A Mayor Runs Through It

With the determination of a Missouri mule, Mayor Mike Swoboda drags a $40 million development into the heart of Kirkwood

The memory of Tom Noonan's expression lingers long after the night's political ruckus concludes: the boyish city councilman looking foolish and forlorn, not unlike Charlie Brown after yet another line drive has knocked him from the pitcher's mound. "You blockhead, Tom Noonan!"

Kirkwood City Councilman Noonan would vote for a lead smelter next door to the Magic House if the town's hard-driving mayor, Mike Swoboda, gave him the nod. Noonan has been dutifully serving his role all night. What the mayor is for, Noonan is for. What the mayor is against, Noonan is against. It sure helps streamline the affairs of the City Council this night, as it does most of the time in Kirkwood. Noonan, fellow councilmen Tim Griffin and Art McDonnell, and Mayor Swoboda maintain a solid one-vote majority, with Swoboda pulling the strings. Noonan, Griffin and McDonnell rarely engage their opponents in debate. They keep their mouths shut and vote in lockstep.

This night, the main issue is a $40 million mixed-use development, right across the street from City Hall. Station Plaza will fill the empty lot Target vacated two years ago with 206 apartments, condos and townhomes, along with trendy restaurants and boutiques. MLP Investments, based in Frontenac, paid box-store giant Desco $6 million for an option on the site and has been lobbying the council and making presentations to citizens' groups since the summer of 2001. After paying $1 million per acre, they need all the support they can get, and Mayor Swoboda has given it to them.

It's not as if lofts and townhomes and an open-air plaza wouldn't be a positive addition to downtown Kirkwood, unless you believe, as many in attendance do, that with the completion of Station Plaza, beloved Kirkwood will be on its way to becoming wretched Clayton.

But even those councilmen questioning the proposal -- Paul Ward, Joe Godi and Mike Lynch -- think it a good project for Kirkwood. It's the speed and determination with which it is being passed, seen through with the stubborn tunnel vision of a blindered mule, that they fear.

The Missouri mule is Mayor Swoboda. The mule is his favorite animal. He pulls the legislators along with him all night despite the presence of a rancorous group of citizens, despite an amendment proposed by his principal antagonist, Lynch. Swoboda votes bills in a hurry, and Noonan keeps up with his yeas and nays in the mayor's quartet. The foursome raise their hands as if they were children with mittens tied together.

But even though Station Plaza is a done deal, the evening wears on to the point that exhaustion, frustration and audible anger -- "hiss, hiss" -- depress the civic atmosphere. In search of relief, the pugnacious Godi asks the mayor, "What are we talking about this for anymore? You've got the votes."

One issue tied to the proposed development refuses to go away, however. Kirkwoodians, as they call themselves, complain about traffic, and they mostly complain about traffic on Kirkwood Road. Those 206 apartments, condos and townhomes will generate more traffic jams, but to what extent nobody's sure.

The fact that MLP promises to do a traffic study is good enough for Swoboda, but not for Ward. When McDonnell, one of the mayor's allies, proposes his own amendment -- that the city study traffic patterns around Kirkwood -- Ward improvises an amendment of his own. He argues that Kirkwood's study needs to match MLP's study -- and if it doesn't, MLP must change its plans.

And with that resolution, Chris Ho, MLP's project manager, is on his feet. Swoboda is snarling. McDonnell looks sheepish. Griffin and Noonan look confused. The citizens, here to participate in the great experiment called democracy, are on the edges of their seats.

As he has done all night, Swoboda quickly calls for the yes vote on Ward's amendment. Four hands rise. Noonan turns his head to either side and, to his horror, finds he has voted with the wrong bloc.

"Oh, Tom!" says Swoboda, as if admonishing a foolish son.

The image of Noonan remains, an image no politician up for re-election wants in the mind of the electorate: His expression withers pathetically as he audibly sighs, "Oh no."

Noonan fails at follow-the-leader.

After the meeting is adjourned and most in attendance have exited, Lynch wryly suggests to some hangers-on that Swoboda provide nose rings to better keep his voting bloc in line.

