It’s almost over. Just a few more days and we’ll know the answers to several questions that seem likely to shape the future of Columbia.
- Is it possible in 2010 to buy a local election?
- Does the so-called “development community” have the votes to match its bankroll?
- Is attempted character assassination a winning tactic?
- Will the exaggerated fear of crime lead us to give up another little piece of our civil liberties?
- Are we so recession-wounded that we refuse to invest in the future of our public schools?
I hope that on Tuesday we answer No to all those questions.
The clout of cash in the City Council races became visible earlier this week when the newspapers reported the latest round of candidate financial filings. To nobody’s surprise, I trust, Bob McDavid has been the beneficiary of $56,658 in contributions, just about double the takings of his strongest rival, Jerry Wade.
The other candidates preferred by the Chamber of Commerce likewise benefitted. Fourth Ward candidate Daryl Dudley, unencumbered as he is by any previous record of civic service, leads his more qualified competitors, with $9,168 to Sarah Read’s $7,789 and Tracy Greever-Rice’s $5,414.
And Third Ward endorsee Gary Kespohl, whose campaign makes up in vehemence what it lacks in substance, out-pocketed incumbent Karl Skala $19,553 to $11,637.
Will all that money translate into votes? In previous local elections, it hasn’t. This time, by putting their money on a doctor rather than a developer, I imagine that the builders and their allies hope to muddy the water (even more than their efforts have muddied Hinkson Creek) and broaden their appeal.
Jerry Wade, intent on making it a two-horse race between him and Dr. McDavid, committed a politically incorrect outburst of candor and then felt obliged to apologize to a group that wasn’t going to support him anyway. His gaffe was to describe the alternative to a Wade victory as “a city run by and for special-interest realtors and high-stakes developers.”
Other than his failure to capitalize the trademark “Realtors,” I thought he did a pretty pungent job of clarifying our choice. That same flier described Dr. McDavid as “a candidate recruited by Fred Parry, Don Stamper and the Central MO Development Corporation.” That, too, struck me as accurate. (Sid Sullivan could have drawn the same comparisons, but he may be a nicer guy and for sure hasn’t got as much money for fliers as Jerry has.)
I’ve also been glad to hear Karl Skala making the important point, artfully obscured by the pro-concrete candidates, that economic development isn’t the same as real estate development. His endorsement by the small but thoughtful Smart Growth Coalition emphasizes that truth.
Until this week, growth and its control – if any – had been the subterranean issue, while crime and the fear of same have gotten more attention that they deserve. I hope you saw the report Monday on ColumbiaMissourian.com showing that in fact we don’t have a crime wave. We really had less violent crime in 2009 than in 2001. And little of what we do have occurs downtown.
You wouldn’t know that from the rhetoric of Dr. McDavid, Paul Love or the sincere but misguided backers of downtown surveillance cameras. If there’s a fear of crime, that’s at least partly due to its over-emphasis in this campaign.
Finally, it’s up to the forward-looking to ensure that the weight of recession doesn’t drag down the most important proposition on Tuesday’s ballot, the school bond issue. It has lots of public support and little public opposition. Its most dangerous foes are apathy and short-sightedness.
If this April election holds true to form, a small minority of us will bother to vote. To the majority, I say only that failure to vote disqualifies you from complaining about the outcome. See you at the polls.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Columbia Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.