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Why Suburban Mayors Are Paying Attention To The Kansas City Mayoral Race

Lisa Rodriguez
KCUR 89.3
A the Old Shawnee Days carnival earlier this month, most Johnson County residents were unaware of the upcoming election in Kansas City, Missouri.

Tuesday is Election Day in Kansas City, Missouri. Voters will head to the polls to decide who will replace outgoing mayor Sly James as well as elect a new city council. Their decisions will determine the path Kansas City takes from here.

But drive 30 minutes outside Kansas City, and you might be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s been paying attention to the race.

Stella Ismail, who lives in western Shawnee and was enjoying the carnival at Old Shawnee Days earlier this month with her two teenage daughters, said she hadn’t heard anything about the mayoral race and she regretted that.

“I want to know what’s going on, right? Because my girls are young and you know there's a trickle-down effect with who we put in office,” Ismail said.

Credit Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Stella Ismael lives in western Shawnee, Kansas, with her two daughters. She says what happens in Kansas City, Missouri, affects her, but hadn't heard anything about the election.

Mayors in neighboring cities, however, are watching closely to see who will lead the city that anchors the region.

Looking for collaboration across State Line

Sitting in a conference room at his office in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson says the destiny of his city is intimately connected to Kansas City. 

“So many of our residents work in Kansas City, Missouri, and vice versa. We have shared amenities. You know, the airport that you're building is obviously heavily used by Prairie Village residents,” Mikkelson says.

Mikkelson says Prairie Village residents rely on Kansas City for entertainment and employment, and that he’d like to collaborate more on things like affordable housing and infrastructure.

Credit Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson hopes to collaborate with the next mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, on things like infrastructure and affordable housing.

“We, on the Johnson County side, meet fairly regularly amongst the mayors to talk about regional issues. Not as much, historically, with the Kansas City, Missouri mayor. I would love to change that,” he says.

Mikkelson says Prairie Village is also following Kansas City’s lead as it implements more sustainable features like electric car chargers and renewable energy.

Kansas City is “our brand”

Clear on the other side of the metro, Lee’s Summit Mayor Bill Baird says his constituents have a vested interest in seeing Kansas City succeed. He says what happens in Kansas City reflects on its neighbors.

“When someone travels from Lee’s Summit and we’re in another part of the nation somewhere and someone asks us where we’re from, I would say most people would say Kansas City because they know that that’s our brand,” Baird says.

Baird says even when it comes to economic development, he doesn’t see Kansas City, Missouri, as a competitor.

“When we look at competition I would prefer that we look to competition outside our region,” Baird says, adding that when a company from out of state decides to relocate to Kansas City, Missouri, that means job opportunities for Lee’s Summit residents as well.

Shared successes and shared challenges

Independence mayor Eileen Weir agrees that her city feels the effect when Kansas City is on a roll.

But, she says, along with sharing successes, the two cities also share challenges, particularly in the western part of Independence and the eastern side of Kansas City. 

Credit Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir says along with sharing Kansas City's successes, she shares its challenges.

“They're really meaningful neighborhoods to all of our communities. But they're faced with some challenges,” Weir says. “Some challenges of economic inequality, some challenges of disinvestment, challenges of crime.”

Weir says there are opportunities for Kansas City and Independence to collaborate on how to invest and promote economic development in those neighborhoods.

Addressing basic services like crime prevention will take a strong partnership between the cities and Jackson County, she says.

Those partnerships have paid off in the past. In 2007, Kansas City Public Schools transferred seven schools to the Independence School district.  Weir says that put a lot of pressure on the district in her city.

“I'm very proud to say that ten years later, every one of those schools that we continued to use have really thrived,” Weir says.

Weir says many families whose kids attend Independence schools today are still Kansas City residents.

That's just one way in which the metro area's boundaries tend to blur. Regardless of whether residents of the metro area live — or just work and play — in Kansas City, the people who get elected on Tuesday will influence everyone's lives.

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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