Wyandotte & Leavenworth

KCK mayor’s race: Status quo or change?

Updated: 2013-03-24T01:48:25Z

By STEVE KRASKE

The Kansas City Star

Mark Holland knows how to build consensus.

Ann Murguia can bring about change.

With the election for mayor/CEO of Wyandotte County just two weeks off, supporters tout their candidates with a pair of no-nonsense themes.

Holland, a Unified Government commissioner since 2007, is pitched as the candidate who will set the same steady-at-the-wheel tone as outgoing Mayor Joe Reardon.

“Mark has better leadership qualities to continue building what we have now,” said fellow Unified Government Commissioner John Mendez.

Murguia, who also was elected to the commission in 2007, is described as offering a more aggressive, high-octane approach.

Yes, she’s rubbed people the wrong way at times in her efforts to boost the fortunes of her Argentine neighborhood. But she’s accomplished far more than anything Holland has achieved, her camp says, and that’s what it takes to push a still-struggling community forward.

“She has a track record for action,” said fellow commissioner Angela Markley, “in a way that Mark Holland does not.”

The two approaches have attracted well-known supporters to each camp. Holland has drawn Reardon and his predecessor, Carol Marinovich, who helped bring the Kansas Speedway to western Wyandotte County in a move that triggered an economic resurgence.

“He has a strong vision for Wyandotte County and understands that collaboration, hard work and persistence will keep Wyandotte County moving forward,” Reardon said that day.

Murguia has countered with endorsements from four fellow commissioners, former Mayor Joe Steineger, state lawmakers and labor officials. One of those commissioners was Nathan Barnes, who finished a close third in the February mayoral primary.

“When Ann came on board, it was really a breath of fresh air,” Barnes said. “When I would talk to her, she would listen.”

Status quo or shake things up? That’s the question voters will decide on April 2.

What follow are profiles of each candidate:

Mark Holland

When he was 14, Mark Holland knew he was headed into the ordained ministry.

There was no lightning-bolt moment. No sudden revelation. The call that Holland heard was the result of years of steady church attendance that would continue through his college years.

“I’ve always found a home in the church,” Holland said. “That’s been a calling that shaped my life.”

And maybe not an unexpected one. Holland’s father and great-grandfather were pastors, although Holland insisted he was never pushed into the ministry.

“I tell my kids all the time: ‘Follow God’s call,’ ” Holland said. “I had no pressure to go there.”

A fourth-generation Wyandotte Countian, Holland has preached at Trinity Community Church, A United Methodist Congregation, since 1999.

Holland, 43, received bachelors’ degrees in anthropology and philosophy from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, a master’s in divinity from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and his doctorate of ministry from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.

“I don’t think he’s ever questioned his commitment to his chosen field,” said his wife, Julie Solomon.

The couple met when the two were working at a group home for emotionally disturbed kids in Denver while Holland was in seminary.

Solomon was impressed with the way Holland worked with the children.

“He has a very strong sense of compassion,” she said. “These kids have been through things we don’t want to think about. But he’s very comfortable talking to them. He has a presence to him.

“When someone you love is on their deathbed, Mark is the person you want there.”

The couple had three boys of their own and, in 2010, adopted a daughter from the Congo. They first saw her on a church trip to Africa. Solomon remembers the first time they saw Esther skipping down a path “full of joy” in a village wracked by poverty and desperation.

“She touched something in both of us,” Solomon said.

When the couple learned the next day that Esther was living in the town orphanage, they started thinking about adoption. On a safari in nearby Botswana a short time later, they came across a family of six elephants. At the time, their family was five members strong.

“I told Mark this is God’s sign,” Solomon recalled.

Nine months later, the family had its first girl.

If he wins the election, Holland said he’ll give up administrative duties at his church to focus more fully on the mayor’s job. He said his church’s leadership team supports his bid.

Before entering the race, Holland said, he had a long talk with U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, himself a United Methodist pastor. Cleaver, he said, encouraged him, saying the community needs quality leaders.

No one person can run a church, Holland said. Likewise, no one person can run the city.

“In the mayor’s office, we don’t need someone who does it all,” Holland said. “The leader needs to cast a vision, inspire the employees and make sure we align our resources with our vision to accomplish the greater task.”

Holland is a big backer of the Royals and Jayhawks and is a nearly lifelong model train fan with a layout that encircles his basement. He’s viewed as steady and approachable — a politician who will hear you out. When supporters talk about his ability to build consensus, they point to his push for a boost in the minimum wage in Wyandotte County in 2008, not long after he joined the commission.

