The candidate forum season is heating up. With the April 2 primary looming, community, business and political groups are lining up for their chance to grill the dozen mayoral hopefuls. To help you sort out who’s saying what and to whom, The Star is launching a series of cut-to-the-chase summaries. Here’s the first.
The Event: Mayoral candidate forum sponsored by Heartland Progressive Alliance, formed in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, at Californos in Westport, Monday night.
Attendees: Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn, attorney Steve Miller and Kansas City Council members Alissia Canady, Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas, Jermaine Reed, Scott Taylor, Scott Wagner.
Top of the group’s agenda: Development for all. Hosts wanted to know if candidates would continue to award tax incentives to builders of big downtown projects like Two Light. What would they do to support disadvantaged communities and how would they preserve and expand the stock of affordable housing?
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What the candidates agreed on: Ensuring affordability, making KC accessible to everyone. They promised to look beyond downtown and bring economic development and growth to areas across the city.
“I think right now we are on a roll and I want to make sure that our entire community, no matter where you live, is enjoying our successes,” said Justus.
“I think we need to focus on the east side of the city and put the same emphasis on east of Troost as we did 20 years ago on downtown Kansas City,” said Taylor, who chairs the council’s planning, zoning and economic development committee.
What they didn’t agree on: The appropriate use of development incentives and how to achieve housing affordability.
Canady said incentives as they are now awarded can drain public schools, mental health services and other community institutions of critical tax revenue.
“Every time we pass an ordinance that supports a downtown development or any of those incentives...we cause harm to those institutions,” she said.
Canady argued that more tax incentive deals should include community benefit packages like the kind agreed to by Edgemoor, developer of the proposed single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Reed said incentives done the right way can be beneficial, citing their importance in placing grocery stores on the east side.
Wagner, who is mayor pro tem, estimated that just 5,000 units of affordable housing would cost the city $75 million. He has proposed going to voters this fall with a proposed property tax increase to provide a steady stream of funding for housing programs.
“Are we prepared to pay it? I think it’s worth asking that question,” he said
Taylor said he wasn’t sure a property tax increase was the way to go, but he thought the city needed a local fund to subsidize affordable housing and ease reliance on state low income housing tax credits, which the legislature didn’t fund this fiscal year.
His ordinance, “Revive the East Side,” directs the city manager to come up with funds for affordable housing.
Justus said she’d like to see more city money funding partnerships with organizations, including Legal Aid of Western Missouri, that can help individuals resolve code violations or evictions and stay in their homes to reduce mobility. She also called for a greater focus on transportation as part of housing strategies.
“I have found with my clients that we always are able to find, eventually, affordable housing, but it is always too far away to get to jobs, to get to school, so we must be focused on making sure that we are connecting our affordable housing with reliable public transportation,” Justus said.
Most surprising question: Are you pro-choice?” Hosts wanted a simple yes or no answer.
The election is nonpartisan, but most of the candidates are Democrats and said they support abortion rights, though abortion is typically a state or federal issue. Miller declined to answer the question and said it’s not up to the mayor.
“And one thing my race is about is not finding ways to divide us but to bring us together and I am not going to let those national agenda issues keep us from unifying,” Miller said.
Bringing it home: Glynn made it clear the issue of crime in Kansas City is something personal.
“The summer before last, a 12-year-old child came to my home, pointed a gun at my wife and stole our car,” Glynn said, “and I thank God every day that car is the only thing that we lost because in the last few years we’ve lost hundreds of people to homicides in Kansas City.”
He said crime often stems from bad economic circumstances and touted his experience building affordable homes and creating jobs.
A question about the gender wage gap hit close to home for Miller. He said his daughter found out shortly after accepting her first job that she was being paid less than male counterparts.
“I said, ‘Go back and tell them you’re worth more.’”
Miller added: “So what I’ll do as mayor in this city is make certain...that we are being a model for the treatment, in all our of programs where we can be, of equal pay for equal work.”
Thought-provoking statements: Asked about mitigating the impacts of racial segregation and advancing policies that support minorities, Lucas returned to the issue of tax incentives.
“I believe the reason that we have been so comfortable in Kansas City since the 1990s with an incentive policy that diverts money away from our public schools is that fundamentally we kind of gave up on the majority-black public schools,” Lucas said. “That’s the real story.”