Has Kansas City ever felt this good about itself, its leaders and the direction of the city?
It’s possible, of course. Civic pride (mixed with a dose of financial gain) got this city on the map when we beat out Leavenworth in the 1860s to build a bridge over the Missouri.
Still, this week is special. Stacked on top of the April decision to approve three general obligation bond issues and last year’s vote to continue the earnings tax, the voters’ stunningly lopsided approval of a new single terminal at KCI has sent a clear message:
Kansas Citians desperately want this city to succeed.
Walk around town these days, and a sense of civic pride is palpable. We long-timers remember days when that pride was dead and gone. Now, we’re doing it on our own without the massive support from Washington that became part of this city’s strategic approach to almost everything in the 1990s and 2000s.
Veteran strategist Phil Scaglia, who oversaw the small army of workers going door to door on behalf of the airport campaign, says no message resonated on front porches better than this one: “Let’s keep the momentum going.”
Those words played well in the Northland and out south. They played well along the Ward Parkway corridor and on the East Side. “I want our city to grow,” one senior told a driver ushering her to the polls on Tuesday.
That senior was 87, and it wasn’t clear whether she had ever flown before.
But she got it.
Right now would be a good time to pause to appreciate this moment. Who knows how long it will last?
Soon it will be time for a major reset. City Council members and the ever-expanding field of mayoral candidates will face a pressing question: What’s next?
For sure, streetcar expansion to UMKC remains unfinished business. So does development of a downtown convention hotel with a groundbreaking date that’s been delayed — and delayed again. Insiders insist the project is happening.
But then what? We’ve done the infrastructure dance, which may be the easiest politically because people of all stripes can get behind it. Curbing violent crime must be on the list. But does that mean more police officers or more job opportunities? Does it mean a fight over gun control in Jefferson City or more mental health services?
What about a push for more early childhood education or more walkable neighborhoods? Affordable housing looms as a growing concern.
This is, arguably, tougher stuff. But we can do this, right?
A final word: Mayor Sly James stumbled a time or two on the road to a new airport. But the same guy I called “king of the world” after the April bond election continues to have poll numbers that one insider described as high enough to make “Pike’s Peak look like a pimple.” His image was everywhere in this campaign, and it worked.
Had the KCI question failed, the media would be eviscerating the king. But it didn’t. James is more prickly today than he was six years ago, but this town by and large loves the guy. That’s quite a feat six years into his reign, and here’s something else: In issues that have gone before the voters during his time, he’s 11-1.
James remains a mix of Marine tough, lawyer smart and Joe Biden-friendly. It’s a winning combo.