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Tyrone Garner elected first Black mayor of Kansas City, Kansas

Tyrone Garner talks with media following his election night victory for Mayor of Wyandotte Unified Government on Tuesday night.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Former Kansas City, Kansas, deputy police chief Tyrone Garner mounted an energetic general election campaign on a platform of changing the status quo.

First-time candidate Tyrone Garner defeated one-term incumbent David Alvey to win election as mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Wyandotte County voters sent a message Tuesday that they want change, as they elected former deputy police chief Tyrone Garner to replace incumbent David Alvey as the Unified Government mayor.

Garner received 51% of the vote to Alvey’s 49%, in final unofficial results Tuesday night. It was a relatively low-turnout local election, with 18.5% percent of registered voters submitting ballots.

Garner becomes the first Black mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, according to records going back to 1886. The city and Wyandotte County consolidated governments in 1997.

He was effusive Tuesday night in thanking the voters.

"I want to thank Wyandotte County," he said at a press conference. "You all really stepped up because you wanted to see change."

Garner said his campaign was dedicated to the idea that "we could re-imagine things in Wyandotte County together," and he is committed to leading in a different way, "to make sure that not so much what I want but the will of the people is being met."

Garner said at public appearances that he had not initially planned to run for mayor, but many community members urged him to do so.

“I am a forward thinker that wants to be a unifying force to facilitate opportunity, equity and hope,” he said in an email to KCUR.

Alvey had surprised many when he was elected in 2017, defeating then-mayor Mark Holland. During this year’s campaign, he argued the county had made significant economic development progress during his first term. He said he had led the community responsibly, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Garner won a five-person primary in August, and he mounted an energetic general election campaign on a platform of changing the status quo.

Garner said the Unified Government wasn’t doing enough to help small businesses, average taxpayers and neglected neighborhoods east of Interstate 635. He promised to provide more responsive, pro-active leadership.

“Ask yourself, are you better off now than you were when Mayor Alvey took office?” Garner asked at a KCK Chamber debate on Oct. 27. “You can have engaged leadership. You can have someone that cares about you.”

He called for performance audits of county government and the Board of Public Utilities, to look for ways to cut costs and reduce taxes and utility bills.

Other priorities included streamlining development regulations, providing resource help centers for small business and seeking solutions to food deserts.

Garner joined the Kansas City, Kansas, police department right out of high school in 1987 and rose through the ranks to retire as deputy chief in June 2019. He also served on the KCK Community College Board and on the KCK Housing Authority Board. He said he would bring 32 years of public service experience to county government.

One issue that cast a long shadow over the campaign was alleged corruption in the Kansas City, Kan., police department. A federal grand jury is investigating former Detective Roger Golubski, who retired in 2010 but stands accused of using his badge to exploit and rape Black women in Wyandotte County.

Alvey said the Unified Government has cooperated fully with the investigation of Golubski but that legal counsel had advised him not to talk about the case.

Despite the fact that he was on the police force for decades, Garner insisted he knew nothing about Golubski’s alleged wrongdoing before it became public.

When asked about Golubski at the Oct. 27 chamber debate, Garner replied, “The person you are talking about started in 1975, when I was 6 years old. I came on the police dept. in 1987 as a cadet, right out of high school. I got into management as a deputy chief in 2015. The person you are talking about retired in 2010.”

Garner said that during his time on the force he personally stood for honor and integrity.

“As a detective, and in internal affairs, I actually brought cases that got officers fired, got officers severely disciplined,” Garner said. “As a manager when I moved up the ranks, any cases, any incidents of impropriety that I knew about, the record is there.”

Alvey said he was disappointed in the result but his commitment to the community remains.

"I have no regrets about how I have led in the past four years, especially through COVID, especially through the challenges of the death of Mr. (George) Floyd," Alvey said in a Zoom call with reporters.

Alvey, who has run for office three times, couldn't pinpoint a specific reason for Tuesday's result but said the mood of the electorate was very different this time, in part because of COVID-19 and also because of the negativity in national politics.

"There was far more. I want to say anger, a lot of confrontation, more than we ever experienced before," Alvey said. "People are in a foul mood, frankly."

Updated: November 2, 2021 at 9:48 PM CDT
This story was updated with comments from Garner and Alvey following the final unofficial results.
Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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