With just two weeks to go before Kansas City’s mayoral primary election, the three candidates met face to face for the first time Tuesday night, following an almost invisible campaign.
Mayor Sly James and challengers Clay Chastain and Vincent Lee appeared before a crowd of about 150 people at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., at a League of Women Voters forum.
It was likely the only time the three candidates will appear together before the April 7 primary. The Call newspaper is hosting another candidates’ forum at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bruce Watkins Cultural Center, 3700 Blue Parkway, but Chastain, who currently lives in Virginia, said he can’t attend.
The three sparred over topics ranging from guns to the earnings tax to Kansas City International Airport, with sharply contrasting viewpoints.
James said Kansas City has re-emerged as a “confident city,” taking its rightful place on the national stage over the last four years, and he wants to build on that first-term momentum. He said he will continue to focus on reading readiness for all children, a reduced homicide rate, jobs and economic growth.
Chastain argued that James lacks vision and said he wants to “bring Kansas City roaring back” with more jobs, growth and population. He pledged to replace what he called the “touristy frou frou” downtown streetcar line with a regional light rail system.
Lee, who calls himself “The General,” said he has dreamed of running for mayor of Kansas City for 18 years, but offered a vague platform of seeking change “to make it a better city.” He said he wants to tend to the poor, homeless, veterans and others who are struggling and get no assistance from the wealthy and powerful in the city.
On the issue of guns, Chastain said he believes in concealed/carry, and supports arming people in schools to stop a potential shooter. James called for an “armed offender court” to deal with criminals who commit gun violence. Lee said gun makers should pay for violence committed with their weapons. He said another solution is to provide young people with positive and safe activities such as “Hot Summer Nights.”
James said retaining the 1 percent earnings tax is essential to the city budget, while Chastain called for gradually eliminating it. Lee supported increasing it, saying the city needs more revenue.
On KCI’s future, Lee recommended building a new airport in Jackson County. Chastain said the city needs a new airport closer to downtown, connected to light rail. James said he will support what the airlines recommend.
The top two vote-getters advance to the general election June 23. The new council takes office Aug. 1.