Kirkwood prides itself on being a pleasant town with good schools and good city services. Kirkwood has quality of life: a slower pace, well-kept homes with yards that children play in safely, parks and trails, and none of the urban hassles of St. Louis or Clayton. But Kirkwood will change drastically with Station Plaza as its civic center, and many of those changes will be beneficial. The developers behind it appear as decent as developers can be. The best interests of Kirkwood are foremost in the minds of its legislators, but the definition of those best interests is why we have city councils and public hearings and, for that matter, democracy.

And democracy isn't an attractive system, even in Kirkwood. Like those who love sausage, those who love democracy often prefer not to see the process.

Kirkwood Road bisects the town north-south, but it's called Lindbergh Road everywhere else. Entering Kirkwood from I-44, you pass a retail stretch, where the Target has moved. You cross one set of railroad tracks, then pass by the Magic House, a popular destination for families, and into downtown, with the busy Pioneer Place on one side of the street and the soon-to-be-foreclosed-on Characters and Company children's theater, formerly the Kirkwood Cinema, on the other. The abandoned lot that Desco sold to MLP sits adjacent to another set of railroad tracks. The Kirkwood train station, on the National Register of Historic Places, still functions as a passenger stop for Amtrak. Traffic through Kirkwood halts as the train takes its sweet time passing through, unloading and taking on passengers.

Kirkwoodians may grouse about the train as they sit and wait and lose a good 10 minutes of their lives, but a train stopping traffic reflects on the old-timey, Mayberry kind of town many citizens like to think Kirkwood still is and still needs to be.

Kirkwood even has its own Chatter Box Café: Spencer's Grill, where at 10 a.m. on a Monday during football season, a guy coming in to talk about the Rams with the cook finds a willing participant, although he's talked about nothing else between the fried eggs and bacon since before dawn. The waitresses are solid diner-type beauties who keep the coffee flowing and are always asking How is everything, darling, sweetie, hon? The folks who spend their days glued to computer screens scrunch into booths and onto stools next to those who swing hammers or pour concrete or are retired from it all.

There's nothing retro about Spencer's. It just never changed, which is how some in Kirkwood want things. But Spencer's sits right across from where those 206 high-end apartments, condos and townhomes are going to be built. Spencer's Grill represents unassuming small-town values: bacon and eggs. Station Plaza is trendy urban chic: low-cholesterol diets.

For Station Plaza to be approved, Kirkwood's zoning laws must be amended to allow MLP to build four stories, 20 feet above the current code. Four stories doesn't sound like much in Clayton or St. Louis, but for some Kirkwoodians it is the harbinger of an urban skyline, obscuring views of trees and steeples in their peaceful little town.

Kirkwood doesn't want to be Clayton.

"Keep your coat on. I'll take you for a ride," says Mayor Swoboda a few weeks before the final Station Plaza vote.

Swoboda has thinning white hair and a wisecracking grin. Like many a politician, he employs a swift, firm handshake. He likes to move at a brisk tempo.

Swoboda's silver PT Cruiser is parked behind City Hall. "I love it," he says, shifting into reverse. "It's the best car I've ever owned." The mayor has lived in Kirkwood 32 years, which makes him a carpetbagger to some in town. A few years ago, Swoboda retired from Monsanto, where he worked for 27 years in information systems and computer applications, and at age 63, he still plays a vigorous game of tennis. In 2000, after more than two decades on the Kirkwood City Council, he was elected mayor on his second run for the office.

"I don't accept we have a big battle," Swoboda contends, steering the PT Cruiser from downtown to the far ends of Kirkwood and back. Swoboda talks up the "nationally recognized" Clay Bridge as he drives over its iron-girded form. On historic Argonne Drive, he proudly points out a row of 19th-century shops owned by him and his wife, Sue, as well as Sue's Folly, a caboose -- now transformed into a boutique -- that was brought here all the way from central Illinois. "It's one thing to talk about historic preservation," the mayor affirms, "but the Swobodas put their money where their mouth is. You gotta make a commitment."

