Columbia City Council acknowledges Power to the People 

COLUMBIA, 10/17/11 (Beat Byte) -- In a powerful and moving display that illustrated the wonders of American democracy, the people of Columbia spoke up en masse at a Columbia City Council meeting this evening, swaying minds and hearts to the philosophical, political, and geographical wisdom of Ward reapportionment Trial E.

After an overwhelming show of support that had decades-long Columbia residents telling Columbia City Council members it was unlike anything they'd ever seen, Trial E -- a map that extends the First Ward west but leaves virtually every other Ward untouched -- passed with an equally amazing 6-1 City Council vote.

Only 4th Ward City Councilman Daryl Dudley voted against Trial E, and in an unusual aside about a recall effort that seeks to unseat him, seemed to acknowledge that he would "no longer be representing the 4th Ward," but would "still be around to listen." 

In nearly two hours of public hearings and Council discussion, dozens of people came forward to explain their support for Trial E with eloquence, precision, passion, and a sense of representative democracy finely honed during the months long debate. 

First Ward resident Dan Cass showed how Trial E meets all the goals Mr. Dudley wanted for Trial D -- and then some. Fourth Ward resident Jeanette Jackson-Thompson -- who said she's only addressed the Council twice in 30 years, the last time in 2000 -- emphasized the power of community issues, political debate, and shared interests as unifying democratic principles.

Former 4th Ward Councilman Rex Campbell -- looking back over his many years in local politics and sociological studies -- said Trial D was gerrymandering pure and simple, and that a vote for such a plan would push Columbia away from sound governance principles he has used as examples in leadership classes. 

Minority Men's Network president Steve Calloway said members of his organization in every Ward supported Trial E. Fourth Ward resident and longtime political advocate Alyce Turner said she had never seen the level of engagement Ward reapportionment had aroused, even in people she encountered on the street. 

Frequent League of Women voters moderator Rachel Brekhus said relocating to Columbia was a breath of fresh air politically, comparing the city's diversity of voices to Maryland, New York, and other towns in which she's lived. KOPN Kore Issues talk show host Tyree Byndom told Council members their vote in support of the people was one of few tools they had left, in age of political disenfranchisement and disengagement, particularly among the young. 

Attorney and Fourth Ward resident Jeremy Root said his interest in the debate started with all the Ward maps, touching on his lifelong interest in maps. Root put the debate over reapportionment, gerrymandering, and a recall effort directed at Mr. Dudley into a precise legal and moral framework, ready to argue the finer points with Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl, who asked Mr. Root if he believed in "following the rules" as a prelude to a future question.

Councilman Schmidt's fiancé, the Reverend Cathy Rosenholtz, admonished Council members to vote for what was best for Columbia, and to clearly separate Ward reapportionment from the Dudley recall effort. In a nod to her wisdom, Mayor McDavid warned Mr. Schmidt that he might have some tough competition during the next election.   

This writer's award for the evening's most eloquent presentation -- the one that tied the American experience to Columbia reapportionment -- goes to Dan Cullimore of the First Ward's North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association. Clearly crushing a stereotype that First Ward residents are not politically engaged and needed a "hand up" from their more engaged brethren in Benton-Stephens and the Old Southwest, Cullimore came off as a senior statesman, neatly laying out the power of Trial E to unite and the power of Trial D -- and its amended version -- to divide.

Only two people -- former Mayoral candidate John Clark and blogger Charles Dudley, Jr. -- spoke against Trial E. 

The end result saw Council members Hoppe, Anthony, Schmidt, and Mayor McDavid declaring power to the people; Councilman Thornhill applauding the Ward reapportionment efforts but criticizing the recall effort; Councilman Dudley standing his ground and essentially saying goodbye; Councilman Kespohl urging his fellows to throw out all the plans because they violated the rule of contiguity (an argument Councilman Schmidt quickly demolished); and a 6 to 1 vote in favor of Trial E, with Mr. Kespohl dividing his votes among several trials that included E.

It was a good night for Columbia's many diverse voices and a wonderful reminder that if the people will stand up, speak up, and hold their heads high, they will be heard, even as they traverse the most difficult and contentious political and social terrain. 

-- by Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat


  2. Poor Mr. Dudley, does he really think his recall is a done deal? It is far from a done deal, and from what I've heard, not likely to proceed now that Trial E was approved. I am skeptical that Trial E would have passed without the recall effort holding his feet to the fire, but we'll never know. We really got their attention, and at least six members of the council were willing to listen. Mr. McDavid has demonstrated that he's not just a tool of the Chamber of Commerce, and I think his vote for E will go a long way towards winning over those who voted against him in April 2010.



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