Mayoral race, Steelman's future, civil liberties up for discussion this week

Thursday, September 17, 2009 | 10:38 a.m. CDT; updated 9:32 a.m. CDT, Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let’s chat today about a few items in the news.

The least surprising announcement of the week was Jerry Wade’s disclosure that he’s running for mayor. He’s my councilman, and it’s been obvious for some time that he had his eye on moving up.


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Jerry has been a good City Council member, and his university career advising local governments should prepare him well for the mayorship. He’s being coy so far about his ideas, but we could expect him to follow in the moderately progressive path, if not the bike tracks, of Darwin Hindman.

His is the first hat in the ring for next April’s election. Surely there’ll be more, though the interesting question is whose heads those hats will fit. If we can say – and I think we can – that Jerry comes from our town’s more progressive, controlled-growth wing (let’s call it the Green caucus), then we can expect at least one challenger to emerge from the more conservative, pro-development caucus (which I call the Grays, as in the color of concrete).

One highly visible Gray who won’t be running is Donnie Stamper, our former Boone County presiding commissioner and current mouthpiece of the developers. I ran into Donnie at lunch not long ago and asked. He laughed and said he is following the advice he received at the beginning of his political career: “Never run for an office that doesn’t pay anything.”

Another prominent Gray is retired lawyer and banker-turned-Tribune-columnist Bob Roper. He keeps insisting that he won’t run, and I’m told that his friends are beginning to believe him. Bob is a smart guy who just happens to be wrong on practically every important issue, from growth to global warming. He’d be a good standard bearer for the Grays.

An interesting if unlikely name has popped up on Mike Martin’s blog, The Columbia Heart Beat . The completely unscientific responses to the poll Mike posted have Vicky Riback-Wilson as the leading choice, last time I looked. I think she’d make a fine mayor, but it’s hard to see her running against Jerry.

A more surprising political announcement was Sarah Steelman’s that she won’t seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. She said she wants to keep her kids safe in the right-wing hills and hollows of southwest Missouri. She didn’t put it quite that way, of course. I suspect the more compelling reason for such an obviously ambitious politician to bow out is that she took some soundings and realized she couldn’t match Roy Blunt in the necessary fundraising.

Her absence will make that race next year a little less interesting.

Two less political but more worrisome developments this week are the campaigns for more cameras to record our daily lives in public. A citizen activist wants video of us on downtown sidewalks, and the Columbia police want to capture our license plates.

Civil libertarians are quick to raise concerns. In this era of increasing surveillance and decreasing privacy, I think we should all share those concerns. That’s especially true of the downtown camera proposal. It’s a plausible idea that such cameras cut crime. However, it’s a plausible idea that’s been proven not to work.

In England, where closed circuit television cameras (CCTV, as it’s called there) are ubiquitous, studies show that they’ve had no measurable impact on street crime. Of course, we don’t really have a serious crime problem downtown anyway, unless you count the theft of the police chief’s bike.

And as to the license plate images, the problem isn’t so much the photography as the potential for storing that information electronically and thus keeping track of the travels of the law-abiding majority. No good could come of that.

The public conversation on all this is just beginning. Stay tuned.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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