Wyandotte County voters Tuesday picked Mark Holland to continue the county’s economic resurgence as their next mayor.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Holland garnered 56 percent support to 43 percent for fellow Unified Government Commissioner Ann Murguia. The remaining votes went to write-in candidates.
“We’ve had such great success the last 16 years,” Holland said at his victory celebration at Tapatio Mexican Grill in Kansas City, Kan.
“People have made a decision that they want to continue on that same trajectory of success and growth knowing that we have great challenges still in front of us, but we are better able to address those challenges with the economic development engine we’ve developed here.”
Murguia told reporters she had “not one regret” about the race.
“I don’t feel bad about anything,” she said. “I think we did everything right. ... It was just a short window. We didn’t have a lot of time.”
Murguia keeps her seat on the Unified Government Commission that Holland now heads. But she said she can work with the mayor-elect despite the sometimes-heated campaign.
“I reached out to Mark Holland by text,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Holland, a United Methodist pastor and fourth-generation Kansas City, Kan., resident, takes over a county that’s seen a string of economic development successes dating to the 2001 opening of Kansas Speedway. But the county also faces mounting concerns over high property taxes and entrenched poverty, especially east of Interstate 635.
Holland succeeds Mayor Joe Reardon, who opted not to seek a third term and, along with former mayor Carol Marinovich, endorsed Holland. He will be sworn into office on April 25.
Job one, he said Tuesday night, will be bringing newly elected commissioners into the fold and beginning work on the county’s budget.
“We hit the ground running,” Holland said. “There’s really no time to waste.”
He also needs to mend fences with his opponent’s backers. Four of the 10 Unified Government commissioners backed Murguia.
“My experience with elections is when all the noise dies down, we’re all here to work for the community,” Holland said. “I have no doubt we’re going to be able to reach out and get back focused on what’s good for Kansas City, Kan.”
Eleanor Pitts, a Murguia supporter, predicted an interesting dynamic between the two former candidates.
“A lot of negotiation,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to go easily.”
Holland was seen as the early favorite following his strong showing in the February primary. He won 47 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field to Murguia’s 22 percent. A major snowstorm engulfed the community that day and drove down voter turnout, causing Murguia backers to insist that their candidate would perform better in the general election.
When the race began, political observers in Kansas City, Kan., expected that the bad feelings long lingering between Holland and Murguia for several years would ignite a negative campaign.
Holland had led the charge to revise the city’s ethics code in 2009 that affected how the Unified Government allocated tax dollars to nonprofits, such as the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association where Murguia works as executive director. The change was intended to avoid what could be perceived as a conflict of interest and passed on a 6-4 vote following a contentious public hearing.
In the campaign for mayor, Holland was outspoken about the issue, saying the situation demanded commission scrutiny.
“You cannot be on both the giving and receiving end of public money,” Holland said.
Murguia denied any conflict, saying ethics opinions from local, state and national officials had cleared her of any conflict of interest.
“I went the extra mile to sign documents that said none of the money coming through my organization would be used to pay my salary,” Murguia said.
The race remained largely issue-focused until the final week, when several groups mailed fliers to voters that raised sharp questions about each contender. Americans for Prosperity, a group that advocates for limited government, sent out two mailings questioning Holland’s record. The group’s chief charge: Holland’s vote to raise property tax rates in 2011 and 2012. Holland defended those votes as necessary to avoid laying off police, firefighters and other government staffers.
“I wasn’t willing to put another 120 of our families in crisis,” he said.
Murguia, who like Holland has served on the commission since 2007, was criticized in a pair of fliers sponsored by a group called WyCo Jobs PAC. One flier linked her to conservative Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Another alleged that she had backed a grocery store in the Argentine neighborhood that she represents in exchange for campaign donations, an accusation she denied. She described herself as a lifelong Democrat.
The race got politicians talking in Topeka, although the governor’s spokeswoman said he was not engaged in any spring elections across the state.