He points out the nationally registered train depot, the nationally registered Eliot Chapel, the old feed store, the farmers' market. "Isn't this neat? Isn't this exciting?" Swoboda repeats at every landmark.

He drives by his own home, built by one Jacob Bach in the mid-1870s. "When you talk historic preservation, the Swobodas live it," the mayor reiterates, in case the message hadn't gotten through before.

Meramec Highlands, where in the early 20th century the wealthy of St. Louis rode by train to their cool summer "cottages," stands gingerbread-pretty. The cottages are large two-story homes, in better repair than the old Highlands train station, which has caused a legal battle over the city's "capricious" zoning. The developer, who owns the station, wants as many housing sites per acre as the district bordering his property. "I don't know if the station is savable, but I'd like to try," Swoboda says earnestly, although he acknowledges that "the judge's decision will determine the fate of the train station."

He tours Meacham Park, the most controversial development in Kirkwood before Station Plaza started making waves. A historically African-American district, the area was annexed by Kirkwood in 1992, after which the city moved people out to make way for Kirkwood Commons, a retail mall featuring Target and Lowe's. The city negotiated for tax-increment financing to rebuild Meacham Park with better homes at market rate. "This is the rebirth of Meacham Park," says Swoboda. "This is city government keeping its promises."

New homes are indeed going up. Swoboda points out "infill" and "fix-ups." "Look down here," he says, gesturing down another Meacham Park street. "Some old, some new -- isn't that great? People in Meacham Park are excited, positively excited."

A mayor who seeks to drive a $40 million development unscathed through the democratic process is more than an avuncular civic booster in a PT Cruiser, however. Back at his office after the Kirkwood tour, Swoboda reveals some of his political fire. Three photos hang near the mayor's desk: Swoboda's two favorite presidents, Harry S Truman and Theodore Roosevelt, and a Missouri mule, which has all the qualities the mayor admires: "hardworking, stubborn on quality."

On a conference table lie renderings of the Station Plaza development, an attractive set of drawings depicting buildings that would provide street-level restaurants and shops and upstairs residential-loft spaces. One four-story structure cleverly mirrors the design of the old Town Hall, with a wide European-style central plaza to provide space for outdoor dining as well as a community gathering place. A row of gabled condos stretches along one side of the property, three-story townhomes with second-floor terraces along another.

In describing the project, Swoboda toys with a term he's been trying out on his wife. "A pulsating vibrancy -- only a bohemian would say that," says the former Monsanto manager. "This creates a town center where the auto is not the center of life. I feel it would give that vibrancy of human beings, people walking around 24/7 -- give us a great vibrancy."

The significance of democracy is found not in agreement but in argument. One mayor's pulsating vibrancy is a city councilman's urban pressure.

Joe Godi hasn't been persuaded by the mayor's or MLP's New Urbanism talk. "They call it a mixed-use development," he says. "It's not for downtown Kirkwood -- too much density, too-high structures. Traffic, apartments, condos: They have their place, but it's not downtown Kirkwood."

Godi twice thumps the tabletop at Howard Johnson's to punctuate his description of the mayor's hardball political tactics: "He's really belligerent, and I don't know why people don't stand up to him. On almost any decision, the council goes the mayor's way."

The squarely built retired groundskeeper has no problem standing up to the mayor. On a morning just days before the final vote on Station Plaza, Godi looks as if he's never had a hard time standing up to anybody. "I don't know where the mayor comes from," he says. "He pushes himself around on every issue. He shows up at something every day. If somebody's having a 50th wedding anniversary, he shows up. But he doesn't have the personality to go with it. He walked into the Republican women's club -- 'Hi. Hi. Hi.' -- and you just don't walk in on a group just because you're mayor."

What downtown Kirkwood is or isn't, or what it should or shouldn't be, is the debate surrounding Station Plaza. Paul Ward, the sole African-American on the Kirkwood City Council, is troubled by the manner in which Swoboda has championed the project. "He embraced it whole," says Ward, sitting in Einstein's Bagels one afternoon. "It made me a little bit uncomfortable how energetic he was about it. That made me uneasy."

