It’s incredibly exciting to think that hordes of Kansas Citians are preparing to march to the polls on Tuesday to select a mayor and 12 City Council members.
Hey, a political junkie can dream, OK?
Alas, in reality, candidates and their top supporters are resigned to dismal voter turnout because Mayor Sly James is practically unopposed, most leading candidates don’t differ greatly on major issues and summer vacations are upon us.
Never fear. Here’s a ranking of races that deserve the most attention because it does matter who wins and controls how the city’s $1.4 billion budget is used.
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☆☆☆☆☆ In the closely watched 4th District at-large contest, incumbent Jim Glover and Katheryn Shields both have plenty of experience as elected officials, much of it doing positive things. The primary was close, so every vote really does count. Glover gets my support, mostly because of his longtime neighborhood activism.
In the 1st District, in-district race, incumbent Dick Davis is a good-government, sometimes curmudgeonly guy who speaks his mind on what’s best for the city. Opponent Heather Hall talks as if she’d be a tough-on-spending politician, but has little experience showing she can follow through. Davis has earned re-election.
Newcomer Alissia Canady is trying to beat former council member Ken Bacchus to grab the 5th District, in-district seat. Bacchus has the support of Freedom Inc., the black political club. But the aggressive Canady narrowly won the primary and has made strides since then in forcefully discussing her plans to work for neighborhood revival in the urban core. Canady has the potential to be an effective council member.
☆☆☆☆ The 2nd District at-large race features a match-up of former council member Teresa Loar and Jay Hodges, a former James aide. Loar gets the nod here, partly because of her experience and partly because Hodges hasn’t made a strong impression as someone ready to handle controversial issues at City Hall.
☆☆☆ Jermaine Reed is the incumbent in the 3rd District, in-district campaign, opposed by promising newcomer Jamekia Kendrix. Reed easily won a five-person primary but still doesn’t get much respect from critics even though he’s a well-informed elected official from the urban core. I live in the 3rd District, and Reed will get my vote because he could be even more effective on East Side economic development issues in a second term.
☆☆ For good reasons, everyone seems to be handing this race to former Missouri legislator Jolie Justus, the upbeat, knowledgeable winner of the 4th District, in-district primary over John Fierro. Justus has formidable political chops and, if elected, will be a leader in forging compromises on important city matters. If Fierro were in several other council contests, he’d be the superior candidate. But not this one.
☆ Which brings us to the biggest reason turnout will be so low next Tuesday: Few people are excited about more than half the 13 contests on the ballot.
Yes, Sly James will crush Vincent Lee and deservedly be re-elected as mayor. Then he has to make sure that, as he did for much of his first term, he puts together a solid bloc of council members to pursue a progressive agenda for Kansas City. That could include a tax increase for needed infrastructure repairs; plans to renovate the airport and revive the West Bottoms; and preparing to handle now-unforeseen challenges that will pop up over four years.
And yes, six other candidates likely won’t break a sweat while winning their seats. All are the superior candidates in their races.
They are Scott Wagner, 1st District, at-large; Dan Fowler, 2nd District, in-district; Quinton Lucas, 3rd District, at-large; Lee Barnes Jr., 5th District, at-large; Kevin McManus, 6th District, in-district; and Scott Taylor, 6th District, at-large.
Kansas Citians make the final choices Tuesday. I just wish more voters were going to share in these important decisions.