April 12, 2013 10:38:51 AM
The Columbus-Lowndes League of Voters is to be commended for Thursday's candidates forum for the city's municipal elections at the Columbus Municipal Complex. Moderators Steve Rogers of WCBI-TV and attorney Scott Colom performed credibly in asking interesting questions and making sure that candidates stayed "on point."
Aside from Ward 5 challenger Kenneth McFarland, all of the candidates for mayor and the four contested council positions participated.
The biggest disappointment of the night would not be found behind the big table up front where the candidates fielded questions, however, but in the audience. A "crowd" of about 50 to 60 people turned out for what may be the only forum where all of the candidates will be assembled.
Thursday was an opportunity to measure the candidates against their opponents, something that you cannot attain from campaign literature.
That so few turned out for the event is not encouraging and raises troubling questions: Have residents lost faith in the process? Do they believe that it doesn't really matter who holds these offices? Do they simply see no relevance between city government and their lives? All are questions that emerge when a candidates forum draws a smaller crowd than a junior high tennis match.
It is a matter of speculation, but another explanation cannot be dismissed: Perhaps no candidates have emerged who have inspired people to care.
While many of the candidates made thought-provoking comments Thursday, no candidate articulated a clear, promising vision for the city.
The candidates seemed to have an understanding of the challenges that face the city -- everything from struggling schools, aging infrastructure, slumping sales tax revenues and a lack of retail development. Few offered any specifics about how to address those problems, which is understandable on some level.
Quite frankly, it is unrealistic, even naive, to think that a city councilman or even a mayor can "change the game" on these issues simply by moving into an office.
And yet, the people who voters will choose to occupy these positions can shape the city's future in a meaningful way.
That starts with leadership.
City governments are much like private businesses in this regard. No company ever prospers without good leadership. And part of being a good leader is creating an environment where your team isn't always "playing defense," simply reacting to challenges when they have reached critical mass.
Effective leadership means playing offense by anticipating issues and addressing them effectively before they become a crisis. It means establishing plans for growth and establishing objective measures for achieving that growth.
We are hopeful that those kind of leaders can be found among the candidates who assembled for the candidates forum, even though we heard little of that Thursday.
As we move toward the May 7 primaries and June 4 general election, we will be looking for real leaders to emerge from this group, those who will communicate a real plan for the future of the city. Who knows? The residents may yet find a reason to care.