The hottest City Council race money can buy

MY QUOTE of the week — I don’t usually name a quote of the week, but I’ll make an exception — is from Charles T. “Bud” Ferillo:
    “We will not be outspent.”
    Bud was speaking in his capacity as campaign consultant to Belinda Gergel, who is seeking the 3rd District Columbia City Council seat being vacated by Anne Sinclair. This will, by all accounts, be the most expensive City Council district race ever in Columbia, with most of it spent by Ms. Gergel and rival Brian Boyer. A third candidate, Reed Swearingen, is running a much lower-key campaign.
    Mr. Boyer started running a TV ad Wednesday depicting photos of him as a Dreher High School athlete and Army officer serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. In all, he plans to spend $50,000 on television between now and the April 1 election, out of a total campaign budget of $130,000 to $140,000.
    Belinda Gergel has raised $164,000, and had not intended to use any of it for TV, but that changed this past week — her own campaign commercial started airing early Friday morning. (You can see both ads, plus video from our endorsement interviews with the candidates, on my blog at
    Where does all the money come from? Mr. Boyer’s is replete with the names of local builders and Realtors, including that of Don Tomlin — the candidate’s brother-in-law and president of the homebuilding company of which Mr. Boyer is a vice president. Other names include Kirkman Finlay III and Gayle Averyt, who have been allied with Mr. Tomlin.
    Ms. Gergel’s rather longer list includes a lot of names long associated with local political activism, such as Joel Lourie, Ed Sellers, Bill Boyd, J. Lewis Cromer, Zoe Nettles, Barbara Moxon … and Bud Ferillo.
    Those lists play into the conventional wisdom that, despite City Council being nonpartisan, the two most visible candidates represent distinct, rival factions:
    Mr. Boyer, a homebuilder, is seen as the “developer” candidate, representing the political faction led by Mr. Tomlin, who has also backed council members Tameika Devine, Kirkman Finlay III and Daniel Rickenmann. Ms. Gergel, as the past president of Historic Columbia Foundation, is perceived as the “preservationist” candidate, representing Mayor Bob Coble and other Democrats. (Never mind that Mr. Tomlin et al. supported Mr. Coble’s re-election in 2006; “conventional wisdom” overlooks such things.)
    Ms. Gergel, the retired head of the history and political science departments at Columbia College, rejects that pigeonhole, stressing that “I believe in the nonpartisanship of this election.” And indeed, among her contributors are names such as Jack Van Loan, a Five Points business leader and confidante of John McCain.
    “As far as this ‘camps’ thing,” Ms. Gergel says, “I don’t know where this is coming from, and I have no idea why someone would focus on what camp Belinda would be in. I am a strong, independent woman; that is what Columbia College did for me as a student, and what we worked on as faculty to encourage in our students. I have no permanent enemies and no personal friends on councilæ….”
    And as the daughter of a developer herself, she was not brought up to be “anti-development.” She says she’s for smart development that enhances existing communities, and fully understands how vital such growth is to the local economy.
    Mr. Boyer laughs off talk of factions, and of the Tomlin connection says he can’t help who his sister happened to marry. “I’m about as independent as they come.” As for the folks who are supposedly behind him, “none of them were there in the mountains of Afghanistan” or the “deserts of Iraq,” where he earned the Bronze Star before returning home to become a homebuilder.
    “I sort of feel that I’ve proved myself, and proved my decision-making ability, long before I knew those guys.”
    And he takes great pride in the kind of development he has been able to do, including homes priced for low-income buyers in the Arsenal Hill area.
    In our endorsement interviews, all of the candidates stressed public safety issues — Mr. Boyer suggesting his military experience qualifies him in that area, Ms. Gergel speaking of her own experiences dealing with crime in her University Hill neighborhood, and Mr. Swearingen promising to spend more on police whatever the political cost.
    All three decried the lack of accountability recently with regard to city finances. Messrs. Boyer and Swearingen both favor switching to a “strong-mayor” form of government to make city administration more answerable to the voters. Ms. Gergel, a veteran of the commission that considered changing city government, said she went in as a strong-mayor advocate, but realized it’s not going to happen politically, so the thing to do is “fix the system that we have now.”
    This isn’t the only City Council race on the ballot — three challengers are running to unseat at-large member Daniel Rickenmann. We’ll get to that one another day.

10 thoughts on “The hottest City Council race money can buy

  1. Lee Muller

    Isn’t this what the infotainment industry wants – expensive campaigns that have to buy lots of advertising in order to get their message out to the voters?
    What a coincidence that the free coverage by journalists is almost devoid of any facts or analysis of the candidates’ positions and history!
    Just look at this editorial: Gergel and Boyer spend big and get most of the attention from Brad Warthen. The other candidate, Reed Swearingen, gets only a mention, because he “is running a low-key (low budget) campaign.”

  2. larry forsyth

    I imagine that the money spent for the campaign is a pittance compared to what the successful candidates reap once they are elected. Have you ever heard of a poor member of the City Council?

  3. Lee Muller

    Most city projects are real estate development projects. That’s why the real estate gangs spend so much money to pack the council with their representatives.

  4. bud

    Finally someone is talking about moving the RR Tracks on Assembly Street. Way to go Mayor Bob. At least this is a start. $90 million is money very well spent for something that creates havoc on a daily basis for Columbia motorists.

  5. Lee Muller

    I guess Mayor Coble doesn’t plan on recruiting any real industry to those parts of Columbia served by that railroad line, and the existing ones will have to close and (surprise, surprise) sell out to developers of condos, restaurants and strip malls.
    How will The State Paper get its newsprint if the railroad is ripped up?

  6. Bob Coble

    The railroad tracks would be below grade similar to Gervais Street. This will be a longterm project.

  7. jimmy joe

    relocating the railroad tracks is a great idea. wow, city leadership is really progressive and on-the-ball. why didn’t someone think of this before? say, maybe in the last 15-20 years? oh wait, we have had the same leadership for 15-20 years…
    guess i missed that part.

  8. Bob Coble

    That is a fair question from jimmy joe. The money for the streetscaping of Gervais Street, Lady Street and Main Street came from the TIF. Assembly Street was considered then but there simply was not enough money and choices had to be made. There are other streetscaping projects that had to be done on Harden Street (Five Points) and North Main. Now is the time to look at improving Assembly Street. There are more reasons now than ever to make improvements. The area around Williams Brice is growing with residential development; and the University campus has crossed more south of Assembly with the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center, the Greek Village, the Colonial Center and now Innovista. Finally, the Retail Study we did to outline how to attract more retail to the Downtown suggests we start by making Assembly at Lady more pedestrian friendly. Thanks

  9. jimmy joe

    Thanks for your response Mayor Coble. Best wishes on this project. Main street looks good as does Five Points. But that ‘new’ road – Harden Street, particularly near the Food Lion shopping center is mighty bumpy.
    I hope this project for Assembly Street does not run into the many delays which caused problems for established merchants in the Main and Five Points areas as thsoe streetscapings projects did.
    Taking the railroad issue on, finally, now that funds appear to be available is the right thign to do.
    Good luck.

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