From various perspectives, they all "get" the First Ward
Wow! What a great group of 1st Ward Columbia City Council candidates voters have to choose from April 5. George Kennedy was right: They are more impressive than the new parking garage -- a lot more impressive.
Accountant Fred Schmidt -- whose mother Liz is a local legend among Columbia's active politicos -- used a deft, self-deprecating sense of humor to answer questions and explain his positions on everything from the city budget to the "snowmageddon" crisis that caught City Hall short-plowed.
With an outstanding educational pedigree that includes both East Coast (Vassar) and West Coast (Berkeley) credentials, Schmidt came across as a gentle soul who cares deeply about the future of his town and his ward. His many local activities in support of a better Columbia speak to his engaged and pro-active demeanor.
First Ward Ambassadors member Darrell Foster used both humor and charm to make a number of salient, important points, including the notion that patience is a virtue. About this winter's snowplow-palooza, Foster advocated spending cold winter downtime with God and family, while borrowing a page from a Saturday Night Live skit to illustrate.
You'll shovel snow from your driveway to the yard, from the street to the driveway, from the yard to the walkway, he explained. But no matter where you put it, you'll be moving over and around it until Mother Nature melts it away.
A commanding presence in both voice and gesture, Foster expressed ambiguity about government tax incentives; firm resolve to improve the lives of black residents, many of whom live in the First Ward; and a marvelous illustration of what it takes to reach consensus, literally molding resolution with his hands from the top down, the bottom up, and all sides in between.
Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) member Pam Forbes - a toolmaker by trade -- was calm, measured, and smart, hitting all the right notes on a list of First Ward priorities topped by long-neglected infrastructure, from sagging streets and sidewalks to overwhelmed sewers and stormwater drains.
Forbes pointed out that she bought a home in the heart of the First Ward, and as an invested person therein, observed that Ward residents lag the rest of the community "economically, infrastructurally, and opportunistically" -- the latter word meant to reference opportunity lost.
Forbes struck this observer -- who sat in the front row -- as nobody's fool, a no-nonsense presence who would represent her constituents well.
Mitch Richards -- whom this observer recently termed a "young lion of liberty" for his staunch support of Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms -- made the night's most resounding point, noting that fear and desperation have inched their ugly ways into too many local leadership decisions, with freedom-depriving effects.
Fear of crime merits downtown surveillance cameras; fear of economic decline yields property-stealing blight declarations; fear of revenues lost means higher parking rates, more and bigger garages, and higher taxes, both hidden and overt.
Richards urged pro-active, constituent-based solutions that both acknowledge and support private sector contributions.
Between the parking garage behemoth and the Boone building expansion, he saw irony in the considerable growth of local government as the private sector considerably shrinks -- almost as though you could put the sights and sounds of City Hall to the music and lyrics of Peter Gabriel.
Without naming names, I've seen many decisions of late that seem fear- or desperation-driven. Richards was suggesting Columbians return to a simple yet powerful adage: Fear nothing but fear itself.