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COLUMN: Election forums showcase credible candidates

Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 4:32 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

With a little more than two weeks until election day and yards around town sprouting campaign signs like toadstools, let’s look in on the race for mayor. I got my first glimpse of the five serious candidates in person last week at the forum sponsored by the Muleskinners. There’ll be another forum Monday evening at the School of Journalism. You won’t want to miss it.

(I say the five serious candidates to distinguish them from Sal Nuccio, who’ll be on the ballot but isn’t really running. Of the five, Paul Love and Sean O’Day don’t appear well enough financed or widely enough supported to be electable, but it seems to me that anybody willing to put in the work deserves our attention and our thanks. Both, I thought, acquitted themselves well at the forum.)

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Having said that, I’m going out on a limb and speculating that the winner on April 6 will come from among Jerry Wade, Sid Sullivan and Bob McDavid. Prof. Wade and Dr. McDavid have the deepest pockets, the longest local track records and the most vocal coteries of backers and opponents.

Dr. McDavid is clearly the candidate of the political segment of the Chamber of Commerce and of the pro-development forces. The names on his nominating petition are a Who’s Who of that crowd. His most visible advocate is publisher/politico Fred Parry, who is campaigning hard against both Jerry Wade and Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala.

I see that as a mixed blessing. The positive side can be seen in the big sign on the lawn of Fred’s Inside Columbia magazine and the ready availability of other forms of support. The negative, however, is perhaps illustrated by a bit of 15-year-old history. That was the last time the developers pushed hard for a mayoral candidate. She got beat by about 3-1.

History may explain why Dr. McDavid isn’t flaunting that support. Before last week’s audience of Democrats and in his literature he portrays himself as anti-crime and pro-responsive government and thoughtful economic growth. There really wasn’t much to distinguish his positions as he explained them last Friday from those of the other candidates. His candidacy is surely aided, beyond the chamber, by his decades of delivering babies and his lead role in renegotiating the contract between our county hospital and its St. Louis operator.

Candidates Wade and Sullivan both understand, and told me after the forum, that they’re running mainly against him.

Jerry Wade is the better known of those two. In a way, that’s his problem. He told me a few weeks ago that he wants to be the candidate of the middle, with Mr. Sullivan to his left and Dr. McDavid to his right on our local progressive-conservative spectrum. When you’re in the middle, of course, you run the risk of alienating people on both sides. Fred Parry on the right flank calls him anti-business while a number of the progressives I know grumble from the left that he’s too developer-friendly.

Prof. Wade’s appeal arises from his long, strong record in city government and as professional adviser to other governments near and far. His whole career, he argues, has been preparation for the job he seeks. That’s a strong argument.

Sid Sullivan has an impressive resume, too; but nearly all of it was compiled elsewhere. He’s a bright, thoughtful guy who lacks the local track record of either of the other leading candidates. His hope must be that the smart growth element coalesces behind him rather than Jerry Wade.

If you’re a pro-development conservative, you have a clear and credible candidate. If you’re more concerned about the costs of growth and the relationship of our elected representatives to their hired hands, you have a compelling but confusing choice.

And if you’re a karaoke fan, there’s always Sal Nuccio.

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

 


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