COLUMBIA — A little less than seven months before the municipal election, the race for the First Ward seat on the Columbia City Council is already taking shape.
Four candidates have confirmed their intentions to run for the position. They include: incumbent Almeta Crayton, two-time mayoral candidate John G. Clark, Eastside Tavern owner Sal Nuccio and local activist Marlon Jordan. In addition, a fifth person, True/False film festival founder Paul Sturtz, said he’s “definitely exploring the idea of running.”
Almeta CraytonAge: 48 Occupation: Operates the Successful Neighborhood Resource Center and works as a cafeteria monitor for Columbia Public Schools.
John G. ClarkAge: 65 Occupation: Certified Public Accountant, attorney
Sal NuccioAge: 40 Occupation: Owner of the Eastside Tavern, an “alternative rock” bar.
Marlon JordanAge: 44 Occupation: Unemployed because of medical reasons
The candidates represent a diverse group with a wide-ranging set of policy interests. That mix mirrors the diversity of issues facing the First Ward, which include low voter turnout among minorities, policing issues downtown and more abstract ideas such as Columbia’s visioning process.
The most striking feature of the race at this point, however, is the relatively large number of candidates who have already announced their candidacy. In a city where an open council seat is lucky to draw two candidates, having three, possibly four, running against a three-term incumbent is a rarity.
Crayton declined to comment on the subject, saying it is too early to begin talking about the race. She has historically been the voice on the council for Columbia’s low-income and minority communities and has used her council position to draw attention to her charitable efforts. Crayton’s critics both inside and outside the community at times have pinned her as unresponsive, saying she fails to return phone calls and e-mails. She has also been criticized for concentrating too much on minority issues to the exclusion of the First Ward’s other constituents.
Chief among Crayton’s detractors has been Clark, who ran for mayor in 2004 and 2007 and has participated for 15 years in city government through neighborhood associations and committees such as the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, the Boone County Neighborhood Alliance, the Columbia/Boone County Community Partnership and the Boone County Coordinated Transportation Planning Group. Clark said the council should exhibit more power in setting city policies rather than simply responding to the leadership of City Manager Bill Watkins. Clark also supports increasing the number of wards in Columbia and giving council members a stipend for their work.
Clark’s relationship with Crayton boiled over in 2006 when Crayton complained about a visit Clark made to her home to discuss a central-city land-use issue. Crayton said at a subsequent council meeting that she felt threatened by the visit. She reported it to police, who issued a trespass warning. Clark said he went to Crayton’s house because she failed to respond to calls and e-mails.
Clark thinks he’s a strong candidate for the First Ward seat; whatever the issue, he said his experience in working with city government will put him at an advantage.
“If I’m elected, I believe I would be in the best position, on the day I’m sworn in, to help the First Ward,” Clark said.
Nuccio is owner of the Eastside Tavern. He describes the business, which is decorated with horror-film memorabilia, as an “alternative rock bar.” Nuccio is running for council to address what he sees as an increase in vandalism downtown over the past several years. He wants to boost police presence, particularly with officers on foot, to discourage vandalism and fights.
Discouraging crime downtown, Nuccio said, is important to more than just downtown business owners.
“It’s all about people and wanting people to be safe and part of the community,” said Nuccio, who originally hails from New Jersey.
Nuccio also wants to encourage growth in the heart of downtown to make Columbia seem more like a big city.
“I think with a big-city mind,” he said. “They can build parking lots, but they can’t build up?”
Jordan is best known in Columbia for his theatrical protests, including his regular appearances along Providence Road, where he wears a Ku Klux Klan-style hood to draw attention to what he said is racial discrimination within the police department. Jordan said he is running for council to “improve the quality of life for all residents, especially poor people.” Jordan hopes to accomplish this by improving infrastructure in the city in an effort to attract business to the area.
The First Ward candidates are lining up far in advance of the candidate filing period, which begins in late October and ends in January. The election, which also will include the Fifth Ward seat held by first-term incumbent Laura Nauser, is April 8.
Those who want to run must pick up petitions from the office of City Clerk Sheela Amin, then gather the signatures of at least 50 registered voters within their ward. Those petitions are then submitted to Amin, who must certify them before the candidates are officially eligible to run. Council members may serve an unlimited number of three-year terms.