Sunday, October 18, 2009

WADE v. NUCCIO: Columbia mayor's race so far

1)  WADE v. NUCCIO:  Columbia mayor's race so far
2)  WADE-ING IN:  The councilman's conundrums
3)  NUCCIO NOW?  Can an Everyman win?
4)  BAND AIDE:  Are school bands the next big CPS issue?
5)  READERS WRITE:  Dorothy Kee, "Anus" burgers, nuke battery 

WADE v. NUCCIO:  Columbia mayor's race, so far

A case of deja vu put the Columbia mayor's race back in the news last week, as Eastside Tavern owner Sal Nuccio (below) declared his candidacy for the April 2010 mayoral election.    Announcing for First Ward city council in 2007, Nuccio ultimately withdrew after failing to secure the fifty signatures necessary for his candidacy petition. 

Columbia Tribune readers greeted his mayoral announcement with cheers online. 

But Missourian readers -- many of whom remember what happened on the old Trib news forum in 2007, when Nuccio dropped some F-bombs to quash some questions -- weren't as exuberant. 

Fourth Ward councilman Jerry Wade (above) wasn't greeted as kindly when he declared.  He's not an Everyman like Nuccio and he's not well-known outside his ward.  Many of his core supporters have fled his latest ambition.  He faces tough challenges on the road to the mayor's dais, but given the floor so early in the race, Wade has chosen reservation over communication -- the same strategy pundits say killed Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. 

So go the first lurching steps toward the biggest change in Columbia governance in nearly two decades.  Replacing long-time mayor Darwin Hindman -- who, regardless what you think of his politics, navigated this city's disjointed fiefdoms with astonishing aplomb -- will be the biggest challenge faced by a local politico since Hindman first took office in 1995. 

And getting elected is only the beginning.  Among challenges facing Columbia and its new mayor:  Wresting leadership from the city manager, who is hired at the council's pleasure to manage -- not lead.  Problem is, he's been doing both -- as the tag team of Beck and Watkins -- for 25 years.  With the population hitting 100,000, an unelected public official cut off from voter approval, advise, and consent who has so much power and control simply doesn't work anymore. 

We elect the mayor and council, and they need to start leading on our behalf, not merely following the city manager because it's the easiest, least-confrontational thing to do.     

(Photos from the Columbia Missourian)

WADE-ING IN:  The councilman's conundrums

As most of his 4th ward supporters know, Jerry Wade has the kind of sassy brilliance that could -- if he chose to exercise it -- move Columbia governance into the 21st century.  An aging city charter (constitution) is crying for change, and among his peers on the council, Wade is best suited to tackle real reform.  He can be as feisty as a junkyard dog when he knows he's right, and he has the analytical mind to stop a specious argument in its tracks.  

There's been talk among council members about moving Mr. Watkins -- the leader of the executive branch -- from his inappropriate center seat at the legislative table to a seat on the side.  Jerry Wade is the only person I can envision staring down the sultans of snark who always emerge when the manager is challenged, and pulling off such an uncomfortable but perfectly appropriate trick.    

But Wade's fire has grown cold, say folks who know him politically.  He has become an apologist for problematic governance in the eyes of many supporters, who regard his swing votes in favor of Cross Creek and the Lemone/Maguire Blvd. extension as nothing less than dual betrayals, sellouts to his future ambitions.  He lost scores more supporters when he tacitly supported City Hall's big eminent domain/historical museum play.   In each case, Wade has justified his support by blaming "imperfect" processes that need changing, but have to be followed nonetheless. 

Today, nearly three years after his election, Wade's once-firebrand consitituency is scratching its collective head.  Where they used to ask when he planned to work on the changes he'd been promising, they've given up asking much at all.   Wade doesn't return phone calls and emails the way he used to; he shuts down discussion, rather than embracing it; and he's attracted dogged critics, like the "Broadway expansion guy" who calls the morning radio shows, relentlessly attacking the 4th Ward councilman's positions.

If Jerry Wade has made too many deals with the devil, that devil is in the details:  The imperfect, ripe-for-reform processes and procedures that Wade can navigate like few others, but that will never change unless a mayor more like the old Jerry -- the brilliant feist-meister -- steps up, and demands that wealthy special interests at City Hall -- and their enduring champion, the city manager -- stand down. 


NUCCIO NOW?  Can an Everyman win?

Look at a photo of Sal Nuccio -- with his tattooed arms and Jersey-esque stubble -- and you know you're seeing an Everyman, the kind of candidate whom, according to Columbia Heart Beat polls, would probably win against an incumbent city council person or bureaucratic egghead of almost any legal or academic stripe.   

Potential Everyman candidates include Cool Stuff owner Arnie Fagan and former councilman Larry Schuster: A little town, a little gown; a little right, a little left; some business savvy, some progressive chops; a swarthy brow, a feisty grin.   A no-nonsense hardworker too busy to play footsie with City Hall's underworked, overpaid special interests. 

But Everymen and Everywomen don't poll well against seasoned, tempered establishment types.  In our longtime mayoral poll, banker and Trib pundit Bob Roper wiped the floor with Fagan and Schuster, beating everyone but the other seasoned, tempered establishment choice -- former state rep Vicky Riback-Wilson.  But Roper and Wilson have made clear they will never eat green eggs and ham and never run for mayor, which leaves the race more open, at least for now.   