Ward is a third-generation Kirkwoodian. His grandfather moved here to escape the congestion and pollution of St. Louis. His father was a minister, Ward is sure to tell you, and the son carries on the oratorical tradition. He pontificates at times and cuts a charismatic figure with his broad shoulders and shaved head.

"You shouldn't be the cheerleader," he says. "We should be asking the hard questions, whether we be pro or con. We should be perceived that we're not just there to rubber-stamp."

Yet Ward accepts, for the most part, that Station Plaza would be good for Kirkwood. "I remember when downtown Kirkwood was dead," he says. "We all know of the continued western expansion. CityCorp is going out to St. Charles." If Kirkwood does not continue to grow and maintain its quality of life, Ward worries, "we could be Maplewood," another municipality within the I-270 ring that pays its residents to leave, replacing them with Costco and Home Depot Expo.

"The enthusiasm of MLP is genuine," Ward says, but he does not want the approval process to be short-circuited. Across the street from Einstein's is Pioneer Place, a retail strip that includes Taco Bell, Quizno's, Starbucks, the Blue Water Grill, a Crown Optical store and the post office. Inconspicuous to the outsider, Pioneer Place is the stretch of development Kirkwoodians curse the most. Traffic and parking are murder. Ward wants to be assured that Station Plaza, with its New Urbanism, won't wreak further havoc on Kirkwood Road.

"You'll see Thursday where we're going to fall on that," says Ward.

The man who hopes to impede the Missouri mule on Thursday night is Councilman Mike Lynch.

On the Tuesday morning before the vote, Lynch arrives at City Hall to discuss the mayor and Station Plaza. He's a few minutes late, then explains more about the complications of his computer printer than anyone would ever want to know. Lynch has the look of the mild-mannered policy wonk -- pale white, bald, white shirt, tie, eyeglasses. He can talk the details of zoning regulations until his listener is glassy-eyed, but he's been involved in development himself and knows what lies in those details. For 21 years he was a banker, at Boatmen's locally and the Bank of Ireland during a stint in Boston. He's not the guy interested in the external design of a building: "I look at the infrastructure that nobody else looks at." He knows how to read a design plan but doubts that some of his fellow councilmen can do so.

Lynch is up-front about his conflicts with Swoboda: "If you talk to people in the community, they'll tell you that the mayor and I butt heads more often than any other council member, and it's invariably over development."

The mayor shows deference to developers at the expense of the community, Lynch says. His ongoing feud with the mayor can be traced to that one issue.

To provide a shield to single-family homes, Lynch proposed a bill requiring a buffer zone between neighboring structures -- a 30-foot building would need a 15-foot buffer, for example.

"The mayor had a meeting -- which I wasn't invited to -- to find out what the developers' feelings were about my proposal," Lynch says. "The developers were against it." This came as no surprise to the councilman. "Everybody cries that they can't afford to do something. Any developer has a perceived threat that if they don't get what they want, they'll pick up their marbles and go away. When I developed property, I made that threat."

But Swoboda, says Lynch, listened to those cries and implied threats and, in response, exerted his significant influence on the majority of the council. Before the vote on Lynch's proposal, he says, "Swoboda stood in front of the chamber and whispered in my ear, 'I have enough votes to defeat this.' And he was right."

That Swoboda had the votes wasn't the issue with Lynch; it was the mayor's need to rub his face in it: "That's been the burr under my saddle. Once there's been friction on one issue, there's more friction in other types of issues."

Some of that friction came from the loss of Kirkwood's popular musical-theater company, Stages St. Louis. "The mayor and I butted heads on this as well," Lynch says.

Stages had designs on the site before MLP made its $6 million bid, twice what Stages could offer. Lynch considered Stages an enormous economic benefit to the city, bringing 250,000 people into Kirkwood each year. But the mayor and his voting bloc opposed Lynch's proposal for an entertainment-tax district.

Stages now is looking to leave Kirkwood, and Lynch thinks Swoboda needs Station Plaza to pass, in part, because he doesn't want people reminded, as he puts it, "We lost Stages."

