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Columbia Missourian

GEORGE KENNEDY: One election over in time to move to the next

By George Kennedy
November 8, 2012 | 6:13 p.m. CST

I hope you are all as satisfied with the outcome of Tuesday’s election as I am. I can’t remember having voted for as many winners as I did this time out. Next to the re-election of President Obama, we Democrats can all take the greatest pride in having helped Claire McCaskill fend off the policy disaster and public embarrassment that would have followed a choice of Todd Akin for U.S. Senator.

Sure, there were a few disappointments. For one, even smokers should rue the defeat of the tobacco tax increase. That money would have been put to good use, and the likely decrease in addiction of the young would have been even more valuable. We Missourians just don’t like taxes.

Now it’s time to shift our attention to the next elections. I mean those for Columbia City Council.

The first will occur in February, when Fifth Ward voters will have to choose a replacement for Helen Anthony, who has become in her first term an effectively progressive representative but who feels compelled to follow her husband back east.

So far, the only candidate for that vacancy is Susan "Tootie" Burns. I read in the Missourian that she is a former banker, a commercial artist and a neighborhood activist in the Grasslands. Ms. Anthony has endorsed her.

I'm told that the conservative forces who were thwarted last time around by Ms. Anthony are searching frantically for a candidate of their own. I take that search to mean that Glen Ehrhardt, who lost to Ms. Anthony, doesn’t plan another run.

The regular city election follows in April.

Already, a rematch has been scheduled in the Third Ward between incumbent Gary Kespohl and former councilman Karl Skala. There was blood on the canvas when those two last collided. It's pretty clear that they don't like each other. Witness the figurative elbowing when filing opened and they struggled for the top spot on the ballot.

While Mr. Skala sat in his car waiting for somebody to unlock City Hall, Councilman Kespohl used his official key to slip in a side door and up to the clerk's office. You'll recall that last time, Mr. Kespohl made much of then-Councilman Skala's expense accounts on city-paid travel. If you enjoy a good fight, and you don’t mind a little mud tossing, this one should be fun.

Daryl Dudley has signed on to defend his seat in my ward, the fourth. He was elected in a three-way contest in which two progressive candidates split what otherwise would have been a clear majority of the vote. I didn't vote for Mr. Dudley, and he got off to a rocky start by supporting the attempted gerrymander of ward boundaries. Since then, though, it seems to me that he has been a conscientious and responsive council member.

Nonetheless, the progressives are scouring the area for somebody to oppose him.

To give you an idea of how desperate that search has become, I will reveal that I had a phone call not long ago from a political operative I will identify only as Chris Kelly. Now, I've known and respected Rep. Kelly for many years. His judgment was called into question, however, when he asked in a tone that sounded serious whether I’d be interested in running.

I assured him that I'd be a bad candidate and a worse councilman. Besides, I'd probably have to give up our little weekly chats here. The hunt goes on.

Our mayor, Bob McDavid, hasn't said yet whether he plans to seek re-election. I'll be amazed if he doesn't. He seems to enjoy the job. From where I sit, which is often in the front row at council meetings, he also seems to be pretty good at it.

He has taken an expansive view of the mayor's role. In our city government structure, the central figure is the professional city manager. Our mayor is even called, technically, the councilman at large. Mayor McDavid, though, has been front and center in major initiatives.

The most visible of those is the ongoing effort to improve service from Englewood International Airport. After three steps forward, there was a giant step backward this week when Delta announced that its feelings were hurt by the revenue guarantee provided to American and would therefore fly away in February.

I suspect a setback like that will only inspire the mayor to carry on.

City elections don't have the visibility or the high finance of those we've just survived, but in many ways – think TIFs, Enhanced Enterprise Zones and roll carts – they affect our lives even more directly. Here we go again.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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