Salvatore Nuccio has vocal supporters, and despite his tough persona, a thin political skin.  Peppered with questions on the old Trib news forum, he was crabby and impatient, especially when the questions turned to his lack of establishment cred -- no service on any city panels like Planning and Zoning, for instance -- and his ongoing legal troubles, particularly with the State Department of Employment Security, compliments of Casenet.   

F-bombs may work in taverns, but they don't stand a chance with the League of Women Voters. 

The average voter has an average checklist that includes basic questions:  Have you served in government before? Have you run afoul of the law?  Do you have scandals in your closet?  Do you pay your taxes and vote?  "Change" candidates often avoid checklists.  They aren't patient enough with the system to abide it, yet to win they have to show familiarity with it.  If Sal Nuccio and other anti-establishment candidates face one hurdle, it's proving they know enough about City Hall to get under the hood and fix it.

The average voter also skews older, with chronically pathetic voter turnouts populated by seniors and the better-healed.  Statistically, the young, loud, boisterous, beer-hoisting iconoclasts cheering for Nuccio now are less likely to vote, and even less likely to shovel the kind of cash at him he'll probably need to win. 


BAND WARS:  Are school bands the next big CPS issue?

Joy Piazza may be to the Columbia Public School district what Tracy Greever-Rice is to Columbia's 4th Ward -- a well-informed, critically-minded policy aficionado with big questions about the status quo who doesn't yet hold elected office.


Where poorly-planned development has coaxed Greever-Rice into the political spotlight, Piazza -- a former City of Columbia historic preservation commissioner -- is fired up over a move to eliminate 8th and 9th grade marching bands that would adversely affect her daughter.  A new plan replaces outdoor marching bands with indoor concert bands, based on what CPS music honchos call "research and best practices."   

So-called "research and best practices" also drove the contentious math debate.  The same posturing that many observers claim guided math policy, Piazza sees in band:  secrecy, opacity, intimidation, shady surveys.   And like school board members Ines Segert and Michelle Pruitt -- who rode the math wars to elected office -- Piazza is taking political action.

The idea that concert band trumps marching band for 9th graders is sheer poppycock, she says.  And like Pruitt before her, Piazza backs up that charge with hard data.   "I did my own survey of Missouri’s marching bands, and haven’t yet found a school that does not include 9th graders," she said.  "Why would so many high performing and award-winning high schools have 9th graders in their bands if this is such a poor practice?"   

She gave such pitch-perfect commentary at last Monday’s school board meeting that a Missourian article "very nearly quoted my comments without naming me," Piazza said.  After the meeting, she sent out a detailed press release to local reporters about what she calls a move to exclude 9th-grade parents from the band debate -- a meeting this Wednesday where parents from grades 6 to 8 only will fill out a survey of possibly dubious design for the school board.

A letter about the meeting "from my child’s band director informs me my point of view is not invited," Piazza told reporters.  "The letter makes explicit the current class of ninth graders and their parents are not invited to attend the meeting or otherwise offer input on the curriculum change.  The letter is written in a language and style that could be taken as intimidating."  And based on CPS' past history, the survey it offers, she says, could be less than objective on many levels.


In the end, Piazza views the new plan -- call it "integrated band" -- the way Pruitt and Segert viewed integrated math.  "As I see it, this plan will hang high school freshmen out to dry," Piazza claims.  "My interest is not in engaging in a battle with CPS’ music program, but rather to ensure equal access to quality public education." 


Re:  The Long, Tragic Courthouse Journey of Dorothy Twala Kee
Mike:  Dorothy Kee sounds like yet another victim of the economic attack on mental health care.  In the "old days," mentally ill people had options.  Now they live untreated, alone and self-medicated.  I would venture to guess that 75% or more of our crimes are committed by people who would be very different if they (or their parents) had access to mental health care.  I'd also guess that 75% of innocent people in prison are there because of a mentally ill person making false accusations. 
-- Mickey Havener, Coordinator, Boone County Jail Ministry

Mike:  Just a short reply to the “anus” burgers at McDonald’s.  It was not a misspelling;  it was a prank done after business hours.  -- Gary McLaughlin, Columbia 

Mike:  On the all-important, intergalactically critical "anus" burgers issue:  What do the Starship Enterprise and toilet paper have in common?  They both circle Uranus looking for Klingons!  -- Name (naturally) withheld by request 

Mike: Thanks for the MU Nuclear Battery information.  This other "energy breakthrough" information was in an article submitted as an opinion piece to the Tribune, but rejected.   Recently Drs. Steven Greer and Theodore Loder III of the Orion Project ( and the Advanced Energy Research Organization ( submitted an important energy research and development proposal to President Obama and the U.S. Congress.  The document provides background information about energy-producing technologies that are outside the usual awareness and attention of mainstream scientists and engineers.  -- Bill Wickersham, Columbia

Mike:  I realized that I had not received one of your wonderful e-newsletters in a few weeks.  Could you check and see if I'm still on your list?   A friend just emailed me yesterday's installment.  Thanks for looking into this and keep up the good work!
-- Kay Allen, Columbia 
[Ed. Note:  Thanks for the kind words.  You dropped off our e-list, but we've added you back!]

Dear Mike,  Thanks for your messages.  I feel they keep me in touch with what is going on and I think you help us all.  Keep up the good work!!    -- Jan Franz, Columbia   [Ed. note:  Thanks so much!  And tell you know who to get well soon!] 

Mike:  Love your blog! 
-- Beth Worley, Columbia

Mike Martin
Blogitor in Chief
The Columbia Heart Beat


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