COLUMBIA — On Monday night, nine years after she raised her right hand to be sworn in as Columbia’s first black City councilwoman, Almeta Crayton stood in the council chambers to thank her fellow members for making her feel welcome from the beginning.
“I appreciate people knowing that here I was, a single mom, and I come here today thankful. And gave 150 percent,” Crayton said. “You guys would always make me feel welcome ... giving me a chance to say what I wanted to say, and people like me don’t get that chance.”
Within moments of beginning her speech, Crayton paused, brought her hand to her mouth, took a breath to regain her composure and began again, this time with tears clenching her throat, making her words shake.
She looked over and thanked her “partner in crime,” Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku, for making sure she always got home safely. Crayton said she is leaving the council with many experiences that she’ll remember, including meeting a president and many governors.
She gave parting wisdom to her constituents.
“Nobody in the City of Columbia has a right to do without,” Crayton said. “Nobody has a right to kick you down.”
Mayor Darwin Hindman and City Manager Bill Watkins presented Crayton with several plaques and symbols of the council’s appreciation.
When Hindman called the meeting to order, Crayton was sitting at her usual post next to Janku. But when Hindman next picked up his gavel, a new face had joined the council ranks.
Before acknowledging the support from his family, friends and door-to-door campaign coach during the election, Paul Sturtz joined the city clerk in front of a podium to be sworn in for his term as First Ward City Councilman.
At the first three words, the easiest, his nerves seemed to show. “I, Paul Sturtz,” was almost inaudible as he spoke, apparently not quite familiar with the City Council microphones.
After the inauguration, during which Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser was also sworn in, Sturtz spoke about the weight and responsibility of filling Crayton’s position. Looking ahead to his term, Sturtz said he was excited to be a part of shaping Columbia.
“I’m excited about carving out a future, carving it out together and passing it on to our children and grandchildren.”