Kirkwood Mayor Mike Swoboda’s courageous return for his final council session earlier this month says much about Swoboda the person and Kirkwood the community.
Mayor Swoboda loves Kirkwood the way Jimmy Walker loved New York. He treasures its traditions, promotes it assets, but, as important, has worked consistently to improve it. Stung by a 2004 defeat of what he regarded as a necessary tax increase to maintain quality city services, he quickly regrouped and initiated a community-wide movement that led to voter approval of a sizeable tax increase last June. To take matters one better, five months later Kirkwood’s citizens approved an additional tax to refurbish its public library.
In the aftermath of the February tragedy, Kirkwood now faces an even more difficult challenge. Increasing taxes is tough but it is a walk in the park compared to healing racial divisions. When Kirkwood annexed Meacham Park, legal unity did not create social cohesion. Even before the Sergeant McEntee killing in 2007 and this year’s deaths at the February council meeting, Kirkwood citizens knew that all was not well.
But Kirkwood citizens are determined and Kirkwood leaders are committed. They are directly facing the challenge to understand one another better so that the community emerges even stronger. It will not be easy but I, for one, am optimistic that Kirkwood — always one of the region’s premier communities — will succeed.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.