Editor's note: This story was produced in collaboration with UMKC students covering the people and issues in Wyandotte County.
Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor and CEO Mark Holland came out of the primary last month with promising numbers, securing 40 percent of the vote compared to challenger David Alvey’s 32 percent.
The signs popping up around residential streets in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, however, suggest Alvey is gaining ground in the low-income neighborhoods surrounding City Hall.
“There’s a disconnect between local government and citizens,” says Kimberly Keith, a longtime resident of Wyandotte County. “Holland just cares about making a list of accomplishments that sound good on paper.”
This list of accomplishments includes dropping property taxes to their lowest rate in decades, economic development resulting in $2.8 billion in investments, increased government transparency and a plan to reduce blight. These, according to Holland’s campaign, are the kind of results citizens want.
But some voters in the county’s poorest neighborhoods aren’t convinced.
“He talks a good game, but I don’t see results,” says Cheryl Sostarich, who added that the mayor seems to care less about the poorer eastern part of the county than the wealthier western end.
That sentiment is common around Sostarich and Keith’s neighborhood. In a county with stark contrasts in development, income and quality of life, these residents can’t help but feel restless for change.
“The two ends of the county are completely different worlds,” says Lavana Contreras, a mother of six who's lived in downtown KCK for 15 years. “Legends (shopping district) keeps growing wealthier, it's always been that way. But that’s not what is happening over here. I feel like I’m getting left out.”
It’s not just what Holland isn’t doing that have residents turning to Alvey. His attempts to explicitly address problems facing poor neighborhoods are met with similar criticism.
“The mayor is always talking about ‘attractiveness,’” says Keith. “No one here cares about attractiveness. We care about our children being safe, about them having extracurricular activities.”
Complaints about the Unified Government overemphasizing development in the west are common in downtown KCK. But residents say the most urgent issue is figuring out how to help the neighborhood’s children.
“There is a really limited number of things for my kids to do,” says Contreras, echoing a sentiment shared by her neighbors. “There’s no parks, there’s busy streets, and it isn’t safe to let them run around. So they’re stuck inside and it’s not fair to them.”
Holland's supporters hope he can secure the funding required to start work on his slow-moving Downtown KCK Healthy Campus project before the election.
Holland has also talked about building a YMCA and grocery store downtown for years. But residents like Sostarich weren't even aware that Holland has pushed for those changes.
“I haven’t heard of that plan,” says Sostarich. “But it sounds fantastic. We could use something like that here.”
Keith agrees that the Healthy Campus sounds appealing.
“I’d need to know it’s more than just words,” she says. “I’ve heard a lot of good ideas tossed around before. People around here need to see it to believe it.”
Sam Danley is a UMKC student.