COLUMN: Lack of divisive issue makes mayoral candidates tough to separate

Thursday, February 11, 2010 | 3:40 p.m. CST; updated 10:38 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Every 15 years or so, it seems, we have an open election for mayor. With five-term incumbent Darwin Hindman pedaling off into the sunset, a gaggle of aspirants will compete to occupy the center seat in our fancy new City Council chamber.

In case you’ve mislaid your sample ballot, here are the candidates, in alphabetical order: Paul Love, Bob McDavid, Sal Nuccio, Sean O’Day, Sid Sullivan and Jerry Wade. That’s the same number who ran in 1995, the last time we had an incumbent-free contest.


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Back then, there turned out to be four serious candidates. In the public mind and in the newspapers, the principal adversaries were Realtor Rhonda Carlson and Dary. He won by a margin so wide it surprised even his supporters and dismayed the developers. Margie Meyer and Les Reschly ran a close third and fourth. From then on, he was barely challenged.

This time, with the campaign just under way and two months before election day, the race is already interesting.

Jerry Wade is positioning himself as the candidate of the broad middle ground, drawing on his experience as Fourth Ward councilman, veteran of the Planning and Zoning Commission and his academic career as adviser to local governments. He sees that background as training for the mayoralty.

Bob McDavid, a retired obstetrician and chairman of the Boone Hospital Center trustees, appears to be the candidate of the business establishment. Take a look at the lists of nominating petition signers helpfully published on the Missourian’s “Watchword” blog and you’ll find the names of former mayor and MBS Textbook Exchange Inc. President Bob Pugh, Chamber of Commerce President Don Laird, publisher and former KFRU talker Fred Parry and many others of the commercial elite.

Sid Sullivan is a relative newcomer to town, with an impressive resume that ranges from community organizing to marketing. He has run for local office unsuccessfully twice but doesn't appear to be discouraged. His nominating petition shows signatures of several well-known environmentalists and the leaders of the anti-Taser campaign.

Sal Nuccio has announced that he won’t participate in mayoral forums. He doesn’t need to, he says, because he meets so many people at his bar. His Web site mixes campaign exhortations with invitations to the next karaoke contest at the Eastside Tavern.

College student Sean O’Day, who has held one late-night rally, was the subject of a nice little profile in Thursday’s Vox magazine.

So far, network analyst Paul Love hasn’t done anything visible.

The conventional wisdom, as expressed by Al Germond in the Columbia Business Times, has anointed Professor Wade and Dr. McDavid as the only candidates we need take seriously. Sid Sullivan argues his case for inclusion in that category. The three gentlemen do have at least two things in common: They’re all retired and all eligible for Social Security.

No big divisive issue has yet emerged to match the preservation versus development contrast that made the Hindman-Carlson contest so captivating 15 years ago. In the early going, everybody seems to be in favor of economic improvement and against crime.  It will be important to learn how they define and emphasize those points of superficial agreement.

My guess is that, with the possible exception of Mr. Nuccio, all the candidates will do their best to join Jerry Wade in the middle, as moderates intent on progressively conserving the best of Columbia while embracing the future. We may wind up having to decide who’ll be most effective at that.

As the campaign unfolds, I can’t help hoping that Mr. Nuccio will change his mind, join the other candidates at a forum and, when the microphone reaches him, crank up his karaoke machine and break into song.

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


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John Schultz February 11, 2010 | 7:53 p.m.

Mr. Kennedy, as usual, seems to throw in the occasional slight or perhaps bias. Paul Love "hasn't done anything visible?" Perhaps Mr. Kennedy should get out and about and ask the opinion of those who attended the first mayoral debate. I heard several favorable opinions of Paul Love's answers and delivery that evening and in the Tribune's comments. Can he be bothered to say more than "just" network analyst after the flowery prose for McDavid, Sullivan, and Wade? Shame, sir.

If Mr. Kennedy had paid a bit more attention to the CARE@Paquin forum, he would know that the use of Tasers by CPD immediately splits the five (present) candidates - Sullivan and O'Day are opposed to their use, while McDavid, Love, and Wade were in favor with appropriate training and such.

