COLUMBIA – The two ward candidates backed by the Columbia Chamber of Commerce won their bids for seats on the Columbia City Council. Gary Kespohl knocked incumbent Karl Skala out of the Third Ward seat while Daryl Dudley emerged from a field of four to win the Fourth Ward seat vacated by mayoral candidate Jerry Wade.
Kespohl, who gathered with about 30 supporters at Jack's Gourmet Restaurant on Tuesday night, won the 2010 version of a squeaker between him and Skala. Kespohl won 1,259 votes to Skala's 1,205. Like the last time the two faced off for the ward seat, the race was decided by fewer than 100 votes. Kespohl lost that round by 63 votes in 2007.
This year, Kespohl attacked Skala, saying his votes had cost the city jobs, that his travel expenses were exorbitant and that his vote in favor of urban hens was misguided.
Kespohl, though visibly surprised, was obviously pleased with the outcome.
"I can't even talk," Kespohl said as a his longtime friend Red Leighton ran to embrace him.
“I couldn't believe I came back and won it,” he said later. And during his victory speech, he told those gathered, "I pledge to do my best to bring common-sense representation to the Third Ward."
From the beginning of his campaign, Skala kept a steadfast confidence that his council seat would be there for him after the election. He often would speak of his future plans for the council then stop mid-sentence to correct himself with "if I get re-elected, that is."
It turns out he did not.
About 40 people gathered at the Pasta Factory to support Skala. A shocked hush fell over friends and family as the last precinct's results were posted.
"We lost a very, very good man today," said Kurt Albert, who said he spent 16 days canvassing thousands of houses.
"What are you acting so sad about?" Skala said as his wife, Mahree Skala, hugged him. “I'm going fishing.”
Skala didn't stray during this campaign from positions he pushed as a council member — and as a member of the Planning and Zoning and Energy and Environment commissions before that. He believes that developers should contribute more to the cost of new infrastructure and that the city should ensure infrastructure remains ahead of development. That message, however, failed to win him a second term.
Kespohl, meanwhile, focused his campaign on creating jobs and quickly promoting growth and development to spur economic activity and, in turn, city revenue. He told the Missourian that fast development is more important than planned development.
Kespohl, like the other chamber-backed council candidates, also focused on public safety as a major issue. He supported Proposition 1 and said he would like to see $25,000 of the $40,500 allotted for council travel redirected toward the cameras.
Dudley held his watch party at Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant but was next door at fellow candidate Sarah Read's party at Shakespeare's West when the final votes came in.
Dudley, looking over Read campaign manager Dave Overfelt's shoulder, wore a blank, serious expression when the news struck. The manager of a HyVee gas station garnered 1,831 votes to slip by Tracy Greever-Rice with 1,772 votes, Read with 1,326 votes and Rick Buford with 138 votes.
Dudley, who has no experience in city government, decided to run for council after customers at his work complained about nearby road conditions. He campaigned on a platform of public safety and job growth. His bid got a big boost when the chamber endorsed him.
"Police, fire and streets are the first on my agenda," Dudley said. "We need more police officers. The police chief needs all the help he can get."
Greever-Rice, vice chairwoman on the Columbia Visioning Commission and an alternate to the Columbia Board of Adjustment, campaigned on a platform that called for creating jobs, developing the city's work force, and improving infrastructure, public safety and government transparency.
Greever-Rice, who held a lead as the results came in most of the night, was shocked by the final tally. So were her friends and supporters at Teller's Gallery and Bar.
"Now we know how much it costs to buy an election in Columbia," Greever-Rice said. Guests at her party expressed dismay that all the candidates endorsed by the chamber won their respective races.
Read, an attorney and co-owner of The Communications Center who specializes in mediation, called for a broad spectrum of public input as the city moves ahead with growth management planning. And Buford, a data analyst for CarFax, ran on a platform of fiscal scrutiny focusing on essential services such as police and fire protection.
Despite losing, Buford was happy with the experience.
"One of my big goals was to alter the conversation," Buford said. "I think in some ways I did alter the conversation. ... Part of the promise I made to my wife is that even if I lose that I would stay involved."
The new council members, as well as Mayor-elect Bob McDavid, will be sworn in on Monday night.
Missourian reporters Alison Gammon and Kerri Reynolds contributed to this report.