COLUMBIA — Paul Sturtz, co-founder of the Ragtag Cinemacafe and the True/False Film Festival, will become the First Ward’s new City Council representative after defeating three-term incumbent Almeta Crayton and two other opponents in Tuesday’s election.
Sturtz won the election with 824 votes, or 60.4 percent. Crayton was second with 418 votes, or 30.6 percent, John Clark was third with 63 votes, or 4.6 percent, and Karen Baxter was fourth with 58 votes, or 4.3 percent.
In the Fifth Ward, Laura Nauser won an unopposed bid for a second term, garnering 3,013 votes.
It was Sturtz’s first bid for public office. He said during a watch party at The Pasta Factory on Tuesday night that he appreciated voters’ and friends’ support. A constant din of noise followed Sturtz as he spoke with friends among a crowd of about 60 supporters in the banquet room. The only interruption to the chatter was when everyone turned to face Sturtz as he made his victory speech, and the room grew quiet.
Sturtz said earlier that winning this race is “very daunting and exciting.”
“I definitely feel a certain weight of responsibility and honor that goes along with meeting hundreds and hundreds of people and listening to their hopes and frustrations,” Sturtz said. “You feel like you want to do right by all the people that you’ve talked to and live up to their expectations.”
A few blocks away at Boone Tavern, Crayton gathered with supporters to watch election results. This campaign marked the first time since she was initially elected in 1999 that Crayton faced opposition.
A somber mood fell over the lower level of Boone Tavern as Crayton’s supporters milled around her, several offered comfort and embraced the long-term incumbent, even rubbing her neck.
“It’s what the citizens want,” Crayton said. “You got to just go on with life.”
Given her background in public service, Crayton surprisingly said she would step back from political activity in her First Ward community.
“I think I have helped and helped and helped,” Crayton said. “They need to decide what’s important to them because evidently what I see as important isn’t what they value.”
Crayton, who has used her council position to call attention to problems of crime, poverty and unemployment in the First Ward and to draw attention to her charitable efforts, drew some public criticism last year from members of the First Ward Revitalization Committee, who said she had been ineffective as a council member. They pondered a recall election of Crayton but decided instead to focus on getting First Ward residents more interested and involved in city government. Some members, in conjunction with Central Columbia Get Out the Vote Committee, held a series of candidate forums during the campaign.
John Clark, who ran for mayor in 2004 and 2007, lost his third bid for public office. In lieu of watching the election results, Clark chose to go out for dinner with friends.
“I’ve spent 15 years at this stuff and done what I can do from the outside. The only thing left to do was from the inside, and I didn’t get elected,” Clark said. “I wish Paul all the best. He ran a very slick campaign and deserves congratulations for that.”
Baxter, who spent the night at home receiving updates about the election from her daughter, said losing this election won’t defeat her ambitions to be a positive influence in the First Ward. Repeating the theme of her campaign, she said she’ll continue to serve First Ward by being a voice for her neighbors, with or without the official title.
“Today is my launching pad for 2011,” Baxter said.
Baxter said she realized early on that the race was primarily between Crayton and Sturtz. She was disappointed that Sturtz won.
“I’m really sad, not for myself, but for Almeta and sad for Columbia,” Baxter said. “My concern is that the balance of power on the council has shifted.”
Tuesday’s election capped a busy campaign season for the candidates, who attended multiple election forums to discuss the myriad issues that face the First Ward. Encompassing downtown, the Columbia College campus and older commercial and residential areas, the First Ward is among the most diverse in the city. Among the primary issues on the candidates’ minds were affordable housing, community policing, safety and infrastructure.
Sturtz said during the campaign that he favors the use of tax-increment financing to encourage mixed-income housing downtown, amending the city charter to add two wards to the city, paying council members a modest stipend and encouraging more First Ward residents to volunteer for city boards and commissions. He also favors the proposed North-Central Columbia overlay district, which would establish guidelines for redevelopment of that neighborhood, and creating efficiency standards for affordable housing to reduce utility bills.
Sturtz said his early priorities on the council will be two challenges that face the First Ward: bridging the racial divide and developing a sustainable economy.
“We need to promote good jobs and good housing that doesn’t involve decimating the outskirts of town,” Sturtz said. “We don’t need to have an economy that destroys the things we are passing to our children in the future.”