The Up To Date Guide To Kansas City's Mayoral Election
On April 2, residents of Kansas City, Missouri, will cast their votes on a slate of candidates in the mayoral primary, narrowing the field to two candidates ahead of the general election on June 18.
Residents will also be asked to vote for city council members, and to weigh in on a plan proposed by outgoing Mayor Sly James to fund pre-kindergarten education with a ⅜ cents sales tax that would generate $30 million a year for the next ten years.
Over the last two months, KCUR's Up to Date host Steve Kraske asked nine of the 11 candidates running for mayor about their own priorities, their views on James' pre-K plan and how they would address other pressing issues including crime and affordable housing. (Kraske did not interview Clay Chastain because he does not live in Kansas City, or Vincent Lee, who does not appear to be running a credible campaign.)
Here are highlights of those conversations, along with links to the entire interviews.
Has lived in Kansas City: his whole life
Occupation: Lawyer, former chairman of Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission
Spoke with Up to Date on Jan. 15
Miller chaired the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission for seven years. He says this experience prepared him well to serve as mayor, a role he says functions similarly.
On services and infrastructure: Miller says the ability to provide such services reflects an administration’s response to larger issues. “If we’re going to be a credible voice for things such as education and crime,” he says, “the mayor and the city council and the city manager have got to get the basics right first.” At MoDOT, he says, “we found that we could more efficiently deploy services by planning in advance from storms and getting resources from outside our region to come in.”
On James’ pre-K tax plan: Miller likes the goal but is not sure about the means. “I think the idea of pre-K education is absolutely essential,” he says. “I’m going to be sorting through this over the next few weeks, like all the voters.”
On Kansas City’s main issues: Miller says there are two. For the mayor and city council, it’s the airport, and for the city’s community as a whole, it’s crime. To tackle crime, he says, the city will need “all hands on deck,” with tactics such as community policing and de-escalation. He wants to work with community non-profits and faith leaders and other cities. “I’m going to reach out to the mayor of St. Louis and even Springfield to see that our urban interests, which are unique, are represented in Jefferson City.”
On affordable housing: Achieving economically integrated affordable housing and dealing with aging housing on the city’s east side, he says, “can’t be accomplished by government alone. It needs smart partnership with business and development.”
In 2011, Reed became Kansas City’s youngest-ever city councilman at 25; now, at 34, he says his age is an asset rather than a liability in his bid for mayor.
On revitalizing historic Kansas City: As councilman, Reed has focused on redeveloping the 18th and Vine area, helping to secure $17 million for two phases of renovations.He says his work here reflects what would be his holistic approach to the city’s redevelopment: “I want to make sure that we’re investing in all areas of our community, whether … in downtown or other areas, but making sure that we’re discussing greater economic development opportunities for all neighborhoods in this entire city.”
On James’ pre-K tax plan: Reed opposes it. “We have to explore better ways to fund pre-K and not this regressive tax that … is against our low-income residents, and put in place accountability to make sure that we’re … making the investments that certainly are needed.”
On affordable housing: Reed supports a proposed $75 million trust fund to tackle affordable housing, but says it should be up to voters. He also has personal experience with the issue. “We were homeless,” he says. His family lived for a time at Community Link, he says, “and my mom raised my brothers and I to make sure that we would escape poverty here in Kansas City….so when we start talking about this, this is not just a buzzword for me.”
On crime: “Do we need more police officers? Yes. But we also need to ensure… that every area… is actually covered in this entire city.” Changing the crime rate “requires a culture shift and a change and people want to make sure that… there is someone that’s been intentional about addressing that.”
Has lived in Kansas City: 30+ years
Occupation: Branch Manager for Bank of America at 63rd and Prospect
Spoke with Up to Date on Jan. 29
Klein has run for mayor of Kansas City twice, and calls himself an underdog. “The positions I’m going to take are going to be underdog positions,” he says. “They’re going to be from an outsider’s point of view instead of an insider’s point of view.”
On policing: Klein notes that Kansas City is the only major United States city without a locally controlled police department (Kansas City’s is run by a board of commissioners appointed by the governor). He would like to change this. “If I have a representative who is my local commissioner… if I’m able to go to that person and say, ‘Look here’s the problems we’re having here,’ I can have a greater expectation that that person’s going to go back to the board and try to implement some of those concerns, whereas I don’t have a sense that that’s happening now.”
