Paul Albert family suddenly looms large in Ward gerrymandering debate
COLUMBIA, 10/9/11 (Beat Byte) -- Supporters of Ward reapportionment Trials A and D that would gerrymander progressive neighborhoods such as the Old Southwest and Benton-Stephens by combining their City Council representation into a single Ward seem to have found new respect for an old foe: the family of legendary City Hall watchdog Paul Albert.
Since Albert's son Kurt said at a July meeting that reapportionment Plan A "was a way to get [Third Ward Councilman] Gary Kespohl elected forever," some establishment types salivating at the thought of knocking off several progressive neighborhoods haven't stopped quoting him -- and demonizing Kespohl's electoral opponent, Karl Skala.
At least half-dozen Columbia Daily Tribune news stories and editorials have referenced Albert's comment, and in short order a man City Hall was fighting just a few years ago over city park naming rights has become the spokesperson for every progressive neighborhood in town -- at least, in the eyes of Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters.
Waters kicked off the controversy in this July 14 editorial, fretting that everyone in Benton-Stephens was worrying about Kespohl's re-election chances.
Eight days later, Waters was at it again, this time adding his own bogeyman: Karl Skala.
"All the yapping from Karl Skala..." Waters writes July 22, repeating Skala's name over and over. "Benton-Stephens progressives want their neighborhood left in the Third Ward so they will have a better chance in the future to elect Skala or someone of his ilk to the city council rather than the likes of more conservative incumbent Gary Kespohl, who beat Skala by a mere 54 votes in 2010. They accuse someone of trying to gerrymander the ward to remove its Skala contingency."
His Skala obsession returned this month, as Waters kicked off a September 16 editorial entitled "City Wards."
"Most of the lobbying came from residents of the Benton-Stephens neighborhood and supporters of former Councilman Karl Skala, who argued for keeping the liberal enclave in the Third Ward, where Skala plans to run again for a seat on the Columbia City Council."
Where did Mr. Waters get the idea that an entire neighborhood is pinning its long range plans on the re-election of Karl Skala and the overthrow of Gary Kespohl? The record doesn't support his claims.
Kip Kendrick and Hank Ottinger are the presdents of two neighborhoods that would be gerrymandered by Plans A and D, and neither person has expressed concerns about who might run for City Council seats.
At a July 14 public hearing about Ward reapportionment that several Benton-Stephens representatives addressed, the name "Kespohl" doesn't appear in the minutes.
Skala attended the meeting, but spoke only briefly about "land use diversity." He never mentioned Mr. Kespohl. Kurt Albert spoke, and even he never mentioned Gary Kespohl. In fact, no one spoke about either Karl Skala or Gary Kespohl or any future matchup between them.
"My primary concern is there’s no numerical reason to mess with the Third Ward," Kip Kendrick told the Ward Reapportionment Committee. "We’re currently at 18,631 population, which makes us the only ward that you don’t have to touch."
At a second September 12 Ward reapportionment public hearing, no person testifying mentioned either Skala nor Kespohl.
No "yapping" from Skala. No mention of Kespohl. No hordes of neighbors up in arms over who might win the next City Council election.
Which brings us back to the new-found respect -- or is it love -- for Kurt Albert.
Given the story of the Albert family -- long at odds with City Hall and long ago dismissed by the Columbia establishment -- it's remarkable that long-time establishment advocate Hank Waters would hang editorial after editorial on an idea that came from an Albert.
Public hearing minutes -- search for yourself -- no mention of Skala or Kespohl