Last City Council candidate forum addresses African-American community

Saturday, April 2, 2011 | 8:22 p.m. CDT; updated 9:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 2, 2011

COLUMBIA — Diversity and the need for a collective African-American vote were the main topics of the last City Council candidate forum before Tuesday's municipal election.

About 30 people attended the forum hosted by KOPN radio voice Tyree Byndom on Saturday at Parkade Plaza, providing the most interactive forum to date.

First Ward candidates addressed the divisive race relations in the ward and the need to unify all parts of the diverse community.

Darrell Foster again emphasized the polarization in small businesses and the integration of African-Americans in the community.

"You need to hire more black males and black females," he said. "Inclusion will give us safety. If it doesn't happen, it's our fault."

Pam Forbes, who has helped register voters as a volunteer, said she wants to encourage more African-Americans to participate in political discourse.

"I purposefully look for young African-American males because I want them to have that privilege before they lose it," she said. "So that they have something they want to maintain for themselves, and that's the right to vote. I think it's an incentive to not get in trouble."

Mitch Richards said the community needs to have an honest discussion with itself about race to eliminate tensions in the ward.

"We're not going to have that unless we have people out there actively establishing that relationship," Richards said.

Richards said he has been trying to fill that active role, but the audience said they felt elected officials rarely attempt to forge that relationship with their constituents, which results in a lack of public participation in government.

Fred Schmidt said that issue was the most important thing discussed at the forum.

"That is a complete failure of government," he said. "If we do such a bad job as a society that people don't even want to try to participate, that is the despair that we have to fight."

Gene Robertson, a professor emeritus at MU, said despite the unique problems of the First Ward, its residents have something valuable worth protecting.

"Nurture it and protect it and fight for it because it does have a value, one that's far greater than any of us can imagine," Robertson said.

Byndom passed out secret ballots at the end of the forum to African-Americans in attendance as well as e-mailing a number of other people in the community to reach a consensus vote for one candidate. He said he will release the information on the forum's Facebook event page at a later date.

"It's just a recommendation," Byndom said. "Each person can vote from conscience and heart because that's important. But we want to collectively say, 'This is what we're trying to do.'"

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