On schools and James’ pre-K tax: Klein says Lebron James’ public I Promise school in Akron, Ohio, which provides career and educational support for parents as well as students, could be a model for Kansas City schools. He says the mayor is too much of a figurehead when it comes to education, and that he would be more actively involved. Klein says he will likely vote no on James’ pre-K plan: “The methodology is completely wrong… I am very against any more additions to sales tax… it hurts the poor more than anybody.”
On affordable housing: Klein cites his experience as board president for Kansas City Habitat for Humanity. He believes in a “block-by-block” approach: rehabilitating abandoned houses or those that need repair, then selling them and using the funds to rehabilitate other blocks.
Has lived in Kansas City: the first five years of her life, came back for law school and stayed
Occupation: Fourth District councilwoman, director of pro bono services for Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP
Spoke with Up to Date on Feb. 6
A former minority leader in the Missouri Senate, Justus says her experience negotiating in Jefferson City will serve her well in office. “I really learned how to drop assumptions and then just make sure to listen and try to meet in the middle.”
On James’ pre-K tax plan: Justus is a strong supporter. As a legislator, she says, she quickly learned that “what you do between ages zero and five is very important and a lot of the long-term issues we’re talking about in this city can be addressed by making sure that kids are kindergarten-ready.” She adds that the money won’t come from the federal or state level, so it’s up to the city. And to critics who say the sales tax is regressive: “When we are using the vast majority of this funding to help the poorest in our society… that is worth it.”
On KCI: Justus says when James first asked what she wanted to work on, she told him “anything but the airport.” Now she calls herself “a huge and passionate supporter” of the plan to build a new single terminal. “We need a new front door to our community,” she says. “All of our businesses and potential businesses who are looking at Kansas City say we need to get this done.”
On affordable housing: “There’s not one answer to the whole problem, obviously.” But, she says, “a trust fund is a good idea…. I’m going to be folding out a plan soon that has some ideas on how to get money into that, and substantive money.”
Has lived in Kansas City: since he was twelve
Occupation: Sixth District councilman
Spoke with Up to Date on Feb. 12
Taylor says he has knocked on more than 30,000 doors since January 2018. Now, in his second term as councilman, he wants to build on the progress he says he’s made over the last eight years.
On expansion of the street car vs. the riverfront: He’s hopeful about the latter. “It’s more likely that we’ll see the riverfront expansion (instead of the street car in the next year) because it’s a smaller segment and that can be privately financed by Port KC,” he says. “II think the riverfront will be built out in the next 5-10 years and we could include some affordable housing or workforce housing on the riverfront.”
On how he will differ from James: Taylor says collaboration is key, not just locally but regionally. He cites his leadership of “Tobacco 21” efforts, which pushed to raise the age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21 and reduce teen smoking. Twenty-two other municipalities followed suit. “Kansas City needs to continue that regional leadership, just as we’ve done so well in the past,” Taylor says.
On reducing violent crime: When the last budget increased the current number of police officers, Taylor was an advocate. He has several propositions, including community policing efforts, KC Nova-like programs, stricter gun-control laws, and better tip hotlines.
On affordable housing: “The key is to find a way to finance that local fund. If we have our own local fund we can encourage two, three, four, or five times what’s happening now.” But he’s not sure if the $75 million trust fund currently up for debate is the right answer.
On James’ pre-K tax plan: He supports the plan, but is worried that the proposal needed more time to get all the school districts on board.
Has lived in Kansas City: since he was four years old (left for college)
Occupation: First District councilman and Mayor Pro Tem
Spoke with Up to Date on Feb. 20
In 2011, feeling limited in his capacity as president of the Indian Mound neighborhood association, Wagner decided to run for city council. He’s the city’s Mayor Pro Tem and the mayoral race’s only Northland candidate.
On his plan to raise money for affordable housing: Wagner remembers talk during his last term of a $5 million fund that “nobody jumped onto.” So how will the city finance the proposed $75 million fund? If affordable housing “is important to this community, this community will have to pay for it,” he says. Wagner proposes a property tax increase of $5 million — saying that is “pretty modest” and “not regressive.” This would be on the ballot in November 2019. He says the tax is not enough to fund affordable housing on its own, but hopes it would encourage other private sources to step forward and help.
On violent crime: Wagner says 2013 was a model year, with the lowest number of homicides in 30 years at only 82. He attributes that to “the bad guys” knowing something bad would happen to them. He says people don’t expect to go jail for long, and that the city needs to have a conversation about the possibility of a new jail. Overall, though, “there is no new program that’s going to save the city.” He says current solutions to crime in Kansas City are not community-based enough.
On how he would differ from James: Wagner says he would be more collaborative. “As mayor my job is to figure out what is the objective of each council person coming into office… to figure out what they want to accomplish and to understand that very early.”
Has lived in Kansas City: since childhood (left for law school)
Occupation: Fifth District councilwoman
Spoke with Up to Date on Feb. 26
It took nine years for Canady to put herself through college by running a nail business, and two and a half more to get her law degree in South Dakota, where she was one of three African-American students in her class. As a mayoral candidate, she is committed to reducing violent crime.
On gun violence: Canady’s cousin was killed in October. She says this puts her in the same position as many Kansas City residents. “We can no longer tolerate thousands of families enduring this kind of hardship every year,” she says. “It’s unacceptable.” She says services to address hopelessness, mental illness and substance abuse need to remain funded instead of diverting money from mental health and schools, and the police force needs to be increased. None of this is negotiable, she says. “Yes we want to have a robust downtown but it doesn’t matter if we’re the sixth-deadliest city in the country.”
On James' pre-K tax plan: “They’re looking at the wrong funding sources to try to achieve the objectives.” She says the pre-K plan is a regressive tax that hurts the people it’s trying to help. She says education would be better funded with a property tax mill levy, which Kansas City Public Schools hasn’t had in more than 60 years.
On KCI: Canady voted no on the council’s proposal for a new single airport terminal. “I think we’ve rushed through it because there have been people who are very adamant about making sure that something happens. And I think that we have missed a lot of opportunities in the process to ensure this project was transformative and it would definitely have an impact on all parts of Kansas City.”
Has lived in Kansas City: his whole life (left for college)
Occupation: Owns a business with his wife that finances economic development projects in American Indian communities
Spoke with Up to Date on March 7
Glynn made news in 2015 when, as a member of the TIF commission, he voted against a Crossroads headquarters for the BNIM architecture firm. James removed him from the commission. He says this experience is what led him to run for mayor. What Kansas Citians want, he says, is help for communities “experiencing real blight,” and the Crossroads didn’t qualify.
On having no prior experience in elected office: Glynn says Kansas City should be run by a small-business owner who will focus on neighborhood-level success. He didn’t run for city council first, he says, because that’s not his approach to politics. “You identify the problem that you want to solve. You imagine the impact you want to see on your own community. And then you run for whatever office you would need to have in order to have that impact.”
On his priorities: He says he’s a “basic services kind of guy” -- pick up the trash, fix the potholes, clear the snow -- but also have a conversation about the underlying infrastructure issues. “We need to build a system of public transportation that gets our workers safely and efficiently to the job on time … the transit systems we have right now are not built around where our employment centers are.”
On reducing violent crime: Glynn’s wife was robbed at gunpoint last year by a young man, which led him to believe that “we need to be a community that wraps our arms around every member of this younger generation.” In the short term, this means more officers on the streets and expanding funding for social workers in patrol stations. Long term, he says, it means recognizing the link between crime and economic issues such as lack of affordable housing, jobs, and basic city services and crime.
Has lived in Kansas City: since childhood
Occupation: Third District councilman at large
Spoke with Up to Date on March 12
Lucas’ childhood nickname was “The Little Professor.” After returning from law school at Cornell, he decided “there’s no reason why somebody nicknamed the professor… shouldn’t be an elected official.”
On growing up homeless: “When I was a child I didn’t recognize how stressful it was.” This was partly because he attended Barstow preparatory school in south Kansas City. But that added stresses of its own. “I remember being a third or fourth grader who thought that I didn’t sound proper, and so tried my best to work the aints out of my speech and some of the other phraseology I had. When I think about it now, (that) kind of breaks my heart because … I thought I needed to lose some part of my identity and character to succeed.”
On rehabilitating the East Side: He rejects the claim that the government doesn’t invest enough on the East Side, and he says the phrase is too narrow anyway. ”When I talk about how to help the East Side what I’m really talking about is how to help poor people anywhere in Kansas City,” he says. He says he’s glad to see the city’s development conversation shift away from just downtown.
On violent crime: “We’ve let ourselves get too used to it.” He advocates a public health approach and favors intervention and community policing. “It’s not so much that we don’t want the police. It’s that we want the police in a positive environment and a friendly way.” He’d like to see the police department return to city control.
On James’ pre-K tax plan: Lucas will vote no because every Kansas City public school district opposes it. “When the school district is doing its best, probably in a generation, I do not think we should work outside them.”
KCUR hosts a Mayoral Town Hall: Millennial Edition, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19 at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, Missouri 64108. Tickets to a reception prior to the event are $12.
Sonia Schlesinger is an intern at KCUR 89.3. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.