Tuesday’s local election answered a lot of questions, of course; but it provided only clues to perhaps the two most important. Those, for me, are: What, if anything, does the outcome tell us about ourselves? And what can we expect to see now from City Hall? I’ll attempt an answer to the first today and tackle the second next week.
Overall, the outcome suggests that the reality of Columbia comes pretty close to the stereotype. That is, we really are an island of progressive blue in a sea of reactionary red.
Just look at what we did this week. Third Ward voters ousted Gary Kespohl, the most belligerently pro-development member of the City Council, in favor of his regular sparring partner, Karl Skala, a “smart growth” proponent who wants development to pay its own way.
Mr. Kespohl, I thought, was characteristically ungracious in conceding as he warned us to fear Mr. Skala’s radical views, which aren’t really all that radical when you listen to what he actually says.
In the Fourth Ward, Ian Thomas pedaled his data-driven way to victory in another of those three-way races we residents of the ward have come to expect. Daryl Dudley’s negative campaigning won him more votes than he got in winning the triple-header in 2010, but not enough to overcome the liberal inclinations of my neighbors or the memories of his role in the attempted ward gerrymander.
I suspect Bill Weitkemper knew all along that he didn’t have much of a chance, and he was right. I didn’t vote for him, but I came to respect his informed critique of the current administration and his principled conservatism. The thank-you note he emailed at the campaign’s close was both surprising and gracious. I hope to run into him at Booche’s one of these days.
Bob McDavid and Sid Sullivan conducted campaigns they, and we, can be proud of. They argued about ideas, proposed policies and explain philosophies in a way that allowed a clear choice and never got into personalities or name-calling.
As the campaign was just beginning, a fellow liberal who – like me – didn’t vote for Dr. McDavid in 2010, described his first term as “a pleasant surprise.” I agreed. Although I haven’t always agreed with his ideas, he has a lot of them; and he has been a strong leader in what most Columbia voters agreed Tuesday is the right direction for our city.
Yes, downtown is being built up with student dormitories, and no, the FastCat bus system hasn’t persuaded those students to leave their cars at home. But it’s surely better to have high-density residential development close in rather than sprawling into the countryside. And we do need an effective system of public transportation.
The airport? Our reconfigured council majority might slow down the push for a $20 million new terminal while we’re still having to bribe an airline to land here.
Before the election, I confessed to some ambivalence on the 911 sales tax issue. No doubt the system needs upgrading, but I questioned whether this was the way to do it. People I respect were on opposite sides.
I wound up joining a comfortable majority in approving the new tax. I concluded, as I’d guess most voters did, that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Nearly all the time nearly all of us don’t need emergency services. When we do, though, the need is likely to be urgent and the situation dire. A progressive community is willing to pay for that protection.
Tuesday’s outcomes, taken together, showed that we aren’t as angry or distrustful of our local government as the vocal minority insists we are. We collectively acted to shore up a system that serves us pretty well most of the time.
With any luck, I’ll be back next week to look ahead.
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.