COLUMBIA — John Clark has filed as a write-in for the First Ward City Council election.
Clark submitted a required statement Monday to the county clerk saying that he would serve if elected on April 8, County Clerk Wendy Noren said. After the election, any ballot with his name or a variation of his name is sent to City Council for certification. Without the statement, his name would not be considered even if he was the winner.
The ballot will have a section at the end just for write-ins, and voters would need to use that section, Noren said. Voters who favor Clark will have to write both the office he is running for and his name and fill the oval next to his name. All three of these steps must be completed for the ballot to be valid.
Clark said he didn't file in November as an official candidate because he thought there would be numerous candidates and he was devoted to other projects until January. He had applied for several jobs that, if he had been accepted, would have not left enough time to be on council. He said he'd been debating becoming a write-in for several weeks.
"I want that vote on the council. I can do so much more on the council with a vote than I can from the outside, and that's the reason for running," he said. "I want to represent and advocate for the First Ward."
As a 40-year resident and advocate for the First Ward, Clark said he felt he had done as much as possible for the ward and city from the outside. He has run for mayor twice in 2004 and 2007, and for the First Ward council position in 2008, but didn't win. He came in second out of three in both mayoral elections and third out of five in the 2008 election for council.
"On the inside, I know the questions to ask, how to ask them and follow up. But to ask the questions and get responsive answers, you have to be one of the seven," he said.
One of Clark's issues is the city planning document Columbia Imagined. Previous city plans have not been followed, he said, and he wants the city to implement the current document as policy instead of using it as a guideline. Clark was among those who opposed a tax increment financing district for downtown infrastructure, and he was pleased the council voted it down.
"The council is standing up for things and doing political work that's sending these messages to the staff that 'we are supportive of Chapter 4 of the city plan, we are supportive of making that policy,'" he said.
Chapter 4 of Columbia Imagined outlines the city's plan for growth and development patterns as well as the policies that should be implemented with growth.
As a write-in, Clark can campaign, run ads and raise money like the other candidates. If he raises money, he has to submit a campaign finance report, Noren said. He is not considered an "official" candidate, however, so his name will not appear in public election notices.
With less than 20 days until the election, Clark said he will be campaigning, but that he doesn't have a specific strategy. He is going to start by surveying voter information for the First Ward.
"I have been active in a lot of stuff for a long time; I have no idea how much residual awareness there is of me, and... of me advocating for First Ward and... central city issues," he said.
Clark said he wants to recruit a staff of First Ward residents to help him campaign in the final days and keep the group together if he is elected. When he leaves office, he would like to leave with a First Ward that is more actively involved and prepared to replace him and participate in public roles.
He wants a thorough and "robust" assessment of infrastructure needs, a long-term plan for financing those needs and work to build support from the community for those plans.
Clark wants more information included in the process where development plans are presented to the council by city staff. He said there is a dysfunctional communication process between city staff and council, and they need to work and interact better. He doesn't have specific proposals right now, but it's a problem that has to be addressed, he said. He will be looking for solutions and asking the council and staff to do the same, he said.
"I think I can be effective," Clark said. "We can do better, we should do better, and I believe I can help the First Ward and all of Columbia be better."
Clark is encouraging voters to contact him. His phone number is 573-442-7077, and email is email@example.com.
"Everybody agrees that John knows a lot about city government," Pat Kelley, vice president of the Ridgeway Neighborhood Association, said. Although she wasn't sure what kind of campaign he would be able to accomplish in the countdown until the election, Kelley said Clark would have name recognition.
Kelley said all the candidates for the ward have been involved in a neighborhood association at one time and it was exciting to see grassroots leadership in the race.