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Columbia Missourian

Muleskinners hosts forum for First Ward City Council candidates

By RACHEL HEATON
March 21, 2008 | 5:29 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — About 50 people gathered at the Muleskinners meeting Friday to have lunch, talk with each other and hear from the four First Ward City Council candidates about some of the issues influencing the race, including how they would relate with black constituents and how they might encourage more students to become active in city affairs.

Before the forum, the candidates — Karen Baxter, John Clark, Paul Sturtz and incumbent Almeta Crayton — milled about and talked with members of the Democratic club. The first question that was raised concerned how the candidates would relate to the black community within the First Ward.

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Baxter said having biracial granddaughters has helped her more fully understand the black community.

“I learned right off, 18 years ago, that there is a difference in our two cultures,” Baxter said. “When I took my granddaughters on the bus with me, I was treated differently. Having them with me gave me some sort of credibility to the black community; they had a sense that I understand.”

Sturtz said it’s embarrassing that there is a wide division between Columbia’s black and white communities, and he believes it must be bridged. He said campaigning has made him more in-tune with issues facing the black community in the First Ward.

“I think going door to door has been a miraculous thing for me,” Sturtz said. “I’ve become very friendly with people in the neighborhood by just meeting people and talking about issues.”

Clark said he has some experience in relating to the black community based on his work with the Frederick Douglass Coalition. He said he would be interested in meeting regularly with the black community to discuss residents’ concerns.

“It’s really about going out and meeting with people, listening to what they’re saying and setting some common goals. And going out again and again and again,” Clark said.

Crayton joked that, given her race, she has experience representing the black community throughout her nine-year tenure on the council. She said she would continue with her approach of helping individuals with their problems.

“I won’t hesitate to tell the truth about what’s going on in the First Ward,” Crayton said. “We have double-digit unemployment rates and double-digit dropout rates.”

An MU student who was a guest at the Muleskinners meeting asked how the candidates thought students could get involved in the First Ward. All of the candidates agreed students could have a positive impact by volunteering in the First Ward.

Baxter said she has recently been interviewed by students from The Maneater, MU’s student newspaper, and the Missourian. As part of these interviews, Baxter said, she talked with the students about programs in the First Ward they could get involved in, such as donating to The Wardrobe, which offers free and discount clothing.

“I have used these connections to inform them, and I want to take that to a further level,” Baxter said.

Sturtz said he would encourage students to get involved through any one of the programs helping people in the First Ward. He mentioned both the Voluntary Action Center and the New Media Network, which teaches young people to use multimedia technology as digital storytelling.

“Any way we can mingle together all these folks that are coming to school with residents in the First Ward is great,” Sturtz said.

Clark said he would encourage students to get involved with city government and neighborhood associations.

“There are wonderful opportunities for students to visit neighborhood coalitions and City Council meetings. One of our jobs is to facilitate that and encourage and invite them,” Clark said.

Crayton said she appreciates the work students already do in the ward. She said students can serve as role models for younger children in the community.

“They just need to come and be themselves,” Crayton said. “They should tell (the youth) what they’re going to school to be.”

The next forum for the First Ward council candidates will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Second Baptist Church, 407 E. Broadway. That forum will be hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.