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Visions and solutions in the Ward Two City Council race

Conventional wisdom holds that the neighborhoods of Ward Two aren’t like the rest of Missoula. Encompassing parts of Grant Creek, West Broadway, and creeping across the river for a wedge of River Road, the heart of the ward lies in the Westside and the funky Northside neighborhood wedged between I-90 and the railroad tracks. The Northside is home to such landmarks as the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project, the Northside Community Gardens and the North Missoula tool library. Cross the pedestrian bridge to the Westside and you’ll find Project Playground and several precincts that cast more votes for Ralph Nader than they did for George W. Bush or Al Gore.

Fast forward to this year’s City Council race and you’ll find Ward Two is up to more of its electoral quirks. Take the case of Grant Creek resident Kay Cain who, among the five candidates on the Ward Two ballot, is the only one who prefers not to win.

Cain applied for candidacy simply to force the city to hold a primary, which takes place Tuesday, Sept. 11. According to state law, a city must hold a primary if any ward has five or more candidates running for a city council seat. When asked what she’d say to people who want to cast their votes for her, Cain replies, “Please don’t. I don’t want the job. I’m sorry if people feel upset or angry, but I feel so strongly that we should have a primary that I had to get involved. I’m sure that there will be people who will be mad at me because holding this primary will cost the city $20,000. Tough tamales. That’s the price of democracy, folks.”

Which brings us to the other four candidates who actually want to serve on City Council: Allison Handler, Brian Hughes, Anne Kazmierczak and Don Nicholson.

Nicholson is the owner of a Northside body shop, a retired paper mill manager, and a former member of the Missoula City Council from 1966-68. Kazmierczak is a freelance editor active in neighborhood-based organizations, serving as president of the Westside Neighborhood Association and a member of the North and Westside Neighborhood Council’s leadership team. Hughes is the manager of Cash on Broadway, a pawn shop in Ward Two. Handler is a land stewardship planner for the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation and president of the board of directors of the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project.

Each of the candidates has a slightly different vision of the Missoula he or she would like to see in five years, a Missoula, they all acknowledge, that seems to grow in every way except economically.

“The City Council needs to be the cheerleaders,” said Nicholson, who was born and raised in Missoula. “I’m a real fan of Missoula.” Nicholson believes that Missoula’s beauty will attract businesses that pay higher wages. He points to the medical industry, suggesting that Missoula offers “the best medical services between Seattle and Rochester.” This is a reputation, he says, that Missoula should feed by providing more support to the medical industry.

“We don’t have to advertise, campaign, or recruit to attract new businesses,” says Nicholson. “We should lead interested businesses by the hand and help them through the morass of red tape that you have to deal with to start a business.” Kazmierczak, who has lived in Ward Two for most of her 15 years in Missoula, is strongly in favor of making city government more inclusive.

“I think there should be a bigger voice for the neighborhood councils and the community forum,” says Kazmierczak. “And not everyone can come to meetings, so we need to develop a way for people to weigh in and express their opinions. I’d also like to see the council work together better and be a safe forum for discussing ideas, no matter how disparate they may be.”

Like all the candidates, Kazmierczak points to growth management as a key issue.

“We are going to grow, so let’s be smart about it. I’d like to see the city and county work together more cohesively to plan for growth like we’re seeing up Miller Creek,” she says, believing that it’s been a mistake to allow rapid growth without providing adequate transportation infrastructure.

Hughes was inspired to run for City Council while serving on a jury recently.

“Our system is only as strong as the people involved,” Hughes says. “Some people don’t take their responsibility as seriously as they should. The truth is, I don’t have political experience, but I have a lot of good, practical life experience.”

As manager of a pawn shop, Hughes says that he’s constantly exposed to people who find themselves in difficult economic positions.

“I want to see everybody do a little better than they are right now,” says Hughes. “I have a vested interest in seeing Missoula remain a fantastic place to live. That’s why I’m running. I’d like to get involved.” Handler’s background includes an involved history with many community-based organizations. As founder and director of the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation’s Land Stewardship Project, Handler works to ensure that housing within the neighborhood remains affordable.

“Five years from now, I want to have turned back the clock on housing prices. We’re doing that through the housing land trust that I founded and now direct, making it possible for lower-income homebuyers to own their own home by taking land costs out of the equation,” Handler says. “Five years from now, I want to see thriving, neighborhood-supported small businesses. I want to see better traffic circulation, so that Missoulians have real choices about how we get where we need to go, safely.”

Handler echoes the chorus of voices that bemoan Missoula’s economic conditions and the current direction of Missoula’s economic development.

“An increasing number of big box stores are making it tougher for small, locally owned businesses to survive,” says Handler. “I would search for ways to support small business and to ‘humanize’ and tame Reserve Street. I believe that Missoula’s workers deserve to earn living wages. Working folks are losing the economic battle as the buying power of real wages has slipped behind the cost of living.” # City Council primaries are Tuesday, Sept. 11. For more info, call the Missoula County Board of Elections at 523-4751.

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