COLUMBIA — The politics of nonpartisan elections was on vivid display Tuesday evening at the public library, where those good citizens in the League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates and issues on the April 5 ballot.
(It was a cold and rainy night, but I went so you wouldn’t have to. No need to thank me. It’s a journalist’s role. Besides, there were cookies and coffee free for the taking.)
Politics has turned personal in the contest to succeed Laura Nauser as Fifth Ward representative on the City Council. Glen Ehrhardt and Helen Anthony don’t appear to like each other.
As he recited his resume in his opening statement, he noted that he is “the only candidate in this race” to have voted for the downtown surveillance cameras, to have voted for Bob McDavid for mayor and to have won endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce. She, while stressing her expertise in planning and zoning, accused him of being “divisive” and of having influential friends rather than relevant service.
Earlier, one of her supporters muttered in my ear that he’s is a “Tea Partier.” Later, one of his told me in an e-mail that the charge itself is divisive as well as being untrue.
They’re both smart people, both experienced attorneys, both well financed and expertly advised. They were seated side by side, but the distance between them would have accommodated an iceberg.
The competition for three seats on the Columbia School Board is more complicated if less hostile. There are six candidates, including two incumbents. To win in a race like that, you’ve got to stand out from the crowd. The two who stood out Tuesday, for very different reasons, were Dave Raithel and Sara Dickson.
He introduced himself as holding a doctorate in philosophy and being currently unemployed, after a career that includes stints as a substitute teacher and, most recently, vineyard worker. He described himself as sometimes “polemical” but never dull.
Her campaign literature and her comments make clear that she is the “Christian conservative voice” in the field. Responding to a voter’s question, she was the only candidate to rule out seeking a tax increase. She also favors a review of the history curriculum to make sure it does justice to the role of Christianity.
It’s easier to imagine her finishing in the top three, but he’d be a lot more entertaining.
Among the other four — incumbents Tom Rose and Jonathan Sessions and challengers Helen Wade and Liz Peterson, I had trouble spotting any differences of substance. All are proud of our schools. All want to improve student achievement. All would be willing to raise taxes if necessary. All seemed knowledgeable and serious.
All six agreed that hard decisions lie ahead. For us voters, choosing three may be hard enough.
I wrote last week about being impressed by three of the First Ward council candidates. Pam Forbes, Mitch Richards and Fred Schmidt are different in background and personality, but similar in their energy and commitment to service. This time, the fourth contestant, Darrell Foster, joined them.
As the only black candidate, and nearly the only person of color in the room, he got a laugh by pointing out that electing him would certainly add diversity to the council. He was serious, though, about representing an underserved minority. I’m still glad I don’t have to choose among the four.
Enthusiasm and attendance had both diminished by the time Bob Roper came forward to promote the ballot issue that would establish salaries for council members. His posture and his tone suggested that he knows he’s pushing a boulder up a steep and slippery hill. He pointed out that of the state’s 10 biggest cities, only Columbia doesn’t pay. We seem to like it that way.
I’ve left out the hospital board and the power plant purchase, I know, but it was a long night. Still, in the company of sincere advocates, engaged citizens and Girl Scout cookies, the time was well spent.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.