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In Kansas City Mayoral Race, Three Very Different Visions

Transit advocate Clay Chastain, left, Mayor Sly James, and Vincent 'The General' Lee take questions at a League of Women Voters mayoral candidate forum.
Elle Moxley
Transit advocate Clay Chastain, left, Mayor Sly James, and Vincent 'The General' Lee take questions at a League of Women Voters mayoral candidate forum.

All three candidates in the race for Kansas City, Mo., mayor answered questions at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday Night.

Mayor Sly James will face challengers Clay Chastain and Vincent Lee in the primary April 7. 

James has more than $400,000 in campaign contributions on hand, a virtually limitless war chest when Chastain and Lee only reported "limited activity" to the Missouri Ethics Commission, which by law indicates less than $500 in spending.

Chastain's name will be familiar to voters because of his failed light rail initiatives, including one last summer he contends James and others in City Hall effectively killed when they required a change in ballot language.

Lee, who calls himself "The General," picked up about a dozen votes in a write-in campaign for mayor in the '90s.

Here's what the candidates had to say about the big issues facing Kansas City's future. (Their responses appear in the order they answered the question.)

On their top three priorities ...

  • Chastain says his top priority if elected is "an honest, open government the people respect." He says his No. 2 priority is making the city a safer place to live. He's also proposing a regional, multi-modal regional transit system built around light rail.
  • James' No. 1 priority is continuing Turn the Page KC, a project focused on children's literacy. Like Chastain, he says his next biggest concern is public safety, and he'll continue working to bring down crime rates through the No Violence Alliance. Finally, he says it's time to focus on job creation throughout the city.
  • "My top priority is to make sure people in Kansas City will have those (union) contracts," which Lee says have been pushed out of the city. Next, he wants to address the city's indigent population who lack access to health care and other basic services. Finally, he says it's time to improve public education in Kansas City.

On keeping the American Royal in Missouri ...

  • James: "There is a serious dispute about whether the American Royal creates that kind of economic activity. ... Whatever we do with the American Royal, it has to be something that fits into the entire scheme of the West Bottoms."
  • Lee: "If we're going to do anything with the American Royal, they have to come to the table and labor, and work, and show us they're willing to stay in Kansas City, not bulldog the people around. I love Kemper Arena for its historical significance."
  • Chastain: "I say we don't keep the American Royal. That proposal they offered that was backed and signed by all of the elite? If they want to fund a new facility for the American Royal, let them do that. The taxpayers aren't going to do that."

On sewers and basic infrastructure ...

  • Chastain: "We don't want to spend all of our capital on having the best sewers in the world. Brand new sewers, that's not going to bring people to Kansas City. We want to focus on a project that's going to make the city more attractive to the outside world, bring people in, jobs in. Then we have an expanded supply of revenue with which to take on our infrastructure."
  • James: "The problem is the can of infrastructure has been kicked down the road for so many years by so many times that now we have a $6 billion backlog. We have to care what our sewers are like because the federal government has us on a 25-year unfunded mandate of overflow control. So we don't have a choice here."
  • Lee: "Everybody knows your water bill's tripled. It's out of control. They say they need more money to take care of infrastructure. Do they really need it? Or are they just saying it?"

On a new Kansas City International Airport ...

  • Lee: "I participated in that study they had, and my recommendation was to build a new airport. ... We need to move that airport where the bulk of the city lies, in Jackson County."
  • Chastain: "I'm an engineer. That airport was built 45 years ago. Can you imagine the difference between a Ford Pinto and Ford Focus right now? You've got security, you've got efficiencies, you've got all kinds of issues that can be resolved with a new airport, especially if it's integrated into a brand new light rail train system. We'd have the only one in the nation."
  • James: "I'm going to take my cue from the airlines because we're landlords. ... They want something different. The one thing they said is, nothing is not an option. There have to be some changes. We're not building an airport for today. We're building an airport for the next 40 years."
Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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