First Ward voters offer advice to council member

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 | 6:03 p.m. CDT; updated 3:12 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — First Ward voters who went to the polls on Tuesday to elect a City Council representative to represent them for the next three years had plenty of advice for the winner, regardless of who that person would be.

Tuesday marked the first time in nine years that voters in the central city ward had a choice among council candidates. Three-term incumbent Almeta Crayton was seeking re-election but faced opposition from Paul Sturtz, co-director of the Ragtag Cinemacafe and the True/False Film Fest; John Clark, a longtime neighborhood and community activist and two-time candidate for mayor; and Karen Baxter, a licensed practical nurse who has been active in the Ridgeway neighborhood.

Despite the options, turnout at most First Ward polling places was sluggish Tuesday. Still, those who did cast ballots had some ideas to share with the council member-elect. Meeting the challenge of representing a diverse ward — which includes downtown, a college campus, active neighborhood associations and older commercial and residential areas — was one of the major themes.

April Johnson, 27, who voted at Calvary Baptist Church, said she voted for Sturtz but hoped that if he were elected he wouldn’t focus too much on downtown issues.

“I think he can represent all of the ward and not one specific group of people in the ward,” Johnson said. “Don’t single out the business district because he’s a business owner. Remember everybody.”

Retired professor Ginger Wheeler, 82, who cast her ballot at the Sanford-Kimpton Health Department Building, said the same about whoever is elected.

“They need to represent the First Ward. All of it. It’s such a diverse ward,” Wheeler said.

Voting at Paquin Tower, 48-year-old Tina Ditto said it’s also important that the First Ward representative adopt a spirit of cooperation with her or his council colleagues.

“Keep up the good work and join together with other council members to work on things,” Ditto said. “Otherwise it splits the town. If they can’t do that, how do they expect the rest of the community to work together?”

Cool Stuff owner Arnie Fagan said the winner of the election must remember that he or she represents constituents.

“They need to respond to the people, not just their own personal biases.”

Juanita Spilker, 70, who voted at the health department, agreed with that sentiment.

“I would like them to pay more attention to what the people actually want instead of deciding things arbitrarily.”

Other voters cited specific issues they say need attention. Crime in the First Ward was frequently mentioned.

“We need to beef up safety for residents in the ward,” said Aaron Perkins, 33, who also voted at Paquin Tower. “We need more police.”

At the health department, Anne Hamme, 77, also said getting a handle on crime is paramount.

“How are they going to handle this situation?” Hamme asked. “There’s a lot they need to do. Some people need to go to work around here, and some need to quit drugs.”

Gail Plemmons, 58, said a council member who meets regularly with constituents could make some headway on crime.

“Have more meetings with the neighborhoods about crime watch and their problems,” Plemmons said after casting her ballot at the health department. “Not with the whole ward but just specific areas of neighborhoods to deal with their problems.”

Cathy Coble, a 48-year-old teacher at Douglass High School, also voted at the church. She chose Crayton, saying the incumbent was in the best position to address poverty in the central city.

“I live in a neighborhood of poverty, and she is in touch with that,” Coble said. “Other candidates more represent the business community. This neighborhood needs an advocate.”

Voters at Oak Towers cited different issues important to them.

For Bobby Turner, 59, the election was about transportation. “I’d like to have the city buses run more often. I don’t have a car, so I depend on the buses.”

For Leon Bennett, 73, it was about trees and affordable housing.

“My main concern is the trees. ... We don’t have smog because we have trees. We need some sort of legal protection for the trees.”

“I love this city. It helped me get my home and bring it up to code,” Bennett continued, referring to city program that offers no-interest loans and rehabilitation assistance to home buyers. He wants the city to spread the word about those programs and enhance them.

For Nancy Burdick, 60, the vote was about the environment and arts. “I’d like to see more environmental sustainability. More public transportation and more green buildings. I’d also like to see the city focus more on public art and more arts in general.”

Cynthia Haydon, a 42-year-old grant writer who voted Tuesday afternoon at the health department, said many of the issues facing the First Ward are intertwined.

“I think smart growth is important, not just unregulated building and affordable housing,” Haydon said. “They need to address the issue of housing for everyone. Also the issues of crime are important, but I think when you address affordable housing and revitalizing downtown, then some of the crime issues are alleviated.”

Missourian reporters Sean Madden, Rachel Heaton, Jenn Herseim and Anne Hauser contributed to this report.

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