Lynch isn't opposed to MLP's project, but he'd like to slow Swoboda's charge to permit further study: "You get so close to a project, you lose objectivity. You don't pay attention to all the danger signs that pop up." In the interest of protecting quality of life, Lynch has proposed an impact study and shared-parking analysis by an engineer selected by the City Council. Swoboda, however, wants the council to accept a study prepared by the engineer MLP selects.

Lynch takes a dim view of Swoboda's trust in a profit-motivated builder. "A developer will hire a traffic engineer, and basically that engineer will ask the developer 'What do you want to get out of it?' I know they're going to get the traffic study they want," he says.

The Wednesday morning before the Station Plaza vote, the mayor is not his gregarious, jovial self. The usually grinning city booster wears a stern demeanor. "Do you know how many people have told me they're against this project?" he asks. He holds up three fingers. "Remarkable, absolutely remarkable," he says incredulously.

"The support has been overwhelming."

He expects the final vote on Station Plaza to come Thursday night, and he doesn't want to hear any more "I love the project, but ..." from the council.

"How much can you 'love a project, but ...' before you kill it?" Swoboda asks. "I hope tomorrow night we're going to vote. You can't have political double-speak on this vote. Either this is a good investment, yes, or this is a bad investment, no. 'I love it, but ...' is not acceptable.

"Is this good, yes; is this bad, no. I'm trying to frame this vote without ifs, ands or buts."

A comment of Ward's gains more relevance as the mayor contemplates Thursday night's vote. "He's got to win," Ward observes. "After he's wrapped his mind around an issue, he's either in or out -- and he's done."

The City Hall meeting room buzzes anxiously 10 minutes before Swoboda calls the assembly to order. Those who regularly attend council meetings are engaged in last-minute conversations. They arrive in jeans, sweaters and sweatshirts. One woman proudly displays a logo on her shirt that reads, "Paris. London. Rome. Kirkwood."

Kathy Paulsen hands out copies of the proposed ordinance that would greenlight Station Plaza. Paulsen shows up for every meeting and has spoken in opposition to the development. Tonight, as she hands out the photocopied pages, her eyes betray her nervousness. "This is our last chance," she says fretfully.

The ordinance contains the usual legislative rigamarole, the unreadable language that can spell a community's downfall or its progress. Underlined is the passage that troubles most of the citizens present, an amendment to the city's zoning code that allows MLP to build higher than 40 feet and allows any mixed-use development of more than 5 acres to be built up to 60 feet.

"People see a 60-foot building and they'd think they were in St. Louis or Clayton," one citizen reasons without having to explain why that association would be so awful.

The propriety of a city council's amending its zoning codes for a single developer is the more serious issue at hand, especially with one developer suing the city for its "capricious" zoning regulations in Meramec Highlands. But height, parking and traffic are the surface complaints that have the chamber buzzing before all join for the Pledge of Allegiance.

With the floor opened for citizen comments, the anti-Station Plaza barrage ensues: "The project is too big. We should not be held hostage to height." "Too high, too dense." "Kirkwood is being inundated by developers." "It's too high. It's too elaborate." "This is not a turn-of-the-century town square but high-density." "Every developer who said it can't be done came back. Developers know what our codes are, and we should enforce them. Sixty feet is too high." And so on.

Seated in the front row of every meeting has been a small contingent from MLP, with Ho as the main representative. The affable, well-spoken Ho comes to the meetings in tailored suits. When he first presented drawings of the plan to the City Council, emphasizing the public plaza that would be central to the site and to downtown, one Kirkwoodian quipped, "Everybody's favorite place is where there are no buildings."

Ho employs phrases such as "New Urbanism" and "the principle of old neighborhoods" and speaks of future Kirkwoodians living in Station Plaza as "hipsters of all ages." Some members of the audience visibly bristle at Ho's phraseology. He might as well be selling shares in Enron.

More citizens rise from the audience, adding variations on the theme. "There are ramifications we haven't even considered. We might have to turn to parking meters!" -- spoken with the passion of "Give me liberty or give me death!" "We are on the precipice of changing downtown Kirkwood." "One benefit of the plan," a woman notes wryly, "is that we won't be able to find a parking space to come to these meetings."

