Local pols convene for Indy forum 

In an evening more notable for its consensus than any great political differences, the 12 candidates vying for the Missoula City Council squared off Wednesday night in the race’s first citywide forum. What differences did emerge, however, seemed to reflect not only the candidates’ level of preparedness and understanding of the issues, but also their individual perspectives on the proper role of city government.

At the event, sponsored by the Missoula Independent and the Center for Environmental Politics, candidates were given the opportunity to respond to questions on various city-wide issues such as urban sprawl, the living wage initiative, job growth, and campaign finance reform. They were then queried about their specific wards, on such issues as the Osprey baseball stadium in Ward One, the zoning battle over the Freddy’s Feed and Read site in Ward Three, and the potential for development on the White Pine Sash site in Ward Two.

For much of the evening, candidates reiterated many common themes, touching on the importance of preserving the character of communities, building coalitions, ensuring that the level of city services are maintained, controlling sprawl and working closely with the city’s budding neighborhood councils.

More distinct lines were drawn on such issues as the living wage, which divided Ward Three candidates John Torma, who called it “a good piece of legislation and a timely piece of legislation,” and Chuck Gibson, who feared it could have “a severe impact on city services.”

Likewise, the living wage initiative drew harsh criticism from Ward Six candidate Ed Childers, who said, “I don’t think the city’s economy can support a jolt like that.” Meanwhile, his opponent, Naomi DeMarinis, voiced her strong support for the initiative, calling it a reflection of this city’s growing concern over poverty.

Campaign finance reform divided the Ward Two candidates, with challengers Kandi Matthew-Jenkins and Tammy Zimmerman voicing opposition to spending limits, but drawing strong support from incumbent Jim McGrath, who called big money “a corrosive force in politics.”

The Osprey stadium issue pitted Ward One challenger Kevin Head, a firm supporter of the measure who believes the neighborhood’s concerns can be overcome, against incumbent Lois Herbig, who has yet to take a formal position, but raised questions over the cleanup of the site, noise, traffic, the potential cost to taxpayers and the history of the Osprey organization in its last city. (Challenger Richard Johnson was not afforded the opportunity to address that question.)

Ward One candidates were also mixed on the role of the city’s neighborhood councils, with Kevin Head expressing concern that they exercise too much influence, while Johnson called them “a wonderful idea” but still in need of more diversity in representation.

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