This was not a difficult choice. We at the Independent have had some philosophical differences over the years with Missoula’s current mayor, on occasion holding his feet to the fire for his handling of such contentious issues as the living wage, the mismanagement of the wastewater facility, the site selection process for the civic stadium and last year’s Hells Angels fiasco. That said, of the three candidates (including write-in candidate Kandi Matthew-Jenkins) Kadas has the deepest working knowledge of the city’s day-to-day operations and the political savvy necessary to represent this city’s interests at the statewide level. The political waters of Missoula have never been easy to navigate, but Kadas’ ability to maintain an even keel even in tumultuous times has been admirable. On such issues as smart growth, urban infill, affordable housing and encouraging walkable communities, Kadas has shown an ability to rapidly absorb new information and incorporate it into his broader vision of Missoula’s future. Additionally, his years of experience both as mayor and previously as a state legislator have given him a solid footing for dealing with the state’s bureaucracy, while his work at the state level has earned him—and the city—broader political clout. While there are those who accuse Kadas of not doing enough to encourage economic development or create new jobs in town, overcoming such challenges is far easier said than done, even for an official who holds a Masters degree in economics. Likewise, there are some in Missoula’s progressive community who feel that Kadas has lost sight of the values of his constituent base. Then again, there will likely be others who see the decision by the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce to endorse neither Kadas nor Jordan as just one more reason to reelect the mayor.
In contrast, Jeff Jordan, though clearly a likeable, intelligent and enthusiastic young man, has not yet acquired the depth of experience or working knowledge necessary to take on a job of this complexity, nor has he sufficiently demonstrated a firm enough grasp on the myriad issues he would face as mayor.
vOnce again, we’re sticking with Kadas.
Ward One: John Engen
The Ward One race poses an interesting choice for voters. Cass Chinske, elected to the Missoula City Council twice previously—in 1977 and 1981—is looking to return to the city council for a third time. A 30-year resident of the ward, he has shown a commitment to local politics and a keen interest in the affairs of his ward and the city, even making frequent visits to the Independent offices to keep us apprised of affairs that might be of concern to our readers.
However, one of the biggest challenges a city council member faces is the ability to build consensus among contentious and divergent viewpoints, and in this area, we believe John Engen has the clear advantage. As a board member of the Missoula Downtown Association, former president of the Missoula Food Bank, a former writer and manager at the Missoulian, and a downtown business owner, it’s fair to say that Engen is well-liked and widely-respected by a broad cross-section of the Missoula community. We also think he brings to the office a youthful vitality and a dynamic personality that is too often lacking in the drudgery of city politics. His jovial and self-deprecating sense of humor puts people at ease, makes him easily approachable and, incidentally, is entertaining and fun, which would be a welcome addition to City Council meetings. Moreover, if the Missoula City Council were to challenge the Bozeman City Council to a game of touch football, our defensive line would be a lock. For his youth, experience, intelligence and boyish charm, we’re going with Engen.
Ward Two: Allison Handler
In the otherwise echoing silence of electoral coverage this year, the Ward Two city council race stands out as this year’s most contentious and controversial race. Undoubtedly due to her close affiliation with the Missoula New Party, Allison Handler has been one of the most maligned candidates in this election season, through no fault of her own. Nevertheless, the Independent admires her willingness to stick to her guns in promoting the values and goals of the New Party, despite whatever political costs it may have for her campaign.
Both candidates in this race have a proven track record for community involvement and civic activism, and our endorsement of Handler is more a statement on her superior qualifications and leadership skills than on any perceived weaknesses on the part of her opponent, Anne Marie Kazmierczak.
Experience and a working knowledge of the mechanics of city government are on the side of Handler, who worked for several years as a planner in the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants and was a constant presence at city council meetings. She then moved to her current position at the North Missoula Community Development Corporation where she launched a community land stewardship program that creates affordable housing units in Missoula. Handler’s commitment to community activism has also been evident through her service to the board of the Missoula Urban Demonstration project and the Missoula Weed Board. She also played an instrumental role in drafting and implementing the Northside/Westside Neighborhood Plan.
Although some have suggested that her strong affiliations with progressive causes would be a hindrance to consensus building on an already divided council, we believe instead that her strong convictions, her extensive knowledge of smart growth philosophies and her willingness to consider opposing viewpoints with open-mindedness and grace would be a valuable asset to her ward and the city, especially as a representative of one of the most politically active and economically challenged neighborhoods in Missoula. In short, we believe Handler would be a perfect fit for this position, and we think voters should ignore the negative press and obvious partisanship and give her the opportunity to prove herself in elected office.
Ward Four: Mike Kurz
This race has received perhaps the least attention of any of the contested city council races, yet poses one of the clearest philosophical choices for voters interested in reshaping the direction of the next city council. For years we have watched incumbent Myrt Charney, whose self-professed conservatism has put him at odds with many in the community who want to effectively manage growth, promote walkable communities, encourage economic self-sufficiency through a living wage, and so on. Charney’s voting record on growth management has been abysmal, and his campaign up to this point has focused primarily on the fact that he is not a New Party member. (For the record, neither is his opponent.)
Charney was an opponent of Missoula’s smoking ordinance and when it was apparent that it would pass, he introduced amendments that weakened the ordinance, against the recommendations of the Missoula Health Department. Charney has voted almost universally in favor of developing casinos in his neighborhood, and backed efforts to locate the Osprey civic stadium at Dahlberg Field, despite strong opposition by many in the neighborhood.
In contrast, Mike Kurz brings to the office a fresh, youthful and energetic approach to city politics. While Kurz is a newcomer to the political process and has not yet developed the polished style or smooth persona of a seasoned politician, he does strike us as a very thoughtful and informed candidate committed to civic improvement. On the subject of casinos, Kurz has expressed an interest in creating exclusionary zones to protect the integrity of neighborhoods. While he may not have as deep a track record in Missoula politics as some candidates in other ward races, we believe Ward Four would be better-served with an infusion of new blood in the office.