Former First Ward councilwoman named outstanding citizen

Almeta Crayton represented MU until 2008.

The Columbia-Boone County League of Women Voters named former Columbia City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton Outstanding Citizen of the Year for 2008 in a lunch ceremony on Wednesday.

Crayton, who served on the council from 1999 until she lost her re-election bid in 2008 to Paul Sturtz, was known for helping First Ward residents organize against neighborhood crime and establish more local rehabilitation programs.

Crayton, who now works at the Successful Neighborhood Resource Center and as a school cafeteria aid, also worked to bring more computers to First Ward schools and increase the number of businesses in the area to build more jobs.

League of Women Voters President Elaine Blodgett said the league chose Crayton for the honor because she personified the organization's goal of increasing citizen involvement in government.

"One of the things we've been doing for the past 89 years is encouraging women to get involved in politics and the community, and Almeta did that as a regular community member," Blodgett said. "She served and represented her district well."

Mayor Darwin Hindman also recognized Crayton with a congratulatory proclamation, praising her for her work on the council, which she did as a single parent while raising her young son, Tyrone.

"She's a wonderful person, so helpful, she really did a good job, no question about it," Hindman said. "But the most remarkable thing about the things she did was that she did them under all kinds of difficult situations, really, being a single mother."

City Manager Bill Watkins did not attend the ceremony but sent a letter with Columbia city spokeswoman Toni Messina crediting Crayton as an effective representative who could make substantial changes despite her difficult personal circumstances.

"Almeta always made the call for help for those who needed a little boost," Watkins said in the letter. "Give her 30 minutes and a telephone and you can see the powerful change she is able to make. The Outstanding Citizen of the Year award could not go to a more deserving person."

After receiving her accolades, Crayton talked about her journey through city politics and her motivations for getting involved. She said that, as a single mother who sometimes could not afford dinner for her and her son, she felt her councilperson did not understand the issues that affected voters in her economic situation.

"I got up one morning and I guess I was so angry at what I didn't hear from council that I think I felt as though I was invisible," Crayton said. "When you're poor, nobody sees you. They talk about you, they talk around you, but they don't talk to you."

Although the First Ward is home to a majority of Columbia's black population, Crayton was quick to emphasize that she did not run on the basis of her ethnicity, but on the idea that she was in touch with issues affecting the working poor and could convince them that their concerns were being heard by the government.

"I wanted people to vote for me as a character so that I could go to my community and say to them 'you have no excuse,'" Crayton said.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said Crayton is still highly regarded on the council and that the council admired her for her ability to listen and propose legislation thoughtfully.

"I hesitate to speak on behalf of the entire council, but I feel I can say this for all of us, 'We miss you,'" he said.

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