COLUMBIA — Five of the six mayoral candidates answered questions about public transportation, public safety and growth at the first mayoral forum Wednesday night. The forum was held at Paquin Tower and was sponsored by CARE@Paquin, a nonprofit organization that supports recreation programs at the facility.
Candidates Sid Sullivan, Jerry Wade, Paul Love, Robert McDavid and Sean O’Day attended the forum. Sal Nuccio, the sixth candidate, did not participate. Sean Spence, chairman of the CARE@Paquin board, said Nuccio declined an invitation to attend the forum.
Candidates had two minutes for opening and closing statements and 90 seconds to respond to questions. Vicki Russell, associate publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune, was the moderator.
Joseph Boettcher thought the forum’s topics were too broad based on the location of the event. Spence disagreed because the questions came from the community.
“I think there should have been a tighter focus on disability,” Boettcher said.
Russell did read one question that specifically addressed disability issues.
Love, McDavid, O’Day and Sullivan all said they wanted to improve accessibility with sidewalks and public transportation. McDavid said he wanted “increased sensitivity,” speaking specifically of the difficulties the new government building construction on Broadway had caused.
O’Day said he was concerned with the way the bus system was operating.
“When a bus is 30 minutes late, that’s unacceptable,” he said.
Sullivan said he is concerned that many streets have sidewalks only on one side.
“We still have a long way to go,” he said about correcting the issue.
Wade spoke more broadly in response to the disability-focused question, saying diverse community members “need to sit down and talk together.”
The candidates were also asked about their vision for public transit later in the forum.
O’Day said he’d like to see barriers put along streets to make it safer for bikers. Love said he was concerned that bus stops were not conveniently located in neighborhoods with a high number of public transportation users.
Sullivan focused on "walkability" and said he’d like to see a grocery store in the downtown area.
“What we need to look at is where people are walking to,” he said.
Another major theme was public safety.
Love said he worried about crime becoming a lifestyle for some people as Columbia continues to grow.
“I’d like to make sure we nip that in the bud,” he added.
McDavid said that, as with every community wanting to attract large companies, Columbia’s mayor has an important job of making Columbia appealing. To do that, he said it's important to get "crime off the front page."
“The mayor has to be a salesman,” McDavid said.
Sullivan said he wants youth counselors working with social services to deal with at-risk youth. Wade said breaking the cycle of poverty was important to helping those youth in the community.
“There is a growing economic divide in this community, and we’re all going to lose,” he said.
Development and economic growth in Columbia were also addressed.
Wade said he wants a modernization of zoning codes and to reassess ways the city can handle development proposals.
“We have a development policy that’s outdated,” he said.
McDavid also said he wants to update the development process. He said there is griping from developers because they don’t know what to expect when they go through the planning and zoning process.
O’Day agreed with other candidates that Columbia had “no choice but to expand,” but wanted to focus on maintaining Columbia’s infrastructure.
“Houses are not the best investment,” he said.
Spence said he was pleased the event filled the room and addressed multiple city issues.
“Our goal was to focus on issues that are important to people in Paquin and in the entire community,” he said.