Mayoral candidates explain their views at City Hall forum

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

A banker, a former school principal, a production worker and a business owner all want another job: mayor.

And Tuesday night the four candidates -- Jay Knudtson, Melvin Gateley, Walter White and Stanley Wicks -- made their cases in a mayoral forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, KZIM and Southeast Missouri State University's political science department.

The candidates will fill the vacancy left by Al Spradling III, who cannot run again due to term limits. They answered questions relating to term limits, the ward system, taxes, the River Campus, building codes, affordable housing, downtown developments and the hiring of more minorities for city jobs.

Some of those who watched said they came away with a better understanding of the candidates and issues.

"I liked the ideas about low-income housing, and I liked the talks about the river property and the issues about jobs," said Marilyn Ritter, secretary of the League of Women Voters. "I think there are a lot of jobs in Cape, but we need more middle-income jobs where people can make a living."

The forum had a subdued air, with more agreements than debate.

But there was clearly a general philosophy difference concerning the mayoral position itself.

Knudtson, a banker who is chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, talked a lot about providing strong leadership and being a negotiator and facilitator.

Wicks, who owns a general maintenance company, said he wants to be a public servant.

"The mayor doesn't have a lot of power to do things on his own," Wicks said. "He has to work with the council. The real power belongs to the people."

Gateley, the oldest of the candidates at 75, focused on his prior experience in working with the city. He served as Ward 5 councilman between 1992-2000.

White focused on his blue-collar nature, saying he would bring more jobs to the city and would support a tax cut.

Shared opinions

In general, Knudtson, Gateley and Wicks agreed shared similar opinions on most of the issues.

White, however, offered some different opinions.

The production worker at cable producer Superior Essex Co. in Sikeston, Mo., was the only candidate to spurn completely the city's involvement with the River Campus, saying, "I'd like to look at other ways" to spend that money.

The River Campus is a former Catholic seminary on Morgan Oak Street, and the university would like to make it into an arts campus with the help of city funds. A tax to fund the city's portion of the project currently is before the Missouri Supreme Court.

Said Knudtson: "Clearly, it's in the hands of the court right now, but I believe the university is the best entity to develop that land. But at that price? Pending the results in court, I'd like to get more perspective and find exactly what the city is willing to spend."

Much of Gateley's platform centers around city beautification, and he sees the River Campus as being one way to do that.

Wicks didn't offer an opinion.

"I will stand behind the vote, no matter what my feelings are on the subject," he said.

One subject that caught the interest of Anne Berendsen, a spectator Wednesday night, was discussion about affordable housing and cleaning up neighborhoods.

Knudtson and Wicks both said attitudes, not more funds, will be the answer to that problem.

"I believe I can build the nicest building, but if there's no pride in ownership, you won't solve anything," Knudtson said. "We need to tackle affordable housing in a different way."

The primary election will be Feb. 5. The general election will be April 2.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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