Two council seats draw candidate interest

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Two open Cape Girardeau City Council seats have drawn the interest of five potential candidates, including two former council members and two others who would make their cases based on their small-business experience.

Two other city residents picked up nominating petitions, but then decided they wouldn't run. Under the city charter, a candidate must file a nominating petition signed by at least 50 registered voters in that ward in order to be on the election ballot.

The filing period opens Dec. 21 and closes Jan. 18 to fill the seats for wards 3 and 4.

The municipal election will be held April 5. If more than two candidates file for a seat, the April election will be the primary election with a special general election to be held June 7.

City officials have said there could be a primary in one ward on April 5 and a general election in the other ward depending on the number of candidates.

Former council members J.J. Williamson and Loretta Schneider have picked up nominating petitions for the Ward 4 seat.

Williamson served on the city council from 1994 to 1998. He was the first and only black to serve on the city council.

Schneider was elected to the city council in 1981 and was the first woman to serve on the council. She was re-elected to a four-year term and in 1986 ran unsuccessfully for mayor.

Both Williamson and Schneider said residents are more willing to run for office when they don't have to challenge an incumbent.

Former Cape Girardeau police officer Dan Niswonger, who lost a primary election contest for Cape Girardeau County 2nd District commissioner in August, picked up a nominating petition. But Niswonger said he's reconsidered and won't run because he is looking to run for another political office.

"I am wanting to run in two years for presiding commissioner," he said.

The Ward 4 seat has been vacant since the resignation in October of former councilman Hugh White.

The Ward 3 seat will be vacant by the end of the month as Councilman Jay Purcell is resigning now that he has been elected county commissioner.

Three residents of that ward -- Mike McGill, Stan Wicks and R. Todd McBride -- have picked up nominating petitions. Both Wicks and McBride were prosecuted on criminal charges -- Wicks for a felony of driving while intoxicated and McBride for conspiracy to commit arson.

Wicks, who operates a general maintenance company, served two years in prison in the early 1990s before being paroled. The issue surfaced when he ran for state representative.

McBride, a former local Democratic political leader, entered an Alford plea to an arson charge in February 1997. Under the plea, McBride didn't admit guilt but conceded that the court would be able to find him guilty of the crime.

He was accused of paying a man to set fire to one of his rental houses in Marble Hill, Mo.

A judge sentenced McBride to three years in prison, then suspended imposition of sentence and placed him on five years of probation. In addition, he was ordered to serve 30 days in the county jail and to pay $22,263 in restitution.

But Wicks and McBride don't dwell on their past. Both men stress their small-business backgrounds.

"I have gotten a lot of encouragement from people in the community," said McBride, who has a mortgage business.

McBride said he wants to see economic growth in the city. "I would like to see more jobs that pay a good salary," he said.

Wicks said he is interested in serving on the council to represent the public and not special interests. "I am a firm believer that elected positions should be for the common man and not for politicians who make a living at it," he said.

Wicks has been at odds with city hall for more than a year over the erection of privacy fencing on his residential property that screen his above-ground swimming pool.

City officials have said the two fences resemble one tall wall, exceeding the 6-foot height allowed for fences in residential neighborhoods. In addition, the two fences extend past the front of his house in violation of city zoning laws.

Wicks has called the city regulations "goofy" and so far hasn't moved the fences.

McGill helps run a family business in Cape Girardeau County that rents orange traffic barrels and traffic safety signs to construction contractors.

"I would like to help Cape be as small-business-friendly as possible," he said.

McGill said he is considering whether his own business will allow him enough time to devote to city business.

"I want to make sure if I do it, I have plenty of time to do it right," he said.

A fourth resident, Sharla "Charlie" Harrison -- who lost in the August Democratic primary for Cape Girardeau County public administrator -- picked up a nominating petition for the Ward 3 seat, but then decided she won't run.

"This is not my first priority right now," said Harrison, who is president of the Cape Girardeau Evening Optimist Club. "I don't have time to do a lot of campaigning."

335-6611, extension 123

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