Susan "Tootie" Burns officially enters Fifth Ward race

Monday, November 12, 2012 | 7:05 p.m. CST; updated 7:24 p.m. CST, Monday, November 12, 2012

COLUMBIA — Susan "Tootie" Burns officially entered the race for the Fifth Ward City Council seat Nov. 6, when she turned in her nominating petition of 55 signatures at Daniel Boone City Building.

That night, while she and her family watched the returns for the presidential race come in, her 12-year-old daughter asked her if she had won.

"She didn't understand," Burns said, laughing. She won't know whether she has won until Feb. 5, when the special election to fill the seat that councilwoman Helen Anthony will resign on Nov. 30 will be held.

Burns is the only candidate to file a nominating petition so far, City Clerk Sheela Amin said. To be on the ballot, other candidates must file nominating petitions with at least 50 and no more than 75 signatures from Fifth Ward voters before Dec. 12.

Burns has already filed paperwork with the state to begin fundraising. Since then, she has been raising small amounts from friends and recruited local developer John Ott as her campaign treasurer.

So far, Burns has spent her campaign talking to friends and acquaintances to brush up on the issues important to Fifth Ward residents.

"The issues differ depending on the neighborhood," Burns said. However, residents of all areas of the ward are concerned about parking, traffic and occupancy issues, she said.

Burns hasn't decided what issues to highlight in her campaign. "I'm still researching the issues so I'll have to make that decision when it gets closer," she said.

Anthony, who is resigning her seat in order to move to Providence, R.I. to be with her husband, has endorsed Burns.

"She's a moderate, she's smart and she has a good grasp of issues," Anthony said. She got to know Burns through her involvement with the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, which Burns served on for 10 years. Burns supported Anthony in her 2011 campaign for the seat.

Anthony met with Burns recently to tell her about the "nuts and bolts" of being on the council, such as managing the time commitment and the constant phone calls. They also discussed issues facing the Fifth Ward, such as the proposed transmission lines that would run through the ward and concerns about traffic on Forum and Providence boulevards, Anthony said.

"I wanted her thoughts on what was happening in the Fifth Ward and what it's like to be a councilwoman," Burns said. "She has children and I have children, and I wanted to make sure I could do it all successfully."

Burns grew up in St. Louis and moved to Columbia to attend MU, where she earned a B.A. in personal financial planning. After graduating, she settled in Columbia with her husband, Richard Burns, who is an internist at Truman Veterans Hospital.

At age two, Burns decided she wanted the nickname "Tootie" while she was playing with a "Tootie" doll.

"I told my mom that was what I wanted to be called," Burns said. Now, everyone calls her "Tootie," even her husband.

Burns has had a passion for art since she was 5 years old. In the past 15 years, she has turned that passion into more than a hobby, showing her artwork at the Columbia Art League and the Orr Street Studio. She specializes in mixed-media, combining materials such as wood, fragments of mirrors and flattened soda cans, which she collects on walks and from garage and estate sales. 

"It's very relaxing to me to create things. You start with a blank piece of wood or canvas and you build it up into an image," Burns said.

In addition to the Grasslands Neighborhood Association, Burns has been involved with Regional AIDS Interfaith Network, RAIN, serving on its board of directors for five years.

Cale Mitchell, the executive director of RAIN, said Burns was instrumental in helping the organization throw its annual Wine & Art fundraiser.

"She was able to connect us with the art community," Mitchell said.

Although she left the board in 2009, Burns still participates in RAIN events, Mitchell said. She donated her artwork to the Wine & Art fundraiser this year, and she always attends the Salute to Life walk.

"There was an energy about her," Mitchell said. "She's always optimistic, with a can-do attitude that we can work it out if we work together."

Burns and her family attend the St. Thomas More Newman Center, where she has been involved with the Adult Faith Formation committee, which offers theological and biblical classes for adults. Burns helped plan the classes, the Rev. Thomas Saucier said.

"We have a mutual love of art," Saucier said. "If I could vote for her I would, but I live in the Fourth Ward."

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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