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Meet the candidates vying to fill Kansas City's 5th District At-Large seat

 Composite photo of two men facing each other talking at microphones inside a radio studio.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Candidates for Kansas City's 5th District At-Large seat, Michael Kelley, left, and Darrell Curls, right, talk about their race for the seat vacated by Lee Barnes, Jr.

The open seat is being vacated by Lee Barnes, Jr., who is term-limited out. Voters will choose between Michael Kelley, a political newcomer, and former Hickman Mills school board member Darrell Curls.

Kansas City voters will choose a new 5th District at Large City Council representative in the June 20 election, as current Council member Lee Barnes Jr. is term-limited out.

Michael Kelley and Darrell Curls are the two candidates vying for that seat after beating former Jackson County legislator Teresa Cass Galvin in a close April primary. Kelley earned 33.6% of votes; Curls netted 35.7%.

Curls said his involvement with neighborhoods and his experience serving on city and school boards has given him the foundation to become a council member.

“I'm running to help improve the quality of life of all Kansas Citians and make Kansas City a world class city,” Curls said.

Kelley said his daughters inspired him to run, adding that he’s already brought policies and projects through City Council.

“When I look at all of the challenges that we face, I've increasingly found myself saying that I can't sit on the sidelines,” he said. “I'm running for City Council to do my part to try to make Kansas City a better place for my daughters and for everyone who calls Kansas City home.”

Kelley is the policy director for BikeWalkKC, a nonprofit that advocates for safer streets.

Curls was formerly a member of the Hickman Mills School Board and served on several city boards and commissions.

Candidates in at-large races are selected by voters throughout the city.

Kelley has endorsements from KC Tenants Power, Sunrise Movement KC, Pro-Choice Missouri and Moms Demand Action.

Curls is endorsed by the Citizens Association, Northland Strong, Freedom, Inc. and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Affordable housing and reparations

Kelley said the city’s definition of an affordable housing unit — about $1,200 for one bedroom — needs to be changed to address the current shortage of affordable housing.

“Right now it's based on a regional definition that includes places like Johnson County,” he said. “I think we should come up with something that is more Kansas City-focused, and I'll push for that if elected.”

Kelley said he also wants to change zoning laws so it's easier to build smaller apartment buildings such as duplexes or fourplexes.

Curls said he believes the city should use the Housing Trust Fund to build more affordable housing. Voters in November approved a $50 million bond for the fund.

“It's a good opportunity that has probably not been really used to its full advantage,” Curls said.

Both Curls and Kelley supported the Commission on Reparations, which recently began studying the idea of reparations for Black Kansas Citians. Curls would not say whether he supports reparations in the form of cash payments.

Kelley said the city should consider cash payments, along with programs that create opportunities for Black Kansas Citians.

Violent crime and policing

Kansas City has seen 78 homicides so far this year, outpacing the last two years.

Kelley traces the city’s violent crime to a lack of resources such as food, housing, education and jobs.

“The vast majority of folks are committing these crimes not because they want to do it but because they feel they have no other opportunity,” he said. “It is our obligation as a city council to work to address those issues to make people whole and ultimately to prevent those crimes from occurring.”

Kelley said the city should increase funding to organizations working on violence prevention and use the courts to go after “bad actors.” Kelley said he supports Kansas City regaining local control of its police department. Kansas City is the only major U.S. city whose police department is under state control.

“I don't think enforcement alone is going to be the right approach,” Kelley said.

“We need to be using as many resources as possible to inform the community about the harms of dangerous things, such as speeding and shooting and how that leads to deadly outcomes like what we saw this morning,” Kelley said, referring to a deadly shooting on I-670, in what is commonly known as the downtown loop.

Curls said he also supports local control of the Kansas City Police Department.

Kelley countered that despite Curls’ vocal support, he’s endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, which supports the current structure of state oversight.

Curls responded by saying Kelley is endorsed by groups that have advocated for defunding the police.

“I am not in favor of defunding the police,” Curls said. “I am in favor of local control. I believe local control gives an opportunity for citizens to have better control and input in regards to the police department and especially in regards to their budget.”

Kelley said he doesn’t support defunding the police, nor does he support hiring more officers and giving the KCPD more funding above the 25% required by the state.

“We're giving them that money and we have no control over how that funding is spent after the fact,” Kelley said. “I find it very difficult to believe that they can increasingly ask for more money and still not find a way to hire more officers.”

Curls also advocated for more programs for young people as a way to reduce crime. Curls said local control would mean more community engagement that can help stop crime.

“You have to have neighborhoods involved, you have to have businesses involved,” he said. ”Without local control, we don't have a say in regards to how that looks and what happens in regards to our community.”

Downtown Baseball

Curls and Kelley were split on support for a potential downtown baseball stadium for the Kansas City Royals. It’s still unclear where such a stadium would go or how much it would cost city taxpayers.

Curls said he’s undecided on supporting or opposing a downtown stadium. Kelley said right now, he’s opposed to the idea.

“We don't know the full value of the project,” Kelley said. “We also don't have clarification on how it aligns with city goals, especially related to infrastructure and sustainability.”

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As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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