Race to win Third Ward seat starts between Kespohl, Skala

Friday, November 9, 2012 | 5:55 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Karl Skala and Gary Kespohl aren't strangers. Skala has sung with Kespohl's son in the choir at United Church of Christ.

"But do I remember what happened in 2010? Certainly," Skala said. "We're not the best of friends."

In the 2010 race for the Third Ward council seat, Kespohl accused the incumbent Skala of wasting public dollars on expensive meals. Kespohl won the race by 54 votes. Skala said the accusation was unfair and untimely, coming so near the end of the campaign that he had no time to respond.

On Oct. 30, they started a new race with the same rancorous tone as the last, disagreeing about who showed up at City Hall first to get the top spot on the ballot. On Nov. 5, Gary Kespohl conceded the spot in a letter to City Clerk Sheela Amin.

"In order to end the disagreement between us and to clear the air for the upcoming holiday season, I will let Mr. Skala have his way and be listed first," Kespohl wrote.

Kespohl could not be reached for comment because he is recovering from knee surgery.

"I'm not surprised, and I think it was a wise thing to do," Skala said of Kespohl's letter. "I think it was a decision he made because if he didn't, it wouldn't reflect well on his behavior."

Skala said he arrived at City Hall on Oct. 30 at 4:18 a.m. — the time his parking ticket was validated — in order to be first in line for the ballot. He read Plato's Republic and Governing Magazine in his car until the building opened at 7 a.m. When he arrived at Amin's office on the second floor, Kespohl was already there because he had used his official passkey to enter the building before it was open to the public, which Skala considers inappropriate.

Skala hopes he and Kespohl can overcome the fracas and make this race friendlier than the last.

"I didn't intend to have a nasty campaign then, and I don't now," Skala said.

In his letter, Kespohl also expressed a desire for a cordial race.

"With all the political rhetoric in the news today and the dissatisfaction of voters, I have decided not to add local political confusion to the mix," Kespohl wrote.

Occupying the top spot on the ballot could bring an advantage, Skala said, citing a Kellogg study that concluded that candidates listed first on the ballot in local races receive an average of almost five percent more votes.

"That's about the margin of loss I had in 2010, and of victory in 2007," Skala said. Skala won his 2007 race against Kespohl by 63 votes.

Skala said his campaign is in its "organizational stage." He has been forming his campaign team and is preparing to file fundraising paperwork with the state government. His campaign has already received "several, substantial" pledges, he said, but it is not allowed to collect money yet.

"I understand the mechanics behind campaigns," Skala said. "I've participated in two of them, and they were both close, and I anticipate this one will be too."

The main platforms of his campaign will be improving public safety, growth planning and infrastructure in the ward, Skala said.

Skala praised Kespohl for insisting on fiscal responsibility in the council, but accused him of showing business interests too much favor. One clear difference between them is their position on Enhanced Enterprise Zones, or EEZs, Skala said.

"I'm opposed to using an incentive program that requires designating areas blighted," Skala said. "There are other economic tools that don't require that designation."

At the Feb. 6 meeting of the Columbia City Council, Kespohl voted to establish an Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board and to declare a large portion of Columbia blighted. He voted to create a second version of the board at the May 21 meeting, and made a statement suggesting that EEZs would be a good way to create jobs.

Allen Hahn, a resident of the Woodridge neighborhood in the Third Ward, remembers the tumult of the 2010 election.

"There was some acrimony, some negative ads," Hahn said.

Hahn knows Kespohl and Skala and has a high opinion of both. He said the realities of politics was to blame for the negative tone of the 2010 election.

"They were running against each other politically," Hahn said. "That's what politics does."

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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