’s all the reward he needs.
“It’s a high for me to hear my constituents say how proud they are of the way I’ve represented them,” English said.