Finding the candidate that's "just right"
COLUMBIA, 1/25/13 (Op Ed) -- I wish Laura Nauser had run for Mayor this time around. Instead, the former two-term Columbia City Councilwoman is running for her old seat, against political newcomer Tootie Burns and political operative Mark Jones.
I developed great respect for Mrs. Nauser when she campaigned alongside me in 2005, on her first Columbia City Council run (I was on a splashingly bad Columbia School Board campaign). She carries herself with poise and comportment; she handles pressure well; she doesn't suffer fools; and she had a plan: A Change in Direction on Family and Youth Issues for the City of Columbia, Missouri, it was called.
I wrote about it in 2008 under the title, FOR A FLAGGING ECONOMY: More PRIVATE Enterprise. It addressed crime, juvenile justice, economics: virtually every issue important to Columbia. (Sadly, it too was ignored).
Laura is a leader with vision and she will go forward -- but only if she doesn't step back.
I worry that the 5th Ward Council seat she's seeking for a third time -- after leaving the Council to run for a Statehouse seat Judge Chris Kelly won -- could be a step back. I don't like backward steps, especially when people I admire take them. I understand the Catch-22 political calculus in it all -- you have to stay in the public eye, being a leader in some capacity if you want to keep being a leader.
But I wonder if Mrs. Nauser hasn't outgrown a Ward seat on the City Council, while the 5th Ward and the Council itself has changed in some substantial ways, many of them based on simple geography.
The center of the 5th Ward universe will shift for the next few years, to that diabolical orbit around Providence and Stadium, where the Grasslands neighborhood -- candidate Tootie Burns' longtime home -- meets -- or rather collides with -- Mizzou. Multi-million dollar plans to tear down historic homes and widen roads will pit neighbor against neighbor, city against citizen, pro against con.
I have to think that Burns -- long involved with the neighborhood association -- will be better equipped to handle the future melee.
The center of Columbia has shifted, too -- back to the city center, away from the suburbs where Laura lives and toward the Grasslands where Tootie lives. Students are driving this shift as they flood into downtown, while the collective University apparatchik -- Mizzou, Stephens, Columbia College -- struggles to keep up and a greater burden shifting between town and gown -- city and university -- ensues.
Nowhere is that burden-shifting more evident than in the parking problems that plague the Grasslands on Game Days.
This is not to say that Nauser would neglect the Grasslands nor that Burns will neglect the hinterlands. It is to say that a geographic shift has changed the mix of issues 5th Ward voters must face as residents of Columbia.
Certainly, this shift is temporary. But Burns, with her business at Orr Street Studios, her home in the Grasslands, her long, close ties to Columbia's middle, including Mizzou, appears better equipped to navigate what will become the 5th Ward's most pressing issues.
Like Nauser, Burns doesn't suffer fools. She's poised, business-like, and dutiful. Both candidates are successful wives and mothers. Both candidates are smarter than your average political (or City Council) bear. Burns is simply more connected to the center of today's 5th Ward universe.
The same arguments apply to Mark Jones. Eloquent and thoughtful, Jones seems more statehouse than City Hall material. His experience as a Missouri National Education Association staffer and his longtime involvement with state politics -- including a political right of passage -- an ethics fine -- would seem to set him up for higher political office, something Laura Nauser I believe also seeks.
Mr. Jones even road into the 5th Ward race on an unusual wave of partisan reference (Council seats are non-partisan; statehouse seats are blue and red).
Burns, on the other hand, seems wholly and totally focused on the 5th Ward.
All of which boils down to the famous Goldilocks Effect. Laura Nauser, Mayor material; Mark Jones, State Rep material; and Tootie Burns, City Council material.
In other words, of the three candidates for the 5th Ward Columbia City Council seat, at this time and this place, Tootie Burns is just right.