Kansas City election guide: Meet the 2023 in-district candidates for City Council
The April 4 election is the first under redrawn Kansas City Council districts, which means residents may be voting in a different district than they have in the past. Several races, while non-partisan, have become heated and intense.
Over the next few weeks, Kansas City voters will narrow the field of City Council hopefuls in the April 4 primary that determines which candidates advance to the June 20 general election. No-excuse absentee voting starts Tuesday, March 21.
The council that will be sworn in in August will look drastically different from the current group — all 12 Council seats are on the ballot, and six of the 12 current Council members are term-limited out.
In the primary, voters will choose their preferred candidate in six at-large (citywide) council races and their top in-district candidate for where they live.
The top two vote-getters in each race advance to the general election. If there are only two candidates for a particular seat, each candidate automatically advances to the general election.
This year’s most pressing issues involve the desperate need for affordable housing, solutions to homelessness, proposals to address the alarming homicide and violent crime rate, a sensible approach to development incentives and strategies to improve basic services and neighborhood livability.
It’s the first council election under Kansas City’s redistricting from the 2020 Census, so the six council boundaries look substantially different from the last council election in 1999. That means residents may be voting in a different district than they have in the past.
Here’s a rundown of the in-district races — a citywide voter guide is available here.
This is an open seat as Heather Hall is term-limited out.
Nathan Willett is a Park Hill School District math teacher who previously taught in the Kansas City Public Schools. His priorities include improved infrastructure and basic services, ensuring that public safety services include mental health professionals, and prioritizing affordable housing policies that keep families together and reduce student transience.
As of his most recent campaign finance report, Willett has $18,476 on hand, and he mostly received contributions from individual donors. His largest donor, attorney Larry McMullen, gave $1,100.
Chris Gahagan spent his legal career representing school districts and injured individuals. He has been active in the Northland Chamber and Clay County Economic Development Council and is endorsed by many labor groups. He was appointed in 2020 to the Clay County Constitutional Charter Commission to help clean up county government. The commission drafted a new Clay County Constitution that voters overwhelmingly approved.
According to his most recent campaign finance report, Gahagan has $63,210.43 on hand. He received donations from a combination of individual donors, businesses and political action committees, including Richard Chaves Jr., chairman of the Northland Strong PAC and Management Director of PCAKC, a parking company.
This is an open seat as Dan Fowler is term-limited out.
Wes Rogers is running unopposed. He served as a Democrat in the Missouri House from 2019 to 2023, representing District 18, which includes part of the Northland.
As of his latest campaign finance report, Rogers has $41,003.92 on hand.
Sheri Hall is a local poet and author. She is the founder of Arsyn Spit Fire, an open mic held in Midtown, and the chief executive officer of Poetry for Personal Power, a trauma and resiliency organization that explores the intersection between mental health and the arts. Hall says some of the biggest issues facing Kansas City are public safety and the redirection of housing and infrastructure funds from her district. If elected, Hall says she will investigate why adequate funds aren’t going to the third district. Hall says she would also address public safety by increasing access to mental health resources and building opportunities for housing, jobs and training.
Per her Missouri Ethics Commission report, Hall has $330 on hand.
Melissa Robinson (incumbent) is seeking a second term in City Hall. She is the president of the Black Health Care Coalition, a former president of the Kansas City Public Schools board and former director of crisis intervention with the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. She recently sponsored legislation in support of a commission to explore reparations for Black Kansas Citians.
Robinson says one of the most important issues Kansas City faces is poverty, which she says can lead to crime, violence and despair. If re-elected, she plans to address those issues through a seven-point plan called “Opportunity KC” with ways to address economic stability in neighborhoods with the highest levels of poverty. Building a blight and trash remediation program with neighborhood oversight and connecting utility-burdened households to broadband are a part of the plan.
Robinson has nearly $21,000 on hand as of her February 23 campaign finance report. Most of her contributions came from individual donors, but Robinson also received donations from HCA Political PAC, POL PAC, Bank of Labor, the Greater Kansas City Building & Construction Trade Council, and Polsinelli Law Firm.
Eric Bunch (incumbent) is running for his second term as 4th District Councilman. He’s supported legislative reform for Kansas City’s short-term rental program. He’s an advocate for pedestrian safety and public transit and was a co-founder of BikeWalkKC. Bunch says one of the greatest issues facing Kansas City is keeping housing affordable and encouraging housing where people have easy access to transit, jobs, amenities and daily necessities. If re-elected, Bunch says he would work to continue the city’s investments in transit, walkability, public spaces and deeply affordable housing focused on mixed-income developments.
According to his most recent Missouri Ethics Commission Report, Bunch has more than $40,000 on hand. Most of his donations come from individual donors. He has received donations from the Operating Engineers Local 101 Political Action Committee, Wiles Capital LLC, Macy Consulting Services, Boys Hill LLC and EPC Real Estate Group.
