Pro-liberty group cites unflinching Blight Decree support, chronic constituent neglect
COLUMBIA, 5/31/12 (Beat Byte) -- A move to remove First Ward Columbia City Councilman Fred Schmidt cites his unwavering support for Columbia's controversial Blight Decree/EEZ as a "last straw" in a list of constituent transgressions that includes flip-flopping on downtown surveillance cameras; racially-insensitive comments; and a surprise coming out -- as a Garagezilla lover.
Mr. Schmidt is the first Columbia City Councilperson the pro-liberty group Keep Columbia Free (KCF) is seeking to recall for support of the Blight Decree, KCF director Mark Flakne told the Columbia Heart Beat, adding his group is seeing "overwhelming support" for his removal.
It's mostly a case of expectations and promises versus reality, Flakne explained. A pro-pedestrian progressive before the election, Schmidt has become one of the Council's leading corporate coddlers. "Instead of standing up to the moneyed elite as a public voice for those of modest income in the First Ward, Fred has proven himself to be just another cog in Columbia’s plutocratic government machine," Flakne said.
In a real shocker that is "alone reason enough for a recall, Fred demonstrated racist tendencies when he wrote in an email, 'In this case, it's a bunch of white folks whipping up opposition to what I (well, all 7 of us) think will help the people,'" Flakne quoted, referencing an email Mr. Schmidt sent to a black First Ward resident about the Blight Decree. "Suggesting that the African Americans of his Ward are incapable of thinking for themselves, requiring 'white folks' to whip them into action, is offensive."
Long before the EEZ debate, "rumblings of discontent started," Flakne explained. "Many of his constituents have remarked that Fred is simply out of touch with the neighborhoods that make up the First Ward."
Mr. Schmidt began his City Council term by immediately reversing course on surveillance cameras, which he steadfastly campaigned against and "which the First Ward voted overwhelmingly against," Flakne explained. "I do not support the city’s widespread use of surveillance cameras in downtown Columbia," Schmidt explained on his campaign website. But he voted for the cameras as a newly-elected Council member.
With its lights and footprint overpowering First Ward neighbors, Garagezilla is largely considered a boondoggle by Mr. Schmidt's constituents, who see it linked to the same redevelopment schemes that have, in decades past, brought the neighborhood to its knees. But in a surprise move last July, "Fred Schmidt has taken it upon himself to become a supporter of something that many Columbia residents love to hate — the parking garage at Fifth and Walnut streets," the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. He also supports Garagezilla Jr., a second city-funded parking garage on Short Street that has been mired in similar controversy.
"Fred campaigned heavily on his support for pedestrian and bicycle transportation, even introducing himself as 'the bike guy' at several public forums," Flakne said. "His work with PedNet was front and center during his campaign, yet he came out in support of the city dropping millions of dollars on parking garages to encourage motorized transportation."
In other issues of interest to First Ward constituents, from infrastructure repair to last year's gerrymandering fiasco, Mr. Schmidt has been largely passive. "He failed to take a meaningful position on the redistricting controversy, and has been absent from important neighborhood and larger public meetings to which he was invited," Flakne said. "His constituents expect representation. When we, the people, are not being represented, recall is the proper remedy."
Mr. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment for this story.  Former First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, who supported Mr. Schmidt's candidacy, sent the Heart Beat this note at press time: Mark Flakne was Mitch Richards' campaign manager.  Richards opposed Mr. Schmidt during their campaign.