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Columbia residents head to the polls for municipal election

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 4:50 p.m. CDT; updated 5:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Poll workers and voters opened Election Day 2012 with a trip to the voting sites. School Board and City Council elections and school tax and bonds are on the ballot.

COLUMBIA — A steady stream of voters flowed into polling places across Columbia and Boone County today to decide town council and school board races and several ballot issues.

In Columbia, candidates for City Council were still busy trying to spread their messages, particularly in the Sixth Ward, where Bill Tillotson hopes to unseat two-term incumbent Barbara Hoppe.

Tillotson and about 20 college-age supporters lined the west side of the intersection of College and University avenues this morning. Tillotson waved campaign signs at passing cars and the occasional student sprinting to class.

“We’re having a lot of fun, shaking them up,” Tillotson said.

Tillotson supporters held up homemade signs as well. One read “Betas for Bill!,” referencing Tillotson's public criticism — in comments and television and radio ads — of Hoppe's role in negotiating an agreement between Beta Theta Pi and the East Campus Neighborhood Association regarding the height of the fraternity's house, which is under construction just a block away from the campaign demonstration. 

Hoppe has denied any wrongdoing, saying her involvement helped facilitate a compromise that allowed Beta Theta Pi to continue building its house without a lengthy and costly legal battle. She also criticized the tone of Tillotson's ad, saying it brings “local Columbia politics to a new low.”

On Tuesday, voters who spoke with the Missourian were split on the impact of the campaign tactics.

Members of MU's Alpha Gamma Sigma fraternity, who arrived at 7 a.m. Tuesday to wave signs at the College-and-University intersection, said they were supporting Tillotson’s campaign because they plan to build a new fraternity house and want the process to run smoothly.

Matt Wilcox, a freshman member of Alpha Gamma Sigma, said he was there to show solidarity for the student and Greek communities at MU.

“We’re all Mizzou,” Wilcox said. “We’re hoping Beta gets their house.”

Garrett Vest, another freshman member of the fraternity, said the treatment of the Betas was “intolerable.”

“Beta was treated unfairly. It’s unacceptable to bribe somebody for 5 feet of building,” Vest said, referencing the $100,000 the Betas' architect paid to have the East Campus association drop its planned opposition to a variance that allowed the new house to exceed city height restrictions.

A few blocks north, the polling place at Campus Lutheran Church wasn't overrun with voters, but turnout was steady. By the time rush hour traffic drew to a close about 9 a.m., 57 people had cast their ballots at the Sixth Ward location.

Outside, Peter Byger, a retired Stephens College theater professor, held a campaign sign for Hoppe. Byger, who has lived in Columbia since 1971, called Hoppe “a lovely person” and an “important member” of the City Council.

Byger has been canvassing in the East Campus neighborhood for the past several weeks, and he said he has received favorable remarks from several voters leaving the polls.

“You’ve got the right sign,” one said.

“Hope with Hoppe!” Byger replied.

Evelyn Keel, 87, said she cast her ballot in favor of Hoppe, whom she met during summers at Stephens Lake Park. Keel is a retiree living “in the parking lot” of Boone Hospital Center, she said, a reference to the rapid expansion of the hospital near her home.

“I’m supporting (Hoppe) because of all she’s done for this town, and especially Stephens Lake,” Keel said.

David Mehr, a professor at the MU School of Medicine, biked to the Campus Lutheran Church poll Tuesday morning. He said he also was supporting Hoppe and was energized to do so by the tone of the Tillotson campaign, which he called “pure slime” and “absolutely outrageous.”

Mehr said he also supported the school bond issue and tax levy increase, calling the measures a “well thought-out plan.”

The school district is seeking a 40-cent increase in its property tax levy to fund operations and a $50 million bond issue to finance construction and maintenance projects.

Hoppe arrived at the Campus Lutheran poll a little before 9 a.m., wearing a large campaign button and commenting on the weather. She said she felt good about her campaign and the “high road” she said she’s taken in response to Tillotson’s accusations.

At Rock Bridge High School in the Fifth Ward, turnout was relatively light Tuesday morning. As school buses unloaded chattering students into the main entrance, the polling location to the left remained quiet. Polling officials said 25 people had voted at 7:30 a.m., and they expected about 150 throughout the day. That’s significantly fewer than the 1,500 voters they said cast their ballot in the Feb. 7 non-binding presidential primary.

At Parkade Baptist Church in the Second Ward, where Bill Pauls, Mike Atkinson and Michael Trapp are competing to replace Jason Thornhill as Second Ward city councilman, 133 people had cast ballots by 10 a.m. 

There was only a trickle of voters at the Activity and Recreation Center in the First Ward. But by 7 a.m. there were canvassers outside the complex seeking signatures to place issues they support on the November ballot. They represented Putting Kids First, which hopes to force a public vote on a new tax to fund child mental-health services in Boone County; Grass Roots Organizing, which is pushing for statewide votes on whether to increase the minimum wage by a dollar and to cap the interest on payday loans at 36 percent; and Renew Missouri, a nonprofit gathering signatures for a vote on whether to force electric utility companies to use more wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

Jeff Frey worked double-duty, holding clipboards for both Grass Roots Organizing and Renew Missouri. He’s canvassed since 2001 and said election days are a critical juncture for petitions.

“Today is the prime time to get stuff on the (November) ballot,” Frey said. “It’s the time when you get the most active voters who are politically engaged.”

After signing Frey’s petition, John McCrory, with an “I Voted” sticker on his shirt, said he voted “yes” for the school bond issue. Born in 1957, McCrory was educated in Columbia Public Schools.

“When I was a kid, I was always glad when a new building opened up,” McCrory said. “We’re building toward the future, and I like new things.”

Twenty-two voters had visited Oakland Junior High School by 8 a.m., “a little light” for a general election, election officials said.

Frank Norman, who’s lived in Columbia for 19 years, said voting “yes” for the bond issue was important for the future generation.

“Never in my life have I not voted for a school bond issue,” Norman said.

A Second Ward resident, Norman said he wasn’t as passionate about who won the City Council race. He said he’s been pleased with the City Council thus far, and he’ll still go about his regular day no matter who’s in the Second Ward seat.

“You wake up, you go through the day,” Norman said. “Then you take off your shoes, crawl into bed and start it all over again.”


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