Political writers love a scrum, and that’s exactly what we’ve got as Kansas City looks ahead to electing its next mayor.
Yes, Mayor Sly James has a ways to go before he leaves office in 2019. In the meantime, though, the race to succeed him is already on.
With eight candidates now in, or close to it, and more on the horizon, it all shapes up as absolutely dee-licious. And fascinating, too, on any number of fronts.
The field is in danger of becoming so crowded that broadly appealing candidates could be undermined by rivals from the same parts of the city cutting into their bases.
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To be sure, the field may not yet be set. The entry of former mayor pro tem Cindy Circo, for instance, or councilwoman Katheryn Shields might rejigger the math.
But wise people suggest that if you’re not in the race yet, catching up in the fundraising sweepstakes could be nigh impossible. One candidate, councilman Scott Taylor, is closing in on $400,000 in the bank.
So let’s break down the field in the early going:
▪ Councilwoman Jolie Justus. She ranks as close to the race’s early frontrunner as anyone. As my colleague Bill Turque points out, City Hall insiders say Justus is James’ preferred successor. Following a high-profile stint in the state Senate, she can claim the city’s best political base: the vote-rich Ward Parkway corridor.
Her status as the Missouri Senate’s first openly gay member should give her entree to dedicated volunteers and financial backing. Finally, she’s expected to lay claim to the Dover Group, the consultants who twice elected James.
▪ Councilman Quinton Lucas. He’s not announced but would be formidable. The Cornell Law School grad and KU prof may have the best claim to citywide support. Black candidates have made the mayoral finals in five of the last seven elections.
▪ State Sen. Ryan Silvey. The Republican has emerged as something of Kansas City’s go-to lawmaker in Jeff City. Northlanders are eager to finally get one of their own into the mayor’s office. If he runs, his path is complicated by the candidacy of Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, a fellow north-of-the-river denizen.
Say hello to the two Scotts.
▪ Councilman Scott Taylor from south Kansas City has the most reliable friend you can have in American politics, as former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm once crowed, “and that’s ready money.” Taylor has a base he probably won’t have to share in south town, but he needs to retake Charisma 101.
▪ Councilman Scott Wagner is the mayor pro tem. Respected. Reliable. Steady. If Silvey’s a no-go, maybe.
▪ Councilman Jermaine Reed. In his early 30s, Reed is driven and eager. This might be too big a leap too soon.
Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn and lawyer and former Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission chairman Stephen Miller are outsiders with upside potential. Lack of name ID will hurt in the early going.
But is this the year of the outsider? Catholics are fond of saying that skinny popes follow fat ones. If that’s so, 2019 may be the year of the insider, given that James came into office with no prior experience in elective office.
Using that logic, it may also be the year of the white woman, right Jolie?
More important, though, will be which candidate can convince voters that he or she is best suited to continue Kansas City’s big momentum. Stay tuned.