Eight mayoral candidates debated issues in a courtroom like setting at UMKC School of Law on October 6. Photo by Samuel Ast.
Mayoral Candidates Gather for Another Forum
By Samuel Ast, Political Correspondent
Over 100 people attended the second mayoral debate held Saturday, October 6, hosted by the Jackson County Bar Association at the University of Missouri School of Law. In a mock courtroom setting, attorney Stacy Lake moderated the forum among eight candidates: 6th District City Councilman Scott Taylor, 1st District City Councilman and Mayor Pro-tem Scott Wagner, 3rd District City Councilman Jermaine Reed, 5th District City Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 3rd District City Councilman at Large Quinton Lucas, businessman Phil Glynn and community advocate Rita Berry.
The forum was broken up into four policy segments, followed by a question and answer portion, then closing statements. Candidates were asked questions about violent crime, policing, community development, education, and housing.
The first segment surrounded violent crime and policing. One major aspect of this discussion addressed oversight and control of the Kansas City Police Department.
Currently, the governor of Missouri appoints members to serve on a state oversight panel, circumventing local control over the police department. Some candidates want this to change. The moderator asked how candidates viewed the lack of control the city has over policing, and whether or not they would like to see change. “It is worth exploring again in this current climate.” Councilwoman Canady says. She cited an increase in the hold times Kansas City residents were experiencing when dialing 911, as well as the increase in violent crime as reasons why she would consider seeking a shift from state to city control.
Poverty, family dysfunction, education and lack of housing were all listed as contributing causes to the city’s growing homicide rates; there have been 147 murders this year alone. “If we are serious about bringing down the levels of violence in the city, the only way to do it is by addressing the economic root causes,” Glynn says. Mentioned briefly by Scott Wagner is the city’s jail problem. The Jackson County Detention Center has been the subject of multiple investigations and media scrutiny stemming from poor conditions and controversy inside the facility.
What was a constant refrain throughout the economic portion of the forum was tax policy, especially where matters of community development were concerned.
The first question posed was about community improvement district’s that are used to finance development projects. These improvement districts aspire to attract new growth and better conditions for existing businesses in areas that are deemed to be blighted.
First to respond was Councilman Wagner, who answered the question with another question. “What it really boils down to is do you accept the way the state of Missouri handles blight?” This is important, Wagner says, because the state’s definition of blight is very broad. He says that if you adhere to the state’s definition, everyone probably lives in a blighted area. With such a broad definition, it is hard to prevent developers from receiving, or at least seeking, some sort of tax write-off in many portions of Kansas City.
All of the candidates agreed that community development should improve all neighborhoods, benefit all Kansas City residents equitably. The ways in which this becomes a reality, and which tax tools are used, will be debated further. Should tax incentives be reserved strictly for poor localities, like areas east of Troost or along the Prospect corridor, or can they be granted for portions of the city that look more like the Power and Light district or the Plaza?
Another candidate who spoke in detail about community development was Councilman Taylor who chairs the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee of the Kansas City Council. Taylor has been working since late last year on a ‘Revive the East Side’ plan that emphasizes job creation and enhances economic activity as the main solutions to existing economic disparities.
Later in the forum, attorney Stephen Miller outlined his thinking on incentives and development in certain areas of Kansas City. “We need to make sure that tax tools are used judiciously for the good of everyone,” Miller said.
Notably absent from the mayoral forum was former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. On October 3, Kander announced he would be dropping out of the race for mayor due to mental health issues stemming from his military service in Afghanistan. During closing, Councilman Reed said, “My thoughts and prayers are with him,” noting how difficult it must have been to put himself in the spotlight that comes with running for mayor, while also trying to deal with these issues.
Meanwhile, 65 miles west of UMKC’s campus, hundreds of people were lined up outside in the crisp and rainy weather awaiting President Trump’s visit to Topeka. The rally at Topeka’s Kansas Expocentre, offers a last-minute boost to Republican gubernatorial candidate, and fellow immigration opponent and voter fraud crusader, Kris Kobach. Steve Watkins, the GOP candidate for Kansas’s 2nd Congressional District, will also attend the event. The rally will also serve as a celebration of Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh.