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High School Students Ask Kansas City Mayoral Hopefuls About Jobs, Homelessness

Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3
High school student Denisse Martinez speaks with attorney and mayoral candidate Steve Miller after a forum Wednesday evening at East High School.

A day after candidates could officially file for the chance to be the next mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, nine contenders made their cases at a forum organized by students at East High School on Van Brunt Boulevard. 

Unlike other debates and forums over the past few months, most of the questions Wednesday night came from people who won’t be old enough to cast a vote for mayor.

“This is now the sixth debate, I think, I’ve been involved in, and these are some of the best and the hardest questions we’ve had,” candidate Steve Miller said in his opening remarks.

The primary election to succeed current Mayor Sly James is five months away, and the list of candidates vying for the seat is still growing. Wednesday’s event included candidates who had formally announced at the time the event was being planned.

In addition to attorney Miller, the forum featured Kansas City Council members Quinton LucasScott WagnerAlissia Canady, Scott TaylorJermaine Reed, and Jolie Justus as well as businesswoman and community advocate Rita Berry, and Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn. Kansas City businessman Vincent Lee has also filed to run, but was not involved in Wednesday’s event.

The issues at the top of students’ minds were similar to themes from previous forums — economic development, housing, police and community relations, and snow removal.

Denisse Martinez, a junior at East, asked the panel how they would ensure public schools aren’t losing out on needed revenue when the city gives developers tax breaks.

“There should be more resources, there should be more programs, and I feel like you don’t have to be a businessperson, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or an investor to get those things started,” said Martinez, an aspiring business owner.

She said even though she won’t be old enough to vote in April, it’s important for the candidates to hear what young people are worried about.

Junior Benoit Bilombele wanted to hear what the candidates had to say about increasing homelessness in Kansas City.

At least a dozen kids raised their hands when asked if they knew someone who had experienced homelessness.

“Every time we’re trying to go outside, as kids, we see a lot of homeless people just standing around. They don’t have any place to live. And I really feel like what [the candidates] said stood out to us, and we believe that they will fix it,” Bilombele said.

He was especially excited to hear about plans to bring more businesses and jobs to the area.

The candidates, particularly the city council members, may have avoided controversy when time ran out before a final question about snow removal.

Kansas City Public Schools canceled classes three days in a row the last week of November over worries buses would not be able to handle ice-covered neighborhood streets.   

The nonpartisan primary election for mayor will be April 2, 2019. The general election between the two top vote-getters will be June 18, 2019.

Correction: An earlier version of this story omitted Jolie Justus from the list of candidates who participated in the forum. 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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