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.
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.