COLUMBIA — Preoccupied with a faltering economy and the specter of big-city crime in Columbia, real estate agents and interested citizens gathered Thursday to launch the City Council campaign of one of their own.
Meeting at the Columbia Board of Realtors' offices, about 75 of Jason Thornhill's friends, business associates, competitors and constituents said they agreed with the focus on public safety, economic growth and financial restructuring the local real estate agent has championed on his maiden political voyage.
Friday: Chili Supper and Auction, 5 to 8 p.m.; $10 a plate; at the lodge of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, 2513 N. Stadium Blvd. Call Jay Wilson at 268-6949 or go to thornhillforcouncil.net for more information.
The other Second Ward candidate, Allan Sharrock, said he also planned to schedule a fundraising event. Constituents can go to allansharrock.com for updates on Sharrock's schedule and events.
In April's election, Thornhill will compete against Columbia teacher Allan Sharrock for the Second Ward seat to be vacated by 18-year incumbent Chris Janku. Sharrock said his campaign was still planning an initial fundraiser.
At the event, Thornhill said his door-to-door trips through his district led him to embrace the infrastructure needs of Second Ward residents in addition his original core issues: increasing Police Department funding, attracting employers and weeding out inefficiency in city government.
Inspired by constituents, Thornhill said he would work to reach a proper mix of residential and commercial zoning along the Providence Road extension and to ensure that the expansion of Range Line Street meets the needs of Second Ward cyclists and commuters. He also wants to better connect the ward with the rest of the city.
Thornhill also pushed for the extension of Columbia Fire Department service to all residents within the city's limits, including those areas — such as the ward's Brookside Square development — now served by the Boone County Fire Protection District.
His focus on infrastructure did not distract Thornhill or his supporters from citywide issues. The talk Thursday night revolved around two things: money and safety.
Columbia Association of Realtors CEO Carol Van Gorp said she and the rest of her 550-member organization support Thornhill because the city needs a real estate agent's unique neighborhood-level perspective on economics and crime.
"It's a Realtor's job to know neighborhood conditions, school information — all the stuff that goes on in a neighborhood," Van Gorp said. "Nobody wants to buy houses in big crime areas."
Thornhill and others in attendance expressed fears that Columbia, and the Second Ward in particular, was in danger of becoming one of those big crime areas. Thornhill said rising unemployment, a growing population and an underfunded Police Department had combined to bring to Columbia the type of crime typically seen in places like St. Louis and Kansas City.
Informed by meetings with Columbia Police Department officials, Thornhill said he would help the department adapt to the changing face of crime in the city and to focus funding on the programs shown to have the most significant impact on public safety.
Sean Moore is a reserve police officer and 10-year veteran of the Police Department who made the jump to RE/MAX Boone Realty last year. Moore said he supported Thornhill, a competing real-estate agent, because Thornhill knows the Police Department needs help and has not kept up with the growth of the city.
"I think it's going to take a fresh mind to make sure (Columbia) grows the right way," said campaign treasurer and longtime Second Ward resident Gerry Blaise.
Jay Wilson, Thornhill's business associate at Weichert Realtors—First Tier, agreed. Wilson said he pushed Thornhill to run for council because "he's a leader in our business, and he's going to be a leader in City Council."
Word of the gathering was transmitted many ways, such as the real estate agent grapevine and the Thornhilll campaign's Facebook group, said Committee member Scott Wendling of HOB Commercial Realty Group.
"He definitely has significant support," Wendling said.