Jess Blubaugh, Justin Short, Crispin Rea, John DiCapo and Grace Cabrera

Candidates Crowd the Race for the 4th District At-Large Seat

Meet the candidates before voting on April 4.

By Sara Wiercinski

The Fourth District At-Large is held by Katheryn Shields, who is finishing her two terms, which began in 2015. Contesting her seat are Jess Blubaugh, Justin Short, Crispin Rea, John DiCapo and Grace Cabrera. The top two finishers will advance to the general election on June 20. The First District encompasses Kansas City north of Barry Road. “At-large” means voters throughout the city vote for the position.


Jess Blubaugh

Jess Blubaugh, 42, is a native of Manhattan, KS and has lived in Kansas City for the past two decades. She is Chief Philanthropy Officer at the United Way of Greater Kansas City, attended the University of Kansas and received a Master’s degree in Organizational Development from Rockhurst University. Blubaugh is involved in the Longview Neighborhood Association, serves on the board of the Mid-America LGBT Chamber and is a graduate of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program. 


Blubaugh wants the city to support and collaborate with the police department in a way that is community focused and driven, with successful examples being the Blueprint KC. “The proof is in the pudding,” said Blubaugh. “If we don’t actualize that plan in a way that addresses things differently, we will have more of the same, more crime.” Blubaugh wants to see the city incentivize local nonprofits that work to fill gaps in the community, rather than making them compete for limited resources. 


Blubaugh wants to see more strategy in addressing blight across the city, which varies by district and population density. “We have to look at the totality of our city, and prioritize based on immediate needs. There are certainly pockets of our community that have been ignored when it comes to the basics.” She says trash pickup has to be addressed. There are neighborhoods that aren’t receiving weekly pickup, plus problems related to bulky item pickup and illegal dumping. 

Business and infrastructure development

Blubaugh wants a proactive city plan for attracting developers, rather than reacting. “We can’t keep only pushing money into downtown and midtown. The core has to thrive for other areas of the city to thrive, but it should be a yes, and.” Blubaugh participated in a ride-along through the Ruskin Heights neighborhood. She wants the council to be willing to look at differences in where incentives are given and why, for example comparing some areas of Hickman Mills to Red Bridge. 

Justin Short

Justin Short, 34, grew up in the Northland. He attended University of Missouri-Columbia. He worked on board a cruise ship as an entertainer for seven years. He currently lives and works in downtown Kansas City. Short was appointed by the mayor to represent the Fourth District on the city’s LGBTQ Commission. He describes his campaign as “based in public service and civic duty,” inspired by his parents and a passion for Kansas City.


Short wants a fully staffed police department. He wants to see investment in areas of the city that have historically experienced de-investment. Short sees success in the Blueprint KC violence prevention program funded by KC 360, based on Omaha’s 60% reduction in violent crime. He wants to see annual reviews of all anti-crime programs with specific measurements to evaluate success. Short wants the city to collaborate better with organizations who also are working in the crime space.


 Short wants the city to deter speculative developers from buying up land and holding onto it. “Their waiting is killing the neighborhoods,” said Short. He calls for a land tax (also called vacancy tax) to issue quarterly fines for owners whose properties are left in disrepair or undeveloped. The tax revenues generated would be line-itemed for public blight remediation, such as repaving roads, planting trees and beautification. 

Business and infrastructure development

“Kansas City is on the move,” said Short. “By most metrics, we’re looking at a building and population boom in the next decade.” The city has the space to accommodate that growth, but needs more solid partnerships. Short says the council needs to fund programs like KC BizCare which helps small business owners get permits and connect to sources of capital. 

Short mentioned the Red Bridge shopping as an example of a beautifully redone area, with the surrounding area glaringly mismatched. (The Sunfresh grocery store closed in January 2023). He wants to see more thoughtful work between new development and existing business and infrastructure.


Crispin Rea

Crispin Rea, 37, grew up on the east side of Kansas City and now lives in the Valentine neighborhood. He studied Political Science and Public Administration at Park University, and he received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and law degree, both from UMKC. He worked as Communications Officer and Neighborhood Liaison for the Mayor’s Office from 2007-2010. Rea served on the Kansas City Public School Board as Vice Chair and was a former Case Manager for Kansas City No Violence Alliance. He has worked for seven years in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office Special Victims Unit. 


