COLUMBIA — Political consultant Brian Treece won a close election Tuesday, defeating attorney Skip Walther to become Columbia's next mayor.
Treece, a consultant with TreecePhillips, LLC, won with 9,211 votes, or 52.2 percent, to Walther's 8,438 votes, or 47.8 percent.
Treece, who serves on the Historic Preservation Commission and the Downtown Leadership Council, believes one key to securing Columbia's future is to preserve its historic characteristics while investing in existing neighborhoods. He has said the city's population could double within the next 20 years, and he wants to bolster that growth by boosting public safety, improving city infrastructure and ensuring transparency in the city's use of taxpayer dollars.
Police Department staffing: Treece has said Columbia lags behind the national average on Police Department staffing by as much as 52 officers. He wants to earmark annual budget growth for public safety and to make police a priority in the city's discretionary spending.
Downtown development: Form-based zoning is the key to guiding downtown development in a more appropriate way, Treece has said. He thinks the rapid increase in student housing downtown has delayed sewer improvements in older neighborhoods while requiring the placement of high voltage power lines in newer neighborhoods. Treece wants to bring back a sufficiency of services test to ensure adequate utilities are in place when residential development is planned downtown.
Disparity: Treece wants to address economic disparities between black and white Columbia residents by combining job training and education opportunities in areas that are in high-demand locally like finance, information techonology and health-care. Treece said a greater availability of skilled, ready-to-work employees could also attract and keep new companies for the long-term.
Columbia Regional Airport: Treece wants to ensure the city is on solid legal ground before proposing an increase in the hotel and motel tax for an expansion of the airport terminal. He also wants to work with Jefferson City to create what he says would be a truly regional airport.
Treece gathered with friends and supporters at Broadway Brewery. About 80 people bustled around the hot stage-side room of the brewery. Supporters crowded around the two televisions on the wall. Others sat and talked. Treece worked the room. Every round of election results that confirmed Treece's lead met with cheers and whistles.
Alison Martin, who works as director of admissions at MU's School of Medicine, met Treece's wife, Mary Phillips, on a playground 14 years ago. She thought both mayoral candidates in the election this year were good candidates, but she chose to support Treece for his strategic way of thinking.
"Brian's message was about a vision. I didn't hear a vision from Skip, it was more just: 'We need to settle down and get along,'" she said.
"He listens to everybody, and I think he'll bring a real focus to the council. Just transparency and being able to feel like you are welcome in city hall. The people need a win. We need to save our streets, we need to save our infrastructure, and I think Brian's the one to do that."
Danny Spry, vice president of Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Local 1055, was at the party representing the union after its endorsement of Treece last February.
"The No. 1 that got us behind him was his respect for public safety," Spry said. "Brian Treece cares about Columbia. He's a part of the community and represents the poorest of us to the richest of us."
"Even in a tight race like this, Brian has stood tall by never wavering from his beliefs. He stood with his message and spoke it clearly."
Cheers filled the room at 9:20 p.m when Treece won the mayor's race by a margin of less than 5 percent. He walked toward the center of the room, stood on a chair and waved as his supporters chanted and clapped.
Spry yelled for the crowd to hush as Brian took the stage with Phillips.
"Elections are like a team sport, and I am so proud of the diverse coalition that we put together to really make this city the diverse city that we know it can be," Treece said.
"I really think this election was a referendum on whether Columbia's really going to be a city for all of us," Treece said.
Down the street
Just a few blocks to the west, Walther was watching results with supporters at Billiards on Broadway. His campaign had emphasized changing "the tenor of local politics" from divisiveness to inclusion.
Walther and his supporters watched the results trickle while gathered around the pool tables toward the back of the room. The feeling was one of dejection as late tallies on the projector screen showed Walther failing to gain ground.
Walther supporter Aaron Krawtiz said that although he was disappointed at how the night was turning out, he was proud of the campaign Walther ran.
"I think he ran a very civil campaign that reflected him as a person," Krawtiz said. "I believe Walther is seen unfairly as pro-development and that he would have been a fantastic mayor."
Walther's wife, Kathy Walther, said the evening had been really hard, but that it was still "cool to see the broad spectrum of people that showed up" to support her husband.
"He's now received over 360 individual contributions, and a lot of those people are here tonight. Seeing them all in one place is like, 'Oh wow,'" Kathy Walther said.
People came and went all evening, many still sporting their "I voted" stickers. When the final votes were in, Walther addressed the 40 or so folks who had stayed until the end.
Walther said the speech wasn't the one he wanted to make, but the one he had to. He congratulated Treece while continuing to emphasize the common theme throughout his campaign: the need to work together.
"Now is the time to put away our differences, to forget our disappointments and address the pressing issues with a view not to argue or accuse or attack, but to cooperate, communicate and compromise," Walther said.
Missourian reporters David Soler Crespo and Taylor Ysteboe contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.