On Tuesday, Rapid City residents will choose between two experienced public servants to be our next mayor.
In one corner we have the incumbent, Sam Kooiker, who is seeking his third term as mayor after serving on the City Council from 2002 to 2011. In the other corner is the challenger, Steve Allender, who served on the police force for 29 years, including seven as police chief, before he resigned in 2014.
Both men are capable, experienced managers who are clearly committed to making Rapid City a better place to live and work. But while the candidates have engaged in several debates in the past month, it is the tone of the race that rings loudest.
It hasn’t been particularly pretty or illuminating to watch this race unfold. Kooiker, who has made improving race relations one of his top goals, has done all he can to paint Allender to be racially insensitive even though he nominated him to become a member of the South Dakota Municipal League Hall of Fame in 2011.
Kooiker received ammunition for the charge from a lawsuit filed in 2009 by a Native American who was fired from the police force in 2007. He claimed he lost his job due to a racial climate fostered by Allender and others that reached its peak in the early 1990s. The claim was rejected by a judge although Allender has admitted that he and other officers did tell racially offensive jokes during that time. Since then, he has had to persuade voters that he is a different man.
Allender also has been accused being of being soft on the Second Amendment for a blog post he wrote that said certain people probably shouldn’t be allowed to possess automatic weapons or high-caliber rounds.
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The problem with these issues is they seem to have left little room for discussion on other topics that are more in line with the mayor’s duties, which is to run an efficient and effective city that provides economic opportunities and strives to improve the quality of residents’ lives.
The one exception would be economic growth. Allender claims the local economy is floundering, while Kooiker says it is clearly on the upswing thanks to his efforts at streamlining city government processes. Neither has introduced a specific plan, however, to recruit and retain businesses that pay well.
Looking ahead, Kooiker says his main goals if elected are to continue focusing on improving infrastructure, finding a solution to the civic center dilemma that emerged on his watch, to continue streamlining local government and to lead the way to improved race relations.
Kooiker also touts his leadership skills and considers himself seeks a consensus-builder when he develops public policy. In fact, he told the Rapid City Journal editorial board that the City Council has never worked better together even though it was less than one year ago when the council rejected his first choice to replace Allender as the police chief.
Allender, meanwhile, has identified many areas of concern in some depth on his blog. The problem, however, is that he has not been able to clearly communicate how he would correct those problems if he were mayor.
In addition, he has acknowledged that it was his desire to see Kooiker defeated that initially motivated him to run for the office as he was unable to find anyone to challenge the incumbent. And while Allender is known for speaking his mind, it can sometimes backfire, a characteristic that might not serve him well as mayor.
In the absence of specifics in this campaign, voters face a tough choice Tuesday. Kooiker, however, has the advantage of experience in the office although we feel there is room for improvement in his performance. As a result, we endorse Kooiker by a nose for another two-year term as the mayor of Rapid City.