Mayor Darwin Hindman pedaled up to Thursday’s big announcement on his trail-worn bike. Axie was right behind him, as she has been for 49 years and counting.
For any other 76-year-old lawyer/politician, such an arrival might have seemed a bit showy. For Dary, of course, it was routine. The bicycle is not only his preferred means of transportation. It has become the unofficial icon of his nearly 15 years as our mayor.
That tenure, he announced, will come to an end next April. Already, the speculation has begun about possible successors. The two names most prominently mentioned are those of Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and retired banker-turned-columnist Bob Roper. As of Thursday morning’s Missourian, both were being predictably coy.
I think we can safely expect that, whether those gentlemen turn out to be candidates or others emerge, we’ll see a good fight come spring. The pro-development forces have been grumbling for some time about how city government should be more friendly to growth. If you’re a reader, as I am, of Bob’s essays in the Columbia Daily Tribune, you understand that he’d be a logical standard-bearer for the bulldozer crowd.
The preservationist or smart growth people aren’t all excited about Jerry, I’m told; but they’ll certainly back him if they can’t recruit somebody they like better.
With the job open, we may see the sort of free-for-all we remember from 1995, when Dary was first elected. Six good citizens offered themselves to the electorate in hopes of succeeding Mary Anne McCollum.
Pretty quickly, though, the campaign came down to a two-horse race between Dary and Rhonda Carlson, who was an eloquent advocate for developers. It probably helped that she was one herself.
I described that contest as the Greens versus the Grays, gray being the color of concrete. The Greens won by a margin of better than 2-1.
Dary’s an unassuming sort of guy, but his valedictory remarks Thursday provided a reminder of just how important that outcome was to our community. Asked to enumerate the achievements of his reign, he ticked off the ARC; a list of parks including Stephens, Flat Branch and the still-developing southeast regional; and his beloved trails. He also mentioned the new City Hall, but I thought it significant that he didn’t include the huge parking garage taking shape downtown.
He got in what I took to be a subtle dig at the pro-growth faction, even as he stressed the importance of continued economic development. The kind he has in mind, he made clear, is “knowledge-based,” centered on the university and its affiliates. He also emphasized the value of protecting and promoting Columbia’s quality of life. That value is both human and economic.
He said he was making his announcement early to provide plenty of time for candidates to step up. He anticipates a “vigorous” competition. We’re certain to have that. In our council-manager form of city government, the mayorship is largely a symbolic position. It can be a powerful symbol. Remember Rodney Smith?
When the news conference was over, I thanked Dary and Axie for their service. There’ll be plenty of opportunity over the next few months for all of us to do the same. No matter which side of the growth debate you stand on, you’ll surely agree that they deserve it.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.