Sly James is king of the world — or maybe just Kansas City.
Either way, let’s pause for a moment to appreciate just what King James achieved this week. Make no mistake: The degree of difficulty in passing three general-obligation bond proposals — the largest GO bond authorization in city history — ranks as a treacherous nine on a 10-point scale.
But James, along with the City Council, consultant Phil Scaglia, the Dover Group and long-time political adviser Steve Glorioso, pulled off the unexpected trifecta Tuesday, going three-for-three and passing all the bond questions, which total $800 million.
This is tough stuff, folks, and every bit as difficult as hitting major-league pitching.
Never miss a local story.
Don’t forget that James’ team was attempting to pass increases in the property tax, the most universally disliked levy. Then consider that the city never offered a sure-fire list of projects with completion dates. An unofficial list of sorts was issued, but the bond proposals basically fell into the “trust us” category.
The extraordinary supermajority requirement of 57.1 percent only added to the challenge.
But on a rainy, miserable day, the three questions soared with 66, 61 and 67 percent backing in what amounted to an unmistakable vote of confidence in city leaders. There’s no other way to argue it.
Voters said loud and clear that they trust their mayor with their money. His mug was plastered all over almost every piece of campaign literature. From the start, this proposal was going to rise or fall on James’ shoulders.
Make that King James’ shoulders. The mayor now has a certified achievement to throw in his legacy column. Other wins that came on his watch, such as streetcars and Google Fiber, were projects that others initiated.
Tuesday’s outcome was not a result of a small-turnout fluke, either. About 60,000 Kansas Citians voted — more than the last election for mayor or the 2016 renewal of the earnings tax. With a million-dollar war chest at hand that James helped raise, the campaign was able to dispatch workers to nearly 120,000 doors. Those workers focused heavily in the final days on the city’s “corridor” that extends from the Missouri River through downtown, Westport and the Country Club Plaza. That region of the city is seen as most likely to vote for tax increases.
The strategy worked.
Throw in the unexpected passage of the one-eighth-cent sales tax for the East Side, and you have a city feeling very good about itself. It clearly is feeling very good about King James, who is sailing along with approval ratings somewhere in the vicinity of 70 percent. That’s highly unusual for a second-term mayor who struggles with impatience and is unafraid to let people know exactly where they’re wrong.
Something else may have been at play here, too, and that’s the “Trump effect.” Democrats more inclined to vote for tax increases are the energized voters these days. They’re the ones more likely to turn out for a special election in lousy weather. In a reversal of what happened in November, Republicans are now more inclined to stay home, discouraged as they are about the new president’s first months in office.
One new question is whether the mayor and council will overplay their hands. The temptation is to capitalize on success by quickly taking aim at a new airport terminal at KCI. But look out for the speed bumps, gang. As much as a new terminal is needed, don’t forget how fiercely protective this city is of its three horseshoes. Take your time with this.
Streetcar expansion might be a more reasonable short-term target.
A new convention hotel is in the offing. The downtown is thriving. We live in exciting times.
We have King James to thank for the added momentum — and maybe Donald Trump, too.