Fisher has given Coble the
kind of race Columbia needed
By Brad Warthen
Editorial Page Editor
WHEN KEVIN Fisher had left after energetically making his case in an endorsement interview, I said this to fellow editor Warren Bolton: “You see why I wanted him to run?”
A few minutes later, we decided to recommend the board endorse Mayor Bob Coble again.
Sound contradictory? Well, it makes sense to me. I’ll explain.
A week before the filing deadline, I used this space to urge Mr. Fisher to challenge the mayor. After a lunch during which he had passionately expressed one point of disagreement after another with the mayor, I thought it was high time such criticism was actually aired before the voters.
Bob Coble has some of the world’s most passive-aggressive critics. They gripe and snipe, but not one who had a chance of unseating him had tried in 16 years.
I knew Mr. Fisher could make up for that.
After I wrote that column, a lot of people thought I was backing Mr. Fisher. Then I wrote another column in which I said Columbia voters had a clear choice before them: Mr. Fisher, who tries hard to convince everyone he’s right; or Mr. Coble, who is happy to be seen as self-effacing but effective. That muddied the waters. Some thought at that point that I was declaring for the incumbent, but that wasn’t my intent.
Mr. Fisher is a very effective critic of the present administration. There’s a lot he doesn’t like, and he expresses eloquently why you shouldn’t like it either. He writes a whale of a good op-ed piece; I hope he keeps them coming.
But he’s too much like me. I’m a professional critic, and sometimes I write a marginally readable piece lambasting this or that. But I haven’t seen any groundswell of people out there demanding that I run for mayor.
And I think I understand why. When I look at Columbia’s city council, and imagine myself trying to get that bunch of independently elected prima donnas (no offense) to do what I know good and well they ought to do… well, I reflect that I’ve picked the right line of work — one in which it’s more important to be right than to be effective. I’ll just keep on being a voice crying in the wilderness.
Mr. Fisher should, too. He’s good at it.
So why did I want him to run? This city is in the middle of rapid, dramatic, multidirectional change, and it would be a travesty not to have a full, lively debate about its course. I didn’t think the city could afford another mayoral election like the ones it has had the last 16 years.
The mayor needed challenging. He’s far from perfect. Mr. Fisher is right in many ways. He has a point when he says that “Mayor Bob” is perhaps too affable and, as a result, often isn’t forceful enough to overcome the limitations of his office in this form of government.
Mr. Fisher is plenty forceful. But he is not affable enough to get things done. There’s a delicate balance involved in working with six council members who are each as powerful as you. Mr. Coble doesn’t always strike that balance, but often does. Mr. Fisher seldom would.
A lot of good things have happened in the last few years in Columbia, and while the mayor isn’t always the loudest voice in the room, he pushes as hard as anyone. The Vista booms; Main Street is revitalized; old enmities are set aside; strategic partnerships envision a dynamic future for the city, and make it happen.
Mayor Coble doesn’t shout, but he testifies convincingly to his effectiveness in the past, present and future. Mr. Fisher is great at pointing out the mayor’s failings. But he doesn’t make the case for himself nearly as well.
In the end, the mayor has risen to his first real challenge, and has defended well his claim to four more years.
While I’m all for saying who should be elected, I stay clear of predicting who will win. But I will say this: On Tuesday, more people will turn out to vote in Columbia than in a decade of mayoral elections. Whether they favor Mr. Fisher or the mayor, they know that this time, their votes are likely to make a difference.
If that happens, the winner will be the city of Columbia.
Fisher has given Coble the