I'm sure some additional local issues, such as the Sasaki plan, the related TIF project for the Tiger Hotel and the near-condemnation of Bengal's and associated properties that flowed from that plan, the smoking ban, and urban chickens would help to illustrate the policy differences and underlying political philosophies of the candidates. Instead, Mr. Kennedy relies on the tired pro-growth vs. smart-growth/greenies vs. developers paradigms to pigeonhole the candidates.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 11, 2010 | 11:47 p.m.

("Sid Sullivan is a relative newcomer to town, with an impressive resume that ranges from community organizing to marketing. He has run for local office unsuccessfully twice but doesn't appear to be discouraged.")

How long must a retired person live in Columbia to no longer be called a newcomer? The man has lived here long enough to run for local office twice all ready and has accomplished more than most "newcomers" have in the good number of years which he and his wife have lived here.

I believe I also heard Mr. Sullivan mention that he spoke with Chief Burton and it's my understanding that Mr. Sullivan's position is not to ban tasers but that they should not be used as an instrument of compliance, however used when the officer's life is in danger.
At least that's what I heard at tonight's mayoral candidate forum hosted by the firefighters.
(At the Paquin forum I was unable to hear Mr. Sullivan and note that Paul Love has the best vocal projection.)
Paul is the only candidate who does need a microphone for the rooms Columbia has to offer for these type of meetings. At the end of today, with a forum at the Chamber of Commerce and a meeting at the Stoney Creek Inn, Paul Love stuck around until the last attendee was ready to leave. Unlike his even more younger dais sharer, Sean O'Day, Mr. Love was not tired, frazzled or glazed over. He definitely has the stamina for this kind of job.
I also believe that of all the candidates, Dr. McDavid was the only one who came across as being able to capture a glimpse of Mayor Darwin's ability to be light on his feet.
Although at tonight's forum, it was Paul Love who physically remained standing throughout the entire forum, due to as he described it to me, a condition akin to restless leg syndrome. (I almost mistook him for the master of ceremonies.)
All good candidates with meaningful intentions.
I am still undecided.
Need more input.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin February 11, 2010 | 11:47 p.m.

If, as Mr. Kennedy suggests, Mr. Wade seems like the "middle ground" candidate, it's because he's flip-flopped on his positions -- and his vision -- over the three years he's been on the council as 4th Ward rep.

All that vacillating may have landed him -- mathematically anyway -- somewhere around the middle.

A perfect example: The December 21, 2009 City Council discussion about an "advise and consent"/city charter change motion that starts on this video at roughly 2:36:

Dec. 21, 2009 Council Meeting

At roughly 2:38:50, Mr. Wade agrees to move forward, saying, "This is probably a discussion we need to have," and voting FOR the motion.

Then, just three weeks later, Mr. Wade flip flops, helping kill the very "discussion" he previously supported:

January 19, 2010 Columbia City Council Meeting
Roughly 1:03 to 1:08

Now, Mr. Wade says:

"This proposed charter change wouldn't address the issues we want to address. This is the wrong discussion...It won't improve the quality of city operations and in fact it will probably decrease it.

"It would have the council monkeying around where we don't need to be. We have considerable opportunity already to make input to the city manager, even in the hiring process. This kind of attention to the charter, with advise and consent, plays around with just one piece of a system.

"It would introduce political considerations into personnel decisions and would simply move Columbia back toward the political cronyism and the abuses of the past that the progressive movement worked to eliminate.

"The hiring and firing of department heads would become dependent on the votes of four politicians, and that's not how you retain top quality administrators."

So who had the "discussion" here? Mr. Wade. How he came up with a 5 minute-long back flip in only three weeks time is beyond me, but it's not something I interpret as moving toward the middle.

He should have stuck with his guns, listened to his constituents in several public forums, and THEN made his decision.

But that hasn't been Mr. Wade's M.O.

His swing votes for Cross Creek -- a disastrous excursion into clear cutting that has yielded only an ugly tree-stripped lot -- and the Lemone Bridge/Maguire Road deal, with its shady origins in a Ray Beck/Bob Lemone "handshake" -- really took the wind out of Mr. Wade's political base.

What he had promised -- a questioning eye toward questionable developments -- he flip-flopped on, excusing himself by saying the "process" was "flawed."

Even his written (emailed) promise to fix a stretch of sidewalk on Maupin Street in the Old Southwest went bust when he got some push back from public works director John Glascock.

This isn't moving toward the middle. It's waffling toward oblivion.

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