Rea says effective public safety strategies must be evidence based and comprehensive, involving law enforcement and a broad range of partners working together to reduce violence. His work with Kansas City No Violence Alliance would serve as a model. “We have lessons to learn here,” said Rea. “When adults fail to work through important issues, folks die. Homicides go up. We need to recognize that we have a crisis on our hands and decide how to move forward.”


Rea recalls his childhood: Of the seven houses on one side of his street, his family’s house was the only one lived in; the rest were vacant or dilapidated. The city must respond to needs for demolition, cleanup and code enforcement of properties left uncared for by absentee and corporate landlords. Rea says cleanup should be a priority for the city, and reflected in the annual budget. The city should continue to work with neighborhood associations who want to be proactive. Simple steps like the city providing dumpsters for cleanup days make a big difference.

Business and infrastructure development

“We have to address the massive backlog in maintenance,” said Rea. “Bridges, roads, these things can become tragic examples of neglect.” Rea says the GO Bonds are a step in the right direction, but council needs to be sure the money is spent efficiently in areas where it is most needed. He wants city hall to work with our state and federal representatives to pursue all the federal money available, like transportation dollars. Rea wants to “harness the energy that Kansas City has, its vibrancy,” showing the world that it is a safe and clean city.

John DiCapo

John DiCapo, 64, is a small business owner and lifelong Kansas Citian. His family ran the Italian Gardens restaurant downtown for nearly 80 years. He is the past owner of a wholesale food manufacturing company and pizza restaurant. He lives in Crown Center. He graduated from Northeast High School and attended Penn Valley Community College and the University of Missouri-Columbia. As a councilman, DiCapo wants to represent the small businessperson, “the person who doesn’t get a call back from the city.” 


“I think KCMO has a lot of good stuff going on, but we currently have some big problems with crime,” said DiCapo. He says the only way for the city to curtail crime is to hire more officers, train them properly, then put them back in the communities they came from. DiCapo wants to increase police pay and benefits and get police officers “back to being well respected within the city.”

Business and infrastructure development

DiCapo wants to rethink developer incentives, noting that the city is still paying millions in bonds for KC Power & Light while those same developers are looking to build more. “Why can’t we find developers to come to Kansas City and build affordable housing, give them the incentives? We don’t need anymore $1,600 a month apartments.” He wants the priorities of the council to match its constituents.

His “DiCapo Plan” calls for a high-tech monorail system connecting downtown and Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums, anchored by a major hotel and other amenities. DiCapo says his plan would spark economic development, fulfilling long-held promises for growth on the east side of the city, and alleviate traffic problems. 


Grace Cabrera

Grace Cabrera, 35, was born in Cuba under communist rule. She immigrated to Kansas City with her family when she was 11. She has worked in administrative health and in nonprofit community centers and lives in the historic Northeast. She decided to run for council when the candidates she voted for in the November election, “people with sensible solutions that seemed in touch with problems,” all lost. Cabrera says the current division in city government is destructive, and she wants to see more effort to understand differing opinions.


Cabrera says the current council has demoralized the police department and forced early retirement, leaving the city with too few officers. Officers risk their lives for only $45,000, and that needs to change. Cabrera says crime is incentivized when prosecutors fail to punish repeat offenders and by reducing felony crimes to misdemeanors. 


Cabrera insists the city needs to do its job by holding accountable out-of-town owners with properties in poor condition. “Vacant properties cost the city three times as much as an individual homeowner,” said Cabrera. “We need to cut red tape to make it easier for people to acquire these properties from the city, people who want to do good things and fix up properties.” She is against placing blame on local landlords, and warns that any restriction to income that could be had hurts this group and the local economy as a whole. 

Business and infrastructure development

Cabrera wants to see more high-paying manufacturing jobs in Kansas City, with a prioritization of underserved areas. She warns that too many small businesses are losing their customers, who are afraid to go into urban areas or have no places to park. Cabrera: “Growing up in Cuba, I didn’t have a voice. You can’t complain or have your own business, no one can afford to be entrepreneurial.”

Cabrera participated in the Ruskin Heights ride-along and mentioned the area looking, “like a third-world country,” with closed streets and down tree limbs.

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