Fred Schmidt wants to bring communication, financial expertise to council

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — Fred Schmidt is known as the bike guy for good reason.

Dressed in a neon green biking jacket and corduroys, sitting with his legs crossed on a couch in the office of his small accounting business, he looks every bit the part.

His track record in alternative transportation issues is just as telling.

Schmidt is a member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, is heavily involved in PedNet and said he has put more than 1,000 hours into the GetAbout Columbia project, overseeing street designs and supervising citizen input.

Schmidt, 52, is one of four candidates running for the open First Ward City Council seat being vacated by Paul Sturtz and hopes to bring his financial expertise to a council dealing with a tight budget.

“I’m an accountant and a finance guy,” he said. “The connection to how it’s going to serve me on City Council is pretty obvious.”

Schmidt earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Vassar College in 1982 and a master’s degree in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1991.

He has worked as a quantitative analyst in Newport Beach, Calif., for the Pacific Investment Management Company, and in New York for the Federal Reserve System and a Japanese bank before opening his own business, Accounting Cycle, when he came back to Columbia.

Schmidt is a native of Columbia and resettled because he grew tired of giant corporations in California and New York.

“I decided to do something different with my life,” he said. “I really feel a stronger connection to my community, doing work like I’m doing now, where I’m serving individual businesses and really making a difference in their lives.”

Schmidt, the fourth of five children, learned the art of compromise growing up and applies it to his political involvement.

“My father was a Republican, and my mother is a Democrat and has been very active in her party,” he said. Schmidt thinks he ended up in the middle for better.

“Today, politics is very divisive, and there’s too much emphasis on our differences as opposed to our similarities,” he said. “I like to work with people, my allies and opponents alike, to get something good done for the public.”

Schmidt has been working for the community ever since he returned to Columbia, spearheading a number of organizations and initiatives. He was president of the Benton-Stephens Neighborhood Association and assisted in closing down the Paradise Lounge because of rampant violence spilling into people’s yards. He co-founded the West Ash Neighborhood Association and is the treasurer of Fun City Youth Academy, a program to help at-risk children with school work and social activities.

Schmidt was heavily involved in City Council affairs long before he decided to run. He spoke in favor of the Columbia Street Standards Planning Group, advocated for Fairview Road and Worley Street design proposals, and helped with Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe's re-election campaign.

Schmidt is running for the City Council seat to help continue leading what he called the ward of the future.

“We have downtown and the university and the two colleges,” Schmidt said of the First Ward. “We have a lot of housing that’s very close to walk or bike to work. It’s a denser ward, and density is good for land use and it’s good for people.”

It also gives him and others the opportunity to build a sense of community, something Schmidt hopes to improve on if elected.

“When I began this race, I was least looking forward to knocking on doors,” he said. “But I have learned so much by talking to people, people I ordinarily wouldn’t talk to and people who would never think to come to their councilperson and certainly not a candidate. I will be much more active in reaching out to ask people what they think and at communicating what I’m doing.”

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