COLUMBIA — In his five campaigns for mayor, Darwin Hindman was untouchable. After winning a six-way race for the office by more than 4,000 votes in 1995, Hindman has twice run unopposed, and he won by enormous margins in the two elections in which he was challenged.
But after Hindman's Thursday announcement that he would not seek election to a sixth term, the mayoral race is wide open. The announcement touched off a flurry of speculation about possible successors.
The mayor of Columbia is considered a City Council member at large and in most respects has no more authority than other council representatives. The mayor often makes ceremonial appearances on the city's behalf, presides over council meetings and can make some appointments to boards and commissions, subject to council approval. Mayors are unpaid volunteers who serve three-year terms.
Hindman has previously waited until early January to announce his election intentions but said Thursday that he hopes an early announcement this time will give possible candidates a chance to consider their decision.
"I hope there will be a vigorous campaign," he said.
With no incumbent, there's a good chance the field will look similar to that of 1995.
Hindman said he hadn't spoken to anyone interested in mounting a campaign for mayor. But his decision not to run was kept under a tight lid, he said. Other than family, he hadn't told anyone before Thursday.
Community members said Hindman has set a high standard for successors.
“Whoever is elected mayor following Mayor Hindman will be judged against him, and that will be a very high bar to get over,” said Jim Loveless, who has served as councilman for both the Second and Fourth wards.
Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Leadership Council, said that group will be active in the search for new candidates for mayor.
"The tone of the community is set by leadership, and that is a tone we are very interested in," Stamper said. "We'll be working with other groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and (The Columbia) Board of Realtors."
Former Columbia Mayor Mary Anne McCollum said that as the city grows, so does the mayor's responsibilities.
"The next mayor will have to obviously be someone who can be as dedicated to the job as was Mayor Hindman," she said. "It does require increasingly more time."
McCollum said that one of the biggest changes since she was mayor in the late 1980s and early 1990s is the level of communication constituents expect.
"Many of the citizens who contacted me did so by calling me and leaving a message on my recorder at home, and I also responded to a lot of letters," she said. "Over the past 20 years the role of both the mayor and City Council has increased. With the newest technology, constituents expect more immediate response from their elected officials."
City Manager Bill Watkins said the next mayor should be someone familiar with the city and how to work within the government.
"We need someone who has knowledge of the workings of the community and willingness to lead and work with the staff, City Council, interest groups and community groups," Watkins said.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said the next mayor should be someone who understands the community and its history.
"Someone who has the foresight for the community of the future, which includes growing in sustainable ways that are in sync with environmental realities," Hoppe said. "Also a person who is a good spokesperson, open-minded and good at allowing people to express ideas and conversation."
Jeff Barrow, chairman of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, said the next mayor also must brace for the problems that come with Columbia's growth. Some big-city background would help, he said.
Barrow noted that the city is in a position to take the next step in growth, with downtown on the cusp of redevelopment and MU developing a research park that it hopes will be strong in the life sciences.
"The new mayor needs to be poised to take advantage of those opportunities that need to be merged," Barrow said. The mayor should be "progress oriented, future oriented. Darwin Hindman was a wonderful native son – a great mayor – but I think the new mayor is going to have to face (new kinds) of challenges."
Several potential candidates for mayor have refrained from committing to the race. Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade confirmed Wednesday that he has been considering a mayoral run for months but that he wouldn't speed up his decision because of Hindman's announcement.
Retired bank executive Bob Roper, who has been widely discussed as a possible contender, told the Missourian on Wednesday that he would be "highly unlikely" to enter the race.
John Clark, who has run twice against Hindman, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Arnie Fagan, a real estate agent and owner of Cool Stuff, said he is considering running for mayor.
“I think it’s an extremely important job, and we certainly need someone that’s got a lot of experience in the right skills and certainly somebody who’s very civic-minded,” he said.
Fagan said he has received personal e-mails encouraging him to run.
“Certainly, looking at who would throw their hat in the ring would affect any decision I would make,” Fagan said. “If there was somebody who was a good candidate, I’d be less likely to join the race. But it would be more likely if there are only lousy candidates throwing their hat in the ring.”
Loveless said that he has not given the idea of running for mayor “due consideration” but that anyone who is running will have a tough role to fill.
People commenting on the Columbia Daily Tribune's Web site offered plenty of informal nominations, including local blogger Mike Martin, who owns and rents properties in the central city; Fred Parry, publisher of Inside Columbia Magazine; and Jeff Harris, the former 23rd District state representative who lost a bid for attorney general.
Parry said he was flattered by some of the attention, but a run for mayor would not be a "good fit for me right now."
"At this point, I am not interested personally in running, but I am very interested in who might consider running," he said.
Parry said the City Council has missed opportunities to curb violent crime and made it difficult for businesses to move to or operate in Columbia. That has, in turn, hurt Columbia's schools, he said.
"People don't want to move to a town where there is a perceived increase in violent crime," he said.
In addition to the mayor's seat, the Third and Fourth Ward council seats held by Karl Skala and Wade, respectively, will be up for election on April 6.
The filing period for council candidates will begin Oct. 23 and end in late January. The city charter dictates that those interested in running for mayor must collect at least 100 and not more than 150 signatures from registered voters in the city.
Missourian reporters James Patrick Schmidt and Greg Mitchell contributed to this report.