GEORGE KENNEDY: A look at choices for April's city elections — and why

Thursday, March 21, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid led off his presentation at Tuesday’s candidate forum by extolling the multiple delights of Columbia, from its place on various “best” lists to its “wonderfully engaged citizens.”

His remarks were, of course, self-serving. They also had the virtue of being true.

His challenger, Sid Sullivan, was less ebullient. He said he’s making a second run for the office because the issues he raised three years ago haven’t been addressed. The City Council led by Dr. McDavid continues to operate by "ad hoc decisions" rather than on the basis of clearly thought-out and uniformly enforced policies, he said.

That critique, I thought, was also well-founded.

Their exchange and those of the candidates competing in the Third and Fourth wards demonstrated that we’ll have clear and important choices to make April 2.

Bill Weitkemper, the retired sewer superintendent who’s running in the Fourth Ward, told me not long ago that he sees the current council as divided into the "McDavid faction" and the "Hoppe faction," the Hoppe in question being Barbara, who represents the Sixth Ward.

I’m not sure the division is quite so clear, but there’s a reason the Chamber of Commerce has reprised its 2010 endorsement of Dr. McDavid, Third Ward incumbent Gary Kespohl and Fourth Ward incumbent Daryl Dudley.

It’s the same reason – consistent support by those three of such issues as the enhanced enterprise zone, airport expansion and downtown dormitories – that the contrarian group that calls itself CiViC has endorsed Mr. Sullivan, Third Ward challenger (and former councilman) Karl Skala and Mr. Weitkemper.

I’m actually inclined to suspect that the endorsement of Fourth Ward candidate Ian Thomas by his parents-in-law might carry at least as much weight as either of the others. That’s because the endorsers are Darwin Hindman, our longest-serving and best-loved mayor, and his wife, Axie.

So our choices are clear, important and pretty easy.

If you’re generally pleased with city government’s direction these past three years, not too upset over REDI or the EEZ, supportive of downtown density and willing to spend on FastCat, the J.W. "Blind" Boone home and the airport, you’ll probably want to keep the incumbents in office.

For better or worse, Dr. McDavid is a strong mayor in a government structure that isn’t designed for that. The council incumbents have been loyal supporters.

But if you favor a "more strategic approach," to use an Ian Thomas expression, if you think policy should be driven from the bottom up rather than the top down, then Mr. Sullivan is your man for mayor, and you’ll most likely want Karl Skala and Mr. Thomas on the council.

All three would probably listen more to neighborhood associations and try to put some teeth into the multitude of plans and visions we’ve accumulated.

And if you’re fed up with overspending, bureaucratic incompetence and inexperienced leadership, Bill Weitkemper’s there for you. He’s conservative in the best sense of that term. He’s running, he said Tuesday, on his "desire, experience, knowledge and ability." He’s also at least a little angry. That’s not a bad combination.

Were I a betting man, I’d put my nickel on Dr. McDavid, Mr. Skala and Dr. Thomas (his doctorate is in physics) to win. Different outcomes, at least in the ward contests, wouldn’t be a surprise.

The only item on the ballot that has me conflicted is Boone County Proposition 1, the sales tax increase to improve 911 and emergency services. I accept the need for improvement in facilities and staffing, but I share Grass Roots Organizing's distaste for the highly regressive sales tax. There’ll probably be an even bigger sales tax increase to fund road work statewide on the ballot soon. I wish the local proposition at least had exempted groceries and medicine.

However we intend to vote, I suspect we can agree with Tuesday’s closing comments by two Fourth Ward candidates.

Ian Thomas: “The best solutions are balanced.”

Daryl Dudley: “It’ll be a fun ride.”

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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