KC Mayoral Candidates Have First Debate
By Samuel Ast
Contributing Political Writer
The current Kansas City mayor still has more than seven months left in office, but the campaign to replace Sly James is in full force already.
Nine candidates are running for mayor this cycle, including five that are currently serving on the Kansas City Council, two businessmen and one local attorney. Voters had their first viewing of the field of contenders last Wednesday when they gathered at a Northland middle school to hold their first debate. This debate put to rest the assumption that former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander was James’ undisputed heir apparent.
Among the many topics discussed during the debate were two major concerns for Kansas City residents: new development and violent crime. With the influx of current City Council members into the race, progressive credentials are not hard to find when it comes to these two issues.
Scott Wagner was behind the new rental inspection program. Kander supported infrastructure improvements and smart development that will create jobs. Jermaine Reed, Alissia Canady and Scott Taylor were focused on revitalization in eastern portions of Kansas City, and Quinton Lucas was focused on creating jobs and developing solutions to violent crime.
Additionally, Lucas and Crossroads business owner Phil Glynn have both noted that reforms need to be made to the tax incentive and financing options that are given to developers by the city. They believe there should be more focus on areas that will benefit from more development, such as the east side of the city. Concern over whether or not new development is even needed is also up for debate. Some, like Councilwoman Canady, argue that instead of more tax breaks and financing options for further development, more resources should be directed to rehabilitation and restoration projects of existing structures and homes.
As the debate steadily moved forward, candidates appeared to agree on much of the economic issues-at least on the surface. Most of the disagreement centered on differences in approach and process, rather than on what is ultimately trying to be achieved: stable and equal economic development that is shared by all of the city’s residents. But these differences in approach are not inconsequential, and their policies will be further scrutinized by voters as April 2019 approaches.
Intersecting the mayoral campaign are the bold initiatives of the James administration. While the pre-K local tax funding measure was moved to the 2019 general election ballot, James and his team are continuing their public push for increased state funding for childhood education. On Friday, September 7, James met in St. Louis with Governor Parson and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson to speak not only about early education, but also about housing and poverty as well.
Mayor James has also shown his resolve in matters concerning the city’s chronic racial and economic divides. The “KC Race and Equity Initiative” kicked off late last month with a community gathering that began to discuss the structural bias in the city’s economy, education and health sectors that affect so many in the Kansas City area. The initiative aims to connect residents to various community groups that specialize in each area. The next such community event will be held on October 12 (more details will be available on the mayor’s website as the event draws nearer).
By keeping the issues of education and equity in the headlines, Mayor James has made sure that candidates continue to discuss them during the campaign to succeed him.
In fact, the local issues being debated are drawing national attention, too. In response to the high homicide rates of Kansas City, and those of various other violent cities across the country, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Kansas City on September 13. The Attorney General spoke about Kansas City’s high number of homicides, 151 in 2017 alone, and of ways to solve the problem. However, during the 20 minute address he failed to speak much at all about any possible gun control measures that could help stem the violence. He also failed to address the racial component of the city’s violent crime data. This data demonstrates that ¾ of all homicides involve victims of color.
The other major issues discussed during last week’s debate were: job creation, affordable housing, tax incentives for businesses, and the KCI terminal project.
The next mayoral debate/town hall will be held at the UMKC School of Law on October 6 from 3pm-7pm. The mayoral primary will be held during April of next year, with the general election taking place later in June.