Mayor Sly James of Kansas City was delivering an upbeat State of the City speech Tuesday when an irate man commandeered the microphone at the Gem Theater.
The man was quickly tackled on the stage by bodyguard Marlon Buie and taken to a back area, where he was handcuffed and taken to jail. Police said he was in custody for investigation of an assault on a law enforcement officer. Charges are expected today.
Police Chief Darryl Forté, who was at the speech, said the man was not armed and was ranting something about “my brother.” He was not directing his anger at the mayor, the chief said.
But Forté said the incident was a concern and would prompt police to review security procedures surrounding the mayor.
James quickly recovered his composure and delivered the rest of his speech before a crowd of about 250 people.
“It’s unfortunate that we have people who feel that somehow we have left them behind. I don’t blame him for whatever feelings he wanted to express. I do have a small problem with the method,” the mayor said as the crowd responded with a standing ovation and applause.
The Gem Theater, in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, is open to the public. In his two years in office, James has chosen to deliver his annual State of the City speeches in public venues that did not have metal detectors.
That’s a departure from tradition, as other mayors have given their annual addresses at City Hall, which has metal detectors. But since the man did not have a weapon, it’s not clear that those metal detectors would have made any difference in him gaining access to the mayor.
Afterward, James said that he never felt in harm’s way and that the incident would not prompt him to rethink his public appearances.
“I wondered what set that off and what he was trying to say,” James said after the speech. “I was a little surprised that when he came up there, as vociferous as he was, he never actually did anything to me.”
James praised his bodyguards’ quick reaction and said he had no doubts about his security detail.
“Those guys are super,” he said. “They were right there. They did everything they need to do. They got him out of there.”
Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo said she didn’t think one incident should prompt an entire change in security, especially because the bodyguards did a good job.
“This mayor in particular and this council really believe in open access to the citizens,” she said, adding that public figures deal with criticism on a daily basis. “Rarely is it physical action. We have to remember this is rare. It’s unfortunate, and it’s rare.”
Some observers said the man appeared to be directing some of his criticism toward 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed.
Reed said that the man was an unsuccessful candidate last year for the Missouri House and that the outburst was “unfair to all the event’s participants.”
The disruption marred the celebratory mood first set by saxophone virtuoso Bobby Watson and his UMKC Conservatory students before the speech.
James tried to recover some of that mood by pointing to progress on many priorities: the downtown streetcars, Google Fiber, new urban housing and grocery stores, and voter-approved measures to support streets, sewers and parks.
But he lamented the city’s alarming homicide rate and said he prays that new anti-violence initiatives will lead to a less dangerous central city by this time next year.
He said last year’s All-Star Game and this month’s basketball tournaments are just a few examples of Kansas City beginning to shine again nationally.
With a nod to the stage where he stood, he said: “The nation is listening to Kansas City jam again.”