Looks like Wyandotte County is in for a grudge match.
Voters on Tuesday fought their way through snowbanks and navigated slick roadways to narrow a five-candidate field for mayor and CEO of the Unified Government to veteran commissioners Ann Murguia and Mark Holland.
The results were made public shortly after 9 p.m.
“The group that set our community on a new path decided that we weren’t done yet,” Holland said. “We’re not satisfied with the success we’ve already had. We want to continue to move this forward.”
Murguia called her victory exciting.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m humbled.”
Both finalists were elected in 2007 to the county commission. Both have detailed platforms. And neither is said to be particularly enamored with the other.
That could lead to a particularly aggressive campaign at a time when the county is seeking to build on the momentum of its sparkling new developments in the western part of the county.
“It’s going to be no-holds barred, knock down, drag-out,” said Kelly Kultala, a former Kansas City, Kan., state senator who backs Holland.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting in unofficial results, Holland had 3,033 votes to Murguia’s 1,454 votes. The two will now face each other in the April 2 general election for the right to succeed outgoing mayor and CEO Joe Reardon, who opted not to seek a third term.
Tuesday night’s vote eliminated longtime commissioner Nathan Barnes, who garnered 1,248 votes, and community activists Cordell Meeks (509 votes) and Janice Witt (220 votes).
Holland said he was pleased with the support he received from “every corner” of the county. Murguia said her win gives her momentum heading into the general election, although she admitted she has some ground to make up.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.
Murguia also said she would make Wyandotte County’s high property taxes a centerpiece of her general-election argument.
“I’m the only candidate who has not voted for a property tax increase,” she said. “Mark has.”
But she also promised to run a civil campaign — although she added, pointedly, “I cannot speak for my opponent.”
Holland said he’s confident of his chances because he’s been endorsed by Reardon and former Mayor Carol Marinovich.
The turnout was fairly light. The formidable winter weather led to only 300 voters casting ballots by 11:30 Tuesday morning. That turnout accelerated throughout the day as streets cleared and voters ventured out, said Election Commissioner Bruce Newby.
During their time in office, both Holland and Murguia have questioned the other’s ethics. Holland pointed to what he calls a conflict-of-interest involving Murguia’s work as a commissioner while also drawing a salary as executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association based in the southeast part of the county.
He’s charged that Murguia has voted on budgets as commissioner that sent money to the neighborhood development group and helped pay her salary. The arrangement led the commission to revise its ethics code in 2009.
Murguia, in turn, has lodged complaints with the county’s ethics agency about a Head Start program that now operates at Trinity United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan., where Holland serves as senior pastor. The ethics agency has not taken any action on that matter.
“I hope it’s not a nasty election,” said Rick Rehorn, who was a finalist for mayor in 2005 and lost to Reardon. “They have a history of not liking each other very much on the commission.”
How the two differ on the issues isn’t clear. Both have talked about the need to lower what many consider too-high property taxes. Both talk in detail about ways to boost eastern Wyandotte County, which has not experienced the same economic breakthroughs as the west — where Kansas Speedway, the Legends shopping center and Sporting KC stadium anchor ongoing development.
Veteran state Sen. David Haley of Kansas City, Kan., who has run for mayor twice, said he remains undecided and predicted that some voters will struggle with their decision.
“Succeeding Joe Reardon, who has had a remarkable run, will be tough,” Haley said. “He ran a very positive, high-profile office. People are comfortable with Joe Reardon.”
Kultala said the key will be which candidate voters “feel most comfortable with, and who do they trust?”
Cindy Cash, president and CEO of the KCK Chamber of Commerce, said she expects a spirited, but civil race.
“This is going to be a new chapter in our county,” she said. “There are still challenges. The new mayor and commissioners are going to have to figure out the priorities.”
The race took shape after Reardon stunned the community with his Jan. 9 announcement that he wouldn’t seek a third term.