Though the City of Columbia municipal election is still more than two months away, residents packed a church fellowship hall on Aug. 13 for the first candidate forum in what looks to be a lively race for Columbia City Council’s District 3 seat.
The Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association hosted the forum at Sherwood Forest Presbyterian Church, where dozens of residents gathered to hear from the candidates that have, so far, announced their intention to seek the seat: incumbent Moe Baddourah and challengers Will Brennan and John Loveday.
Filing for the municipal election opens at noon on Aug. 19 and closes at noon on Sept. 6. The election is Nov. 5. Aside from the District 3 race, the District 2 seat currently held by Ed McDowell and the at-large post held by Howard Duvall will be on the ballot.
Topics at the first District 3 debate included public safety, infrastructure and economic development, among others. Loveday and Brennan are each working to unseat Baddourah, who is in his second term representing the district, which is in central and southeast Columbia and includes such neighborhoods as Shandon and Rosewood.
Crime and public safety were the topics that kept bubbling to the surface during the forum, which came just a day after Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook held a news conference announcing that law enforcement efforts would be ramped up following 20 gun-related incidents throughout the city from Aug. 2 to 11.
Loveday, who is the principal of an online public charter school, rolled out a safety plan during the forum, one that calls for, among other things, expanded community watches, better street lighting and a renewed focus on retaining police officers in a city department that has a roughly 20 percent officer vacancy rate.
Loveday also said he “lost trust” in Baddourah as a councilman and referenced Baddourah’s 19-month suspension from office.
Baddourah was arrested in July 2016 and charged with criminal domestic violence after allegedly hitting his then-wife with a car door in the parking lot of a restaurant. Subsequently, he was suspended from office in March 2017 by Gov. Henry McMaster, and remained suspended for a year and a half while his case was pending in court. Baddourah entered pre-trial intervention in the case in September 2018, and was reinstated by McMaster a month later.
The educator also questioned the city’s progress in public safety while Baddourah was the chairman of Council’s public safety committee during his first term.
“When we all have opportunities to lead, whether you are in real estate or a banker or whatever you do, you have to deliver,” Loveday said. “I don’t see that happening. … To me, public safety is the number one issue. Until we resolve that problem, we can’t move forward with anything else.”
Baddourah, who didn’t comment on Loveday’s reference to his prior suspension, argued that Council has allocated significant money to the police during his time on Council. He also insists Council members must have a broad view of city issues.
“Cities anywhere in the country, it doesn’t start and stop at public safety,” Baddourah says. “I agree, it’s important. So is garbage collection. So are the rivers that surround our city. So is a clean city, period. So is homelessness. We’ve done everything we can to balance the budget and give the police [department] whatever they want.”
Brennan, who owns a construction and design firm, said public safety is a “crisis” in Columbia and is his top priority. He says he’s been disturbed by conversations he's had about property crime.
“Feeling safe in your home is pretty much the basic line for quality of life in Columbia, in any city in America,” Brennan said. “A couple weeks ago I was knocking on doors in Sherwood Forest, [and met] a lady who was thinking of moving out of the neighborhood because crime is so bad. She wakes up every morning and looks out the window to make sure her car is there. Here we are. That’s where we are right now with this crisis in public safety.”
Brennan pitched the idea that an enhanced focus on economic development could attract more businesses and residents, and that tax revenue created through those efforts could be used to bolster police officer retention.