Unpopularity driving recruitment effort, sources say
COLUMBIA, 1/4/13 (Beat Byte) -- Just days away from an election filing deadline, groups in Columbia have been working feverishly to recruit an opponent for Mayor Robert McDavid, a retired physician whose first term in office has been bruised by major city-wide controversies some say have diminished his ability to lead.

"McDavid seems to take all his marching orders from REDI," said a source close to one recruitment effort, referring to Regional Economic Development. "He's wholly incurious about other points of view and has an imperious way of not listening."

"Failure to listen" -- or at least act like he is listening -- has been a criticism directed repeatedly at the Mayor, from both inside and outside City Hall.
At a public forum about blight/EEZ -- an effort laden with toxicity Dr. McDavid has championed -- attendees noticed the Mayor's eyes virtually glued to his cell phone as a panel of citizens and experts addressed an overflow audience of concerned citizens. His inattention peaked when he took a seat on the panel himself, looked past the audience, and in an oddball aside, asked a black citizen advocate if she'd like to do a comedy bit for a city booster video.

"That seemed pretty condescending," an attendee told this writer at the time. I agreed.

The blight debate brought other McDavid gaffes, including a rambling speech during which he lumped GED holders with "every town's underbelly," and said he wouldn't support Columbia residents who start businesses or hire new employees, preferring instead to direct job growth initiatives -- like EEZ -- at out-of-area firms.

"There's the bright people who are going to stay in Columbia no matter what," Dr. McDavid told the City Council. "We've gotta be careful about offering incentives to them we don't need to. That's part of the challenge...If there's some Columbia people who are gonna start a brewery in Columbia and hire 20 people, let's figure out a way NOT to abate [their taxes]. I mean, they're gonna be in Columbia no matter what."
Other groups have charged the Mayor has tunnel vision on issues as varied as student housing and tourism taxes.

Rampant downtown rezoning in favor of students by the thousands is "okay with McDavid as long he has can sell FastCAT passes," said another source who considered a run for Mayor but ruled it out over time commitments. FastCAT is a student-oriented bus route and McDavid priority that "didn't go as well as I wanted it to," he told the Tribune last month.

Meanwhile, the crush of student apartments has had neighbors and city planners scrambling over everything from quality of life and historic preservation to parking and crime. With a powerful bully pulpit, Hizzoner "has done little or nothing to modulate, direct, or otherwise lead on this issue, the most important to hit downtown in decades," the source added.

Hospitality and tourism industry lobbyists worry Dr. McDavid's plans for the Columbia Regional Airport -- which so far have driven away a major carrier -- are costly, short-sighted, and insular. "Designating airport renovations as a form of tourism marketing is an incredible stretch of the intended use of tourism marketing funds, and sets a dangerous precedent for Missouri’s tourism industry," Missouri Tourism Council president Laura Tobey said in December, reacting to Mayor McDavid's announcement that lodging taxes would jump 75 percent to support the airport effort.
Former Columbia Convention and Tourism director Lorah Steiner has echoed that sentiment. "Taxes on hotels and motels to support tourism should not go to an airport where only part of the business is tourism-related," she said last year.
So what about candidate recruitment? So far, several prominent citizens -- including a few well-known politicians -- have declined to get in the ring, one even reportedly saying a race against McDavid is "not winnable." Longtime favorite Zim Schwartze left Columbia to take a much higher-paying job.
The filing deadline for Mayor and Ward 3 and 4 City Council races is Tuesday, January 8, 5 pm. Filers must present signed and verifiable petitions to the Columbia City Clerk. A special City Council election for the 5th Ward will be held Tuesday, February 5.