Hindman’s experience shows through both as mayor and as a source

Friday, April 6, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:26 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
Sarah Koci

I’ll always remember when my editor told me I’d be covering the mayor’s campaign for re-election. I figured I must have been doing something right as a journalist. Within an hour, I’d feverishly dreamt up my future as a political journalist. By 2012, I told myself, I’d be covering the presidential elections. This was a big deal.

If there’s anyone in Columbia who has been covered to death by journalists, it’s Darwin Hindman. It was about half an hour after I’d arrived at Darwin and Axie Hindman’s home for my first interview that I realized my job would be tougher than I imagined. I had to tell the stories of a man who reporters have fervently covered for more than 12 years. What stories were left for me to tell? Clearly, I had some learning to do before 2012.

From following Hindman’s campaign, I learned that there are always more stories to tell. I learned that Hindman is passionate about physical activity because his father was a P.E. teacher at MU. He loves nature because of all the camping trips he’s taken. He’s lived in Columbia for much of his life, but his worldly perspective comes from the time he spent as an Air Force pilot.

There’s so much more to Darwin Hindman. I learned more stories about him than I ever imagined I would.

In his next three years as mayor, Missourian reporters after me will have the privilege of digging deeper and learning even more about him and writing all those stories. I can’t wait to read all of them.

While I was asking him questions about his civic involvement, the mayor offered to e-mail me a copy of his resume. I was relieved; I would have everything on paper, and I’d have all my facts correct. But this was more than your typical resume. Mayor Hindman’s lifetime involvement list made my MU e-mail account swell to capacity. I got the dreaded message from “System administrator.” My inbox was full.

When I’m 73, I hope my list is half the length of his.

On my first visit to Darwin and Axie’s place, I walked inside and instantly felt as if I were in my late grandma’s house again. It was probably because of Darwin and Axie’s very large dog.

I’ve never been a fan of dogs almost as big as I am. I hesitated, but I asked Axie to put her dog away. Not a problem, she said.

I immediately felt at home. The Hindmans have a way of making you feel that way.

Another lesson I learned as Mayor Hindman’s election reporter was the power of observation. It was through asking questions that I got the facts. We talked about the city, his goals, his family, his campaign. But it was through just watching him that I got a feel for who I consider to be the father of Columbia.

Over the course of the months I spent covering Hindman’s campaign, we had literally dozens upon dozens of phone conversations. The mayor was always careful to speak slowly, clearly and with precision. He was nice enough to make sure I got everything down. Even with the many games of phone tag that Hindman and I played, he always was patient with me. He answered every question completely, and he never acted as if I were monopolizing his time. Any journalist will tell you those are the best kinds of sources — those who thank you for doing your job.

I got the greatest understanding of Mayor Hindman at his fundraising dinner. It was his first big public appearance after his treatment for prostate cancer. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the man looked great. He greeted everyone at his party with so much excitement and with a real smile. The striking thing was that he did it effortlessly. Mayor Hindman never seemed tired.

What also struck me about him was that he didn’t just talk to the most important guests. Mayor Hindman talked to everyone, smiled at everyone, even hugged almost everyone. He has a way of making you feel like the most important person in a room. In my mind, that’s real charisma.

I continued to observe it, at forums and events with many people and in his home with few. He genuinely cares about Columbia, and that’s something I learned best just by watching.

On election night, everyone knew Hindman would bring home another victory. Nearly all the votes had been counted, and Hindman was leading with 75 percent. He could have safely given an acceptance speech. But, in typical Mayor Hindman fashion, he didn’t get too cocky.

Instead of offering the crowd at The Tiger hotel an acceptance speech, he offered a thank-you speech. He thanked everyone, even down to those who helped distribute election signs. And he didn’t forget the city in his speech, either. He reminded everyone who had a Mayor Hindman sign in the front yard to take it down, to keep Columbia litter-free. He thanked the owners of The Tiger hotel for offering an asset to the community.

Unlike many politicians, none of it was scripted.

Most of our conversations centered on Hindman, but he took the time to ask me about myself, too. When I proudly told him I grew up in a Chicago suburb, he smiled. He’s visited the city several times, he said, and he believes he has much in common with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. Hindman has a vision for Columbia that’s bigger than the town itself. And the best part is, he firmly believes it’s happening. He cited examples, like the PedNet project, the growth of green spaces, the upcoming YouZeum and the partnerships with all three colleges. He spoke of his city in the same way parents talk about their children — with pride. It’s clear that Mayor Hindman has loved seeing his child of a city grow up. And, as he told me in every conversation, he’s itching to help it grow to the best it can be.

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