At the time, the minimum wage in the county was $2.65 an hour, which Holland called “embarrassing.”

Although some commissioners initially didn’t think government should be involved in setting a minimum wage, Holland passed a law tying the local rate to the federal minimum wage, which then neared $7. The move set a floor on pay for workers not covered by the federal law, such as caretakers for the elderly.

“We were able to build consensus around that to the point where it was a unanimous vote,” Holland said.

Fellow commissioner Brian McKiernan said Holland possesses a quality that’s important for any leader: “I would say people are generally at ease when they talk to him,” said McKiernan, who has endorsed Holland. “I believe they feel like they’re being heard. It’s not that Ann doesn’t have those qualities. It’s just in my experience that I think Mark has a better ability to engage people and the community.”

Ann Murguia

When Ann Murguia was 14, she decided it was time to go to work.

The only job in Charles City, Iowa — she quotes a musical when she says the corn grows as high there as an elephant’s eye — was detasseling corn, pulling weeds and picking beans. Every morning she would scoot over to the mall parking lot where she would hop on a bus with prisoners who were brought in from all over the area and go to work for the day.

The heat was intense. The pay was minimum wage. Some of the prisoners were felons.

And Murguia loved it.

“I had a great time,” she said. “They prisoners were really good to me — always very polite and respectful. We learned to make the best out of whatever situation we were in.”

The prisoners were so good, in fact, that they helped Murguia keep her job. Detasseling corn meant keeping your arms above your head most of the day as you moved down the rows, tearing the tassel off the top of the plant. That proved arduous for the young Murguia who was tall enough — she’s about 5 feet 11 inches now — but not strong enough.

The prisoners pitched in, hopping back and forth across the rows to help her while remaining out of the foreman’s sight. But they helped keep Murguia employed.

That Murguia, now 44, was hustling at a young age is no surprise to those who have watched her pursue improvements for her 3rd District in Wyandotte County.

“She’s a go-getter,” said Mario Escobar, who heads a homeowners association in the Argentine district. “She’s got a lot of energy.”

She comes by it naturally. Her mother and father worked when Murguia was growing up. Her father worked in a printing company and did maintenance work in the evenings. He sometimes worked three jobs at a time. Murguia’s mother was an employee of the county treasurer.

When she graduated high school, Murguia came to the Kansas City area, where she attended Johnson County Community College before going off to nearby Ottawa University to get a human services degree. She later earned a master’s degree at Baker University while she worked full time.

Because her parents had little money, Murguia had to scramble to come up with a way to pay her tuition. The solution was to play basketball on a scholarship.

“She figured out a way to make it all happen,” said her oldest sister, Kim Frantzen of Overland Park.

The youngest of five kids, Murguia soon recognized she had been sheltered as a child in rural Iowa with almost no exposure to people of color. In the Kansas City area, that changed. Murguia said she was fascinated by all the new cultures she encountered.

After college, she worked as a probation officer for the state of Kansas. That’s where she met her husband, Carlos Murguia, now a federal judge and the father of the couple’s three children. In 2000, she was asked to work for El Centro, the social service agency. The job: community organizer.

“I said, ‘What does that entail?’ ” she recalled. The man who hired her suggested she “go around and talk to people and find out what they want to make the community better.”

She did, and soon was working on parking issues and on refurbishing a park.

Her next stop was Community Housing of Wyandotte County, where Michael Snodgrass, then the agency’s executive director, elevated her to deputy director within a year.

“She’s got great people skills,” Snodgrass said. “She’s very tenacious.”

Murguia has mellowed over the years, too. “She’s definitely a lot more thoughtful in her approach these days than earlier on,” he said. “I’ve watched her grow.”

In 2007 she was hired to run the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, where she worked with others to attract a new library and grocery store and generate government and private funds to refurbish curbs and sidewalks. She was aggressive to the point of obnoxious at times in her pursuit of funds to help her community, commissioners said.

“That was almost a ghost town,” said state Rep. Stan Frownfelter of Kansas City, Kan., who recently endorsed her. “Look at it now.”

Elmer Sharp, a former councilman who ran for mayor in 2001, but lost to Marinovich, remembers calling Murguia to get some rocks dumped to make his street more passable during construction. A couple of days later, the rocks were there.

He’s a big fan.

“A lot of times when you go against the grain, a lot of people don’t like you for one reason or another,” he said. “But she’s done what she said she was going to do. She’s been a great commissioner.”

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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