A couple of days before this week’s Fifth Ward special election, I found myself chatting with a guy who’d been involved in the campaign.
“So what’s going to happen Tuesday?” I asked.
“Off the record?” he replied. I said sure.
He confided, “I have no idea.”
Actually, he did; and so did I. The idea was obvious: Tootie Burns and Mark Jones, the two progressives in the race, would split the liberal vote, allowing Laura Nauser, the Chamber of Commerce candidate, to win with less than a majority.
Of course, that’s just what happened. Ms. Nauser returns to the City Council with the support of just 43 percent of Tuesday’s voters. Ms. Burns won 41 percent; Mr. Jones, 16 percent.
It was almost a replay of the Fourth Ward election in 2010, when two strong progressives collided and Daryl Dudley won without a majority.
The significance this time is that – at least until the April election for mayor and Third and Fourth wards – the City Council will have a Chamber of Commerce-supported majority. That’s likely to mean, for one thing, that Barbara Hoppe’s effort to halt downtown demolition won’t be revisited any time soon. You’ll recall that her motion failed on a 3-3 tie vote with the Fifth Ward seat vacant.
I’m guessing it also means that the Grasslands traffic tangle is less likely to be untangled in exactly the hideously expensive way the city staff has proposed. Ms. Burns, a Grasslands resident, had supported the plan to build a new street parallel to Providence Road and tear down as many as eight houses facing Providence. Ms. Nauser hasn’t said anything definite, but during the campaign she seemed skeptical.
Mark Jones, who never seemed to have a very good reason for running, did come up with the best description of the staff proposal. A $7 million solution to a $1 million problem, he called it.
After listening to other possible solutions explained in a public hearing before the Historic Preservation Commission last week, I’m inclined to agree. It may have been, as somebody said at the hearing, that the commission was exceeding its intended role by talking traffic; but the heart-felt and heated discussion was overdue.
Commission chairman Brian Treece went so far as to accuse the city staff and the Grasslands neighborhood association of colluding to prevent a full airing of alternatives. The planning process, he said, “would have benefited from greater dialog.” I don’t know about collusion, but he was certainly right about the benefit.
Any of several possible solutions suggested at that hearing, or yet another proposed on the libertarian "KeepColumbiaFree.com" blog, would appear to be both cheaper and less destructive than the approach endorsed by the city staff and the Grasslands association.
In her previous two terms on the Council, I often disagreed with Ms. Nauser. I suspect that I and others who think of ourselves as Greens rather than Grays will find cause for disagreement this time around.
But when it comes to such issues as tearing down our history, a conservative approach serves us well.
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.