COLUMBIA — The four candidates vying for the First Ward City Council seat kick-started their campaigns Saturday by debating their visions for economic development and affordable housing at the first of three candidate forums.
The Central City Get Out the Vote Committee hosted the forum at the First Christian Church for the candidates: incumbent Almeta Crayton; Paul Sturtz, Ragtag and True/False co-founder; Karen Baxter, former vice president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association; and John G. Clark, a former mayoral candidate.
All of the candidates said, if elected, they would serve as advocates for the people of the First Ward. That didn’t mean, however, that they agreed on how to deal with the issues facing Columbia’s central city.
Each candidate had the opportunity to issue an opening statement before the candidates began asking each other questions. The audience was also given a chance to ask the candidates questions.
Crayton used 2000 Census Bureau statistics on unemployment and teen pregnancy to show the audience the glaring problems facing the First Ward and said the war on poverty is lost.
“Population trends are moving, but we’re not taking the resources with us,” she said.
The three-term councilwoman also cited her work to clean up First Ward neighborhoods and continued her support of transitional housing.
During the debate, Clark drew criticism from the crowd when he appeared to dodge a two-part question about affordable and transitional housing by only speaking about the former.
“The main issue is to develop a policy about affordable housing,” Clark said. “We need to discuss exactly where the houses will be built, how much they cost and how we’re going to fund them.”
Clark also argued that economic development and community safety were important issues to First Ward residents. Clark said he played an early role in the process to form the city’s Citizen Oversight Committee task force, which will consider whether to create a citizen review board to oversee the Columbia Police Department.
“I believe the oversight committee will increase a sense of safety in Columbia and increase the accountability of the city administration to the public,” Clark said.
Clark was not the only one to discuss economic development — all the candidates emphasized the importance of improving the First Ward’s neighborhoods.
“It’s central to our challenge as Columbians to make the ward prosper no matter what,” Sturtz said. “We need suggested guidelines, not requirements to make better designed neighborhoods (and) to make people feel like the First Ward is a good place to be.”
Sturtz also made clear his opposition to a proposed Crosscreek Center car lot east of U.S. 63 and Stadium Boulevard, which is on Monday’s City Council agenda.
“There’s a lack of planning and a lack of design,” he said. “It’s a pretty big abomination that the city should wholeheartedly oppose.”
Baxter stressed her passion for people and willingness to vote the way her constituents wanted, and she disagreed about the need to change city neighborhood ordinances.
“There’s trouble keeping neighborhoods up to code as it is,” Baxter said. “Adding more codes would be an unnecessary burden to the city and the residents.”
She also thought new developments, including the proposed Crosscreek Center car lot, would give Columbia a look of prosperity and that compromises could be made.
“I didn’t see how (the development) would have a terrible impact on their sub-division,” Baxter said.
The next First Ward candidate forum is set for 3 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Blind Boone Community Center, 301 N. Providence.