As the citizens take their best shots at the MLP plan, Swoboda appears enlivened. "Kirkwood will become another Clayton with tall buildings and high density." "Sixty feet seems monolithic compared to what we have." One woman implores the councilmen, "Consider before you leap off this cliff, taking unwilling citizens with you."

With the monolith, or precipice, or New Urbanism, in sight, Swoboda begins to push through Bill 9272. He asks the chief administrative officer, Mike Brown, about fire safety, and Brown, on cue, reports that the building will be safe. Swoboda asks the city attorney, John Hessel, whether a dangerous precedent is being set with regard to rezoning. Hessel says no precedent is being set.

Councilman Ward has his head in his hands. He twists in his chair. He's been visibly troubled all night. He presses Hessel. Pitman Place, a residential area to the south of the proposed Station Plaza, was zoned mixed-use until the owners requested otherwise, Ward tells Hessel. If a developer came with money in hand, couldn't the property owners ask to be rezoned again, sell their homes at substantial profit, move and leave an opening for another development with more traffic, more 60-foot buildings?

Ward doesn't add, although he knows this, that the mayor owns property on Pitman Place.

"Do we open ourselves to a legal challenge?" Ward asks the city attorney. Hessel's aura of certainty is not so convincing the second time around. Hessel believes the city could win against such a challenge, but, he doesn't add, someone willing to invest $40 million is also willing to spend the money to get his way in the courts, bleeding a city treasury dry.

Ward asks, "If this is approved, is there something we should do to assure citizens that we will have control?" He was lobbied hard by the mayor this afternoon, but he's still undecided. Ward thinks this is a good project, the best Kirkwood has seen for the site since Target went south. But no one can erase all of his uncertainties.

Ward is faced with what the mayor has forced him to confront: yes or no.

Councilman Lynch begins to speak at an even, deliberate pace. The council chamber grows quiet.

"Imagine 7 acres of prime commercial real estate," he tells them, "located in the heart of downtown Kirkwood alongside South Kirkwood Road. The site is vacant; revenue is nonexistent; an aura of quiet desperation pervades City Hall."

He asks the audience to imagine a developer appearing like a "new guardian angel," proposing a retail site that will attract out-of-town customers. The developer just needs a few small amendments to the zoning codes, which the enchanted City Council awards him.

"A year passes, and the development continues to be the talk of Kirkwood," Lynch continues, but it's not happy talk. Retail and office workers from the development are parking in residential neighborhoods because of the lack of parking. "Auto accidents increase over 100 percent."

Lynch asks the audience to imagine "an old man standing next to his broken-down PT Cruiser, smoke pouring from the hood, as he waits for a tow truck, swearing that he'll never again drive on Kirkwood Road during rush hour.

"Can this be the future of Station Plaza? It could. But it is the history of Pioneer Place."

"Pioneer Place" is the clincher -- Pioneer Place, where you go to pick up a package at the post office and come home swearing, where the traffic crawls at lunch and dinnertime, where Kirkwood is anywhere but Mayberry. Pioneer Place was built without a traffic study, Lynch tells them, without the supervision that should have been provided.

Lynch passes around copies of a Kirkwood business-district map to his fellow council members. He's marked areas where 5-acre parcels could be put together, if a developer had the money and the savvy, to create an area comparable to MLP's property. He's found five, counter to Hessel's conclusion that there aren't any. One of them is Pitman Place, Lynch says, although, like Ward, he does not mention that Swoboda is an owner of Pitman Place property.

The audience lets out a collective breath of astonishment. "If you want to see land-use planning as it has been proposed here," Lynch concludes, "drive south 50 or 60 miles."

Lynch has made the last stand against Swoboda. The mayor's antagonist passes out his proposed amendments to Bill 9272, which include a call for the city to hire its own traffic engineer on MLP's dime. Swoboda doesn't look at it.

