COLUMBIA, 4/13/10 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia College facilities director and former City Councilman Bob Hutton and former Columbia School Board member Russell Still (left) -- just appointed to the State Board of Education -- have drawn fire and ire for their support of extreme negative campaigning in the Third Ward.
Time and again, campaign supporters of challenger Gary Kespohl leveled charges of alcohol abuse, child abuse, and public funding abuse at incumbent Council person Karl Skala, a beyond-the-pale approach that sparked grumbling over the Still-Hutton-Gary Kespohl connection.
About the race, "Gary Kespohl offered nothing positive to the discussion of the city’s future," local KSSZ radio talk show host Mike Ferguson opined. "He’s run what is easily the most negative, repulsive and misleading campaign I think I’ve ever seen in a local, nonpartisan race. Until last night, I’d never witnessed a candidate actually getting booed at a forum. Kespohl’s constant personal attacks wore thin on several audience members, who expressed their disapproval out loud."
Possibly to tamp down the outrage, Mr. Hutton (far right) told Mr. Skala he was backing away from his support for Mr. Kespohl, according to several witnesses who claim they saw the conversation. I called Mr. Hutton, but he denied the change of heart. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "I'm still supporting Gary."
Though City Council and School Board races are traditionally non-partisan, Mr. Still -- a well-known Democrat whose wife Mary represents Columbia at the Missouri statehouse -- apparently ignored an old saying in politics: Never attack members of the same political party. Mr. Skala is an active Democrat and Mr. Still was Mr. Kespohl's steadfast treasurer.
Adding to the ire, Still and Hutton -- old Country Club residents -- openly and loudly opposed the nearby Landmark Hospital project, which -- at their urging -- Mr. Skala voted against. Before the 2008 vote, Mr. Still approached a group of restaurant diners that included members of the city visioning process and Council persons. "I don't know why anyone in their right mind could see any reason to vote for Landmark Hospital," he said, according to an attendee at the meal.
Using Mr. Skala's vote against Landmark -- which his own campaign treasurer Russell Still hated -- Mr. Kespohl tried to craft yet another negative platform until it turned out that he, too, opposed the hospital.