Incumbent Hoppe stands on pro-business record; newcomer Trapp both eloquent and thoughtful
COLUMBIA, 2/3/12  (Beat Byte) --  Sixth Ward Columbia City Council incumbent Barbara Hoppe and Michael Trapp, a Phoenix Programs substance abuse counselor seeking the Second Ward seat, emerged victorious during a Chamber of Commerce candidate debate Thursday afternoon. 
Overall, Columbia City Council Second Ward candidates -- Trapp, Michael Atkinson, and Bill Pauls -- made one of the best first impressions this writer has seen in years. 
Sixth Ward hopefuls Hoppe and Bill Tillotson didn't stand out as much, but the dynamics in that race -- a popular incumbent (Hoppe) vs. a little-known challenger -- aren't set up for the same interactions between candidates and audience.   
Logical and eloquent throughout, Michael Trapp focused on 
infrastructure basics -- from pothole repair to road work.
Each passing my litmus test for a good candidate -- tell the audience what you plan to do for them BEFORE talking about your own qualifications -- the 2nd Ward group laid out a positive vision for Columbia's future based on pragmatic ideas such as infrastructure investment and economic development.  
They also answered questions from both the Chamber and audience members thoroughly and artfully, presenting a tough choice for 2nd Ward voters as current Council member Jason Thornhill steps aside in April.
Thoughtful and eloquent throughout, Michael Trapp focused on infrastructure basics -- from pothole repair to road work -- repeatedly arguing that City Hall's 57-year re-paving schedule doesn't work because "paved roads don't last for 57 years."  
Trapp was also tempered about asking voters for more money, emphasizing that a generally poor economy should put the brakes on tax and fee increases.    

A long-time volunteer and president of the Hunters Gate Neighborhood Association, Bill Pauls delivered his lines with pizazz, building an audience rapport that had me wondering why he wasn't the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau chief.   The group's most moderate candidate, Pauls wants to improve public safety and said that if elected, he'll model his Council career on Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. 
After six years, the continuing arguments that Hoppe is anti-business
have become nothing more than an absurd stereotype.  
Clean cut, and even-keeled, Mike Atkinson -- an owner of The Candy Factory -- emphasized economic growth with a straigthforward, stand-and-face the crowd approach I found appealing.   Of the three 2nd Ward candidates, Atkinson will probably be the most pro-business, but not in the pejorative way many residents have come to view that term.  
Atkinson is a small business owner in the thick of surging City Hall demands on downtown businesses, from rising taxes and parking fees to myriad bureaucracies.  One hopes he will make the distinction between small business incentives and Big Business giveaways. 
Ironically, Barbara Hoppe stood on a mostly pro-business record, though she's continually labeled as "anti-business."   In fact, I challenge anyone to show me one significant pro-business or pro-growth measure she has voted against.  Hoppe has voted for everything from IBM to big parking garages, and appears poised to vote for tax increases to enlarge the Columbia Regional Airport, which is shaping up to be this year's #1 big business issue.  
After six years, the continuing arguments that Hoppe is anti-business have become nothing more than an absurd stereotype.  

Sixth Ward challenger Bill Tillotson -- a longtime Columbia resident, business owner, and Planning/Zoning Commissioner -- came across as a nice guy with earnest intentions and a warm appeal.  Tillotson will mostly focus on budget transparency, he explained, trying to lay out the city's nearly half-billion dollar annual budget in terms the public can better understand.   
Otherwise, he did little to distinguish himself from Hoppe, even agreeing with her more than once.   To dislodge an incumbent with such broad appeal, Tillotson will have to step up his game.