Without debate, the mayor immediately calls for a vote on Lynch's amendment. A voice vote is inconclusive. Swoboda appears visibly rattled when the clerk calls for a show of hands. Swoboda's hand rises in opposition to the amendment, and the hands of council members Noonan, Griffin and McDonnell rise with it. Lynch, Ward and Godi vote in support.

Before many in the chambers are even sure what has become of Lynch's amendment, Swoboda calls for a roll-call vote on Bill 9272. Swoboda's 4-3 majority holds. The $40 million development is approved.

A tense air of anticipation had risen in the room during Lynch's speech. It slowly deflates.

With the rest of the council either exhausted or disgusted, in a meeting that has gone on for more than four hours, the Missouri mule plows ahead, proposing his own amendments to 9272; they're matters of small detail, but he wants them fixed tonight, and they are.

McDonnell, who has been silent throughout the evening, proffers an amendment of his own. A local grocer, McDonnell has an unfortunately meek voice, one that doesn't favor a councilman who seems to vote in accord with the mayor's will. He tries to mollify the crowd, whose frustration audibly bubbles forth with rude asides. Lynch's allusion to Pioneer Place was unfair, McDonnell tells them. Pioneer Place should be viewed as a success. "It's a mess, but it's successful," he says.

A few citizens of Kirkwood hiss.

McDonnell is visibly shaken, and his voice wavers even more. He wants to assure the citizens that sound decisions have just been made. He says the Planning and Zoning Commission studied the parking plan for Station Plaza and approved it. The council members all took a look at it, he says, and most liked what they saw.

Lynch is nonplussed. "I'm amazed that anyone would suggest that we decide this without a traffic engineer," he berates his fellow councilmen. The planning-and-zoning study, says Lynch, involved 17-year-old data.

McDonnell doesn't have the sense to quit while he's behind. He proposes a traffic study, done exclusive of MLP, to look into the possibility of widening Kirkwood Road.

Even more people are hissing now.

The long-silent Ward finds his way back into the political fray through McDonnell's amendment. As an amendment to McDonnell's amendment, Ward proposes that MLP's study must conform with any city-sanctioned traffic study. If it doesn't, MLP must change its plan.

Ho's on his feet. McDonnell looks more sheepish. Swoboda snarls. Ward, still upset with Swoboda for ignoring Lynch's proposal, accuses the mayor of being flippant.

"Flippant!" the mayor retorts.

"Yes. You were flippant," Ward says.

"How was I flippant? When was I flippant?" The mayor, now red-faced, quickly reins in his anger. He looks around at the other council members, chuckles. "Flippant. I don't think I've ever been called that before."

Swoboda calls for a quick vote on Ward's amendment, whereupon the confused Noonan votes the wrong way.

"Oh, Tom!"

Noonan is let off the hook. He wasn't fully aware of what he was voting on, he says. Swoboda calls for a revote, and this time three hands follow the puppetmaster's in unison.

Swoboda's glowing victory has been tarnished, though. As more debate ensues, he sighs loudly, his shoulders slump and he stares downward. Did Truman or Roosevelt have moments like this?

Surely they did, and he returns to the discussion, now admonishing McDonnell: "Art, you probably shouldn't have brought the issue up."

Ward, disgusted by Swoboda's maneuverings, chooses to abstain when McDonnell's amendment is brought to a vote. He's not going to vote on anything more tonight.

McDonnell's proposed traffic study passes, but MLP is not bound to any of its findings.

The meeting is adjourned, and Swoboda quickly retreats to his chambers. "That was unbelievable," says Godi, shaking his head. Ward is appalled. "The mayor went too far this time. He didn't have the decency to even look at Mike's amendment." Lynch takes things more in stride and considers the efficacy of nose rings for Swoboda's voting bloc to help the mayor keep its members in check.

Outside, the night is cool. Everyone has gone home. Kirkwood pulls its sidewalks in early on a weeknight. The empty parking lot is in shadow. A few acres of asphalt isn't much on a dark night. Right now it's like one of those obscure fields where a battle was fought years ago, signifying what? Progress? Disaster? The place where the character of Kirkwood changed forever?

"Isn't this neat? Isn't this exciting?"