Independence mayor squeaks past a conservative challenger, faces uphill battle for a third term
Missouri Democratic Rep. Rory Rowland received the most votes out of the six candidates in the mayoral primary. Rowland and incumbent mayor Eileen Weir will face off in the general election in April.
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir will get a chance at a third term in office, after edging out a conservative challenger by just over 100 votes.
In what ended up being a tight primary race among half of the six candidates running for mayor, Weir and Missouri Democratic Rep. Rory Rowland received the two highest vote totals and will advance to the general election on April 5.
Rowland received the largest share of the vote, nearly 30% of the more than 8,600 ballots cast, according to unofficial election results. The Missouri representative received 614 more votes than Weir. She received about 23% of the vote, beating Colleen Huff — who ran on conservative politics in the nonpartisan race — by only 106 votes.
Nearly three-quarters of Tuesday’s vote total were split among Rowland, Weir and Huff.
Brice Stewart, who works in Jackson County’s IT department and is a part-time officer in Lawson, Missouri, received nearly 12% of the vote. Holmes Osborne, who runs an investment firm, garnered about 8.5% and. Kenneth Love, who was critical of leadership at City Hall, received 6% of the vote.
If Weir wins in April, she will move into her third term as mayor. But, after barely eking out a win in Tuesday’s primary, she faces an uphill battle before April’s general election.
In addition to resident dissatisfaction with high utility bills, crime and homlessness, Weir is also associated with several controversies at City Hall.
Voter turnout for Tuesday’s primary election was at 13.5%, according to unofficial results.
Residents also voted in the primary for an at-large council seat. In the city’s at-large council race, current council members Karen Deluccie and Mike Huff will advance to the general election. Mike Huff is not related to Colleen Huff.
The top candidates
Weir, who was first elected mayor in 2014, campaigned on what she said was the city’s progress during her time in office. She touted her leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, particularly in pushing the Mid-America Regional Council to create a group of local elected officials to coordinate the regional response to the pandemic. Weir also touted economic development projects as part of her re-election campaign.
Rowland is a consultant and was first elected to the Missouri statehouse in 2015; his district includes parts of Jackson County and Kansas City. Drawing on his history of working in leadership positions of two credit unions, Rowland serves as the ranking minority member of the House Financial Institutions Committee. In his campaign, Rowland championed ethics reform, campaign finance limits and term limits for the Independence mayor.
Colleen Huff embraced conservative Republican values in her campaign. Her policy priorities included reducing crime in Independence and fighting mask and vaccine mandates. Huff was also critical of government spending in Independence and supported an audit of city finances.
Weir entered Tuesday’s primary having easily outraised and outspent all of her opponents combined. Missouri Ethics Commission filings show Weir raised $152,188 and spent $119,675 as of late January, the most recent campaign finance records available.
By contrast, Stewart raised $14,973 and spent $12,428 over the same period as Weir. Rowland raised $9,615 and spent $4,976. Huff raised $6,785 and spent $3,820. Osborne raised $5,245 and spent $4,661. Love raised $5,513 and spent $4,465.
Controversies shaping campaign
The primary election took place against a backdrop of controversies plaguing the Independence government.
Last week, the city announced it would hire a third party to investigate potential abuse of overtime pay in the Independence Police Department. A whistleblower alerted city officials about a police department employee logging 2,800 overtime hours in 2021 — netting about $160,000 in extra pay — to do renovation work at the police department headquarters, according to several reports.
There has also been a long-running FBI investigation involving city contracts. The Kansas City Star reported in 2020 that a federal grand jury issued subpoenas for several Independence records. Some of the materials sought by the grand jury involved minutes to Independence City Council meetings where two controversial city projects were discussed.
One was the 2017 contract to decommission Independence Power & Light’s power plant in Missouri City. In that deal, the city council decided to award Environmental Operations, a St. Louis firm, nearly $10 million to tear down the power plant, even though another bidder offered to do it for about half that amount. The city’s advisory board that oversees the city-owned utility company had recommended against giving the St. Louis firm the contract.
The other deal was the city’s acquisition of the former Rockwood Golf Course in 2017. The city paid $985,000 to Titan Fish, a real estate firm run by businessman Joseph Campbell, who just weeks before had bought the property for $550,000. The city then decided a solar farm was the best use for the former golf course.
Weir received several campaign donations from political action committees tied to former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley, days ahead of the city’s vote on the Rockwood acquisition. Tilley, now a prominent lobbyist in Missouri, counts Independence Power & Light and the company that operates the solar farm at Rockwood, among his clients.
Weir has denied any wrongdoing in connection to the donations.
Campbell in 2020 submitted an offer to buy and refashion the soon-to-be-shuttered Independence Power & Light’s Blue Valley Power Plant. Two council members, Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson, told the Star they had reservations about doing business with anyone who might be the subject to an FBI investigation.
Campbell, who runs a real estate and investment firm called Titan Fish, sued Independence and the two council members and Independence for defamation. Campbell’s deposition testimony in that lawsuit surfaced recently and revealed that he was interviewed by agents of the FBI and Internal Revenue Service last summer about several topics, mostly the Missouri City and Rockwood deals. Campbell testified that his involvement in the investigation was as a witness.
Weir has given her own deposition in the Campbell lawsuit, but asked a judge to seal it. The Star has asked the judge to unseal her testimony, a motion that the Jackson County judge presiding over the case has not ruled on.