“You again?” Karl Skala would often groan, mostly jokingly, when I showed up at yet another candidate party or debate. “You’re like my shadow, you know that?”
Of course I knew. That’s what I was aiming for. In January, I got the assignment to follow the Third Ward candidate through his campaign and write a personality profile to show voters who the man was beyond his election image.
Luckily, Skala never seemed to hold anything back. From the first time I met him in his home at the end of January to his victory party on April 3, Skala was refreshingly real. He always gave straight answers and talked freely about his frustration with certain City Council actions or, more often, inaction.
“Sometimes I get just a little too passionate,” Skala said at a party in February. “That’s why I have my wife and my campaign manager.”
Not even that, however, would always stop Skala from being himself. Once, when he was beginning a rant about something he had read in the paper, his wife, Mahree , reminded him, “Karl, the press is here.”
He pointed at me. “Her?” he asked sarcastically, and continued on.
During the months before the election, I saw Skala a few times a week at candidate forums, fundraisers and even community events I intended to cover for reasons not involving his campaign. I joked that he was probably following me by that point. Occasionally, to turn the tables, Skala would aim his camera at the Missourian photographer and me.
In one instance, at his election celebration at the Pasta Factory, I was talking to Mahree about her recent trip to Honduras — (“I can’t believe she left me alone the week before the election,” Skala joked) –— and turned to find him snapping photos of us.
Awaiting the results Tuesday night in a Hawaiian shirt and one of his signature photo vests, Skala remained calm. He was confident but never overly so. When half the precincts were reporting and he held the lead by less than 15 votes, he tried to shrug it off.
“These people are foaming at the mouth every time some results come in, but there’s nothing I can do now,” he said. “I campaigned until 6:30 tonight. I could control that, but the polls are closed; I can’t control it anymore.”
He told me about the one vote he was sure of. During his final hours of campaigning, Skala met an old woman who had fallen on the ice and broken her pelvis during the winter. The woman said she wasn’t able to drive to her polling place, so Skala offered to take her. Afterward, the woman told him she had voted for him.
I asked Skala what her name was.
“You know, I don’t know,” he said. “I just asked if she wanted to vote. And with the way things are going, it could come down to that vote.”
When I asked what his first steps would be if he won, Skala corrected me.
“When I win,” he said, then he explained his priorities of addressing Third Ward neglect and his favorite topic, growth management planning.
“And if I don’t get elected, I’ll do it anyway.”
With 93 percent of the precincts reporting, Skala was winning 875 to 816. He held his fist in the air but still wouldn’t crack a smile. He walked up to me, pointed and said, “I told you.”
Nearly 20 minutes later, the final votes came in: 908 to 845. I waited to see him smile, but he kept a straight face. I watched him take in the emotion. He looked both touched and relieved. For a moment, I wondered if I would see a tear. He held his lips shut tight.
Then, as he opened his arms to hug his wife, a slow smile crept onto his face just before he buried his head in her embrace. A moment later, the serious expression was back. He moved to the center of the room to address his supporters.
“Now, I’m not going to say I’m ‘speechless,’” referring to a quote I had used in my profile about him.
“Yeah, c’mon, give me something else to work with here, Karl,” I teased.
He began a list of thank-yous. “Mahree Skala? Who the hell is that?” he wondered sarcastically when he reached her name. But then on a serious note, he said, “I couldn’t have done it without her. I really wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.”
After his speech, I shook his hand to say goodbye.
“It’s been fun,” he said.
It was fun. And, of course, since he won the seat, he can expect that second shadow to show up at least a few more times this year.