Dan Cofran’s ‘basics vs. bling’ message insults Sly James and KC voters

08/27/2014 1:52 PM

08/27/2014 6:34 PM

Kansas City voters might select Dan Cofran as their new mayor over Sly James next June.

But Cofran won’t deserve to win based on his factually challenged “basics vs. bling” attack on James’ record.

Cofran’s contention is that Kansas Citians don’t embrace the “bling” of streetcars or a new Kansas City International Airport terminal — projects James has talked about a lot.

However, it’s misleading and bordering on the absurd for Cofran to contend that James is out of touch with voters and is more about fluff than he is about basic services for residents.

Examine the record.

As a mayoral candidate in 2011, James strongly backed the successful extension of the city’s 1 percent earnings tax, mostly for public safety and other crucial services. Cofran, by the way, commendably helped lead that campaign.

In 2012, James promoted and voters approved a sales tax increase to provide stable funding for the Parks and Recreation Department and create additional revenue to fix more streets each year.

Also that year, voters passed $500 million in sewer bonds to modernize the city’s system, as requested by James.

In 2013, James campaigned for and voters renewed a property tax to finance better indigent care at health care providers.

In 2014, voters backed $500 million in bonds to upgrade the city’s water system, another basic service.

Earlier this month voters endorsed a 20-year extension of the sales tax that helps finance the Fire Department, an issue that James and the City Council brought to voters.

James hasn’t had totally smooth sailing.

A commission he put together narrowly rejected in 2013 the excellent idea of ending Kansas City’s record as being the only city in the nation without local control of its police department. (Cofran and the Citizens Association he leads unfortunately endorsed the status quo.) Another James-appointed citizens panel, on KCI upgrades, didn’t really help resolve that issue, which is now in the laps of airlines and the city’s Aviation Department.

And then there’s the matter of streetcars.

Lost in Cofran’s attack on James for pushing the unsuccessful streetcar expansion on Aug. 5 is the fact that downtown voters approved the initial 2-mile line, supported by the mayor, now under construction.

Cofran, in an interview, brushed aside James’ accomplishments. He focused on his contention that Kansas City’s mayor needs to do more to improve education and to combat societal ills, such as teenage pregnancy. He says the city used to do more along those lines.

Cofran doesn’t have many facts to back up this claim. Nor does he say what he’d do differently. A tax increase, maybe? The city budget over the past 25 years has not been packed with these kinds of society-uplifting programs. Instead, local foundations have properly tried to improve the quality of life for less fortunate citizens.

As for education, James told me this week it was “comical” for Cofran to talk about doing more than the mayor has for education, especially for youngsters.

Sure, the most important locally elected office could generate a certain amount of drama when the campaigns rev up. A lot can happen over the next nine months or so. For one thing, other people could jump into the contest. For another, Cofran might not even run: He said he will spend the next two months doing his research and deciding if he really wants to take on an incumbent, energetic, popular mayor who’s had lots of success at the polls.

I much respected Cofran’s term as a City Council member from 1987 to 1995. He fought for responsible use of tax dollars, and then lost to Emanuel Cleaver in the 1995 mayoral race.

Cofran may do his research and come up with great ideas on how to lead Kansas City toward a better future. So far, though, his “basics vs. bling” approach is a bust.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at YaelTAbouhalkah.

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