Crissy Dastrup founded Troost Market Collective and is currently chair of its board. She is also the vice president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. Dastrup served as the legislative aide to Eric Bunch, but left after two years. Dastrup says the greatest issue facing Kansas City is the lack of affordable housing. If elected, Dastrup says she will work to create city systems to support the unhoused — including transitional housing and services. She says she would also explore options to rent control and ways to build housing with rents around $650 per month.
Dastrup has more than $5,700 on hand, according to her February 23 campaign finance report. While most of her donations come from individual donors, Dastrup has also received donations from West Bottoms Whiskey, Mike’s Wine and Spirits, Print Tekk and TransSystems Corporation. (Disclosure: Dastrup is a member of KCUR’s RadioActive committee.)
Henry Rizzo served as a Missouri state representative from 1986-2003 and in the Jackson County Legislature until 2006. Rizzo says the greatest issues facing Kansas City are public safety and short-term rentals. If elected, Rizzo says he would push for community policing and more police officers. He says he wants short-term rentals to be forced to register and be responsible to the neighborhoods in which they are located. He would also want to put a three-strike policy in place where short-term rental owners would be banned from doing business after multiple issues.
Rizzo has nearly $37,000 on hand according to his latest Missouri Ethics Commission report, which includes a donation from the Public Safety Concern Political Action Committee.
Ryana Parks-Shaw (incumbent) started her first term on the Kansas City Council in 2019. She is running unopposed. Parks-Shaw is a healthcare executive and serves as a member of the Kansas City Zoo Board of Directors and Starlight Theatre Board of Directors. Parks-Shaw said the biggest issue facing Kansas City is public safety.
Parks-Shaw sponsored an ordinance this year to allocate $30 million to the Blueprint for Violence Prevention Fund over the next five years. She says she has been working with nonprofits and neighborhood groups since May to develop a plan to address violence in the city.
Parks-Shaw has $43,162 on hand, according to her February 22 campaign finance report. Parks-Shaw received a combination of large donations from political action committees, including the HCA Healthcare committee and POL PAC. There were also donations from labor unions, such as Iron Workers Local, the Greater Kansas City Building & Construction Trades Council, and the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.
This is an open seat as Kevin McManus is term-limited out.
Cecelia Carter serves on the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City Board, Children’s Mercy Hospital Foundation Board and Kansas City Employees Retirement System Board. She has over 30 years of experience in financial retirement and trust work. Carter said public safety is the biggest issue facing Kansas City. She said businesses fold when the community is not able to enjoy what a city has to offer. To address public safety, Carter says would focus on rebuilding the relationship between community and the police department.
Carter has $7,669 on hand, according to her Feb. 22 campaign finance report. Most of her contributions came from individual donors.
Dan Tarwater served as the 4th District Legislator on the Jackson County Legislature from 1994 to 2022, where he was the chairman of the Anti-Drug Committee for 28 years. Tarwater said crime is the biggest issue facing Kansas City and says more drug rehabilitation programs are needed because the city can’t just arrest people to handle crime. Tarwater says he supports Kansas City and Jackson County partnering on a new detention facility. He says the money saved by sharing the cost of a new jail could go towards addressing mental health needs, job training and drug and alcohol rehab.
Tarwater has $39,769 on hand, according to his Feb. 23 campaign finance report. Tarwater has received large donations from unions, such as Construction & General Laborers and the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons. He also received donations from political action committees, such as the utility company Spire and Roofers Local.
Johnathan Duncan is an Iraq War veteran and Administrative Operations Director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a non-profit veterans service organization. He also serves as a leader with KC Tenants, a union for working class tenants in the city. Duncan said the biggest issue facing Kansas City is affordable housing. He said prospective apartment renters have difficulty finding affordable apartments and seniors on fixed incomes are facing rising property taxes. Duncan said housing is often lost to investors seeking homes for short-term rentals. To solve this issue, Duncan wants to ban non-owner occupied short-term rentals in residential areas.
According to Duncan’s Feb. 23 campaign finance report, he has $23,647 on hand, mostly from individual donors. He did not receive money from political action committees or unions.
Michael Schuckman is an Information Systems Senior Analyst for the Kansas City Water Services Department. He had previously worked for the city of Lenexa as an asset manager and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City as a business analyst. Schuckman said equitable development is his number one priority. Schuckman says he regularly hears voters say that the further you are from city hall, the easier it is to be forgotten. He said equitable development doesn’t mean the 6th District needs everything that downtown has, but it means that needs in other districts should be addressed as quickly as they would be in downtown Kansas City.
According to his Feb. 22, campaign finance report, he has $2,295 on hand. Schuckman received small donations from individual donors. He did not receive donations from unions or political action committees.
Tiffany Moore most recently worked as an assistant project manager at Superior Electrical Construction and Lead Facilities Project Manager at Honeywell. She has spent over 30 years in construction management and is a substitute teacher. Moore said the biggest issue facing Kansas City is attainable and affordable housing for families. She said studio units and small, one-bedroom apartments are not enough to house families in Kansas City and would like to see housing at every price point. Moore said housing can be made affordable if it is owned by the Housing Authority of Kansas City.
Moore has $939 on hand, according to her Feb. 23 campaign finance report. Her donations came from individual donors.