U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s “loyalty” and belief in his long-time friend brought him to town Friday to endorse Steve Miller for Kansas City mayor — even as scandal envelops Virginia and the federal government faces another potential shutdown.
Kaine, who was once mayor of Richmond, said despite the difficulties that come with the job, he encouraged his friend to run.
“I’m sure he’s going to blame me later for having encouraged him,” Kaine said, adding he believes Miller has the values to be mayor and is “born and bred in Kansas City to his last fingernail.”
Kaine and Miller met as freshmen at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City.
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But even as he campaigned for his friend, Virginia was on Kaine’s mind. The state’s three top elected officials are embroiled in controversy — two for wearing blackface and one for allegations of sexual assault.
Kaine said the blackface scandal plaguing Gov. Ralph Northam hits at the heart of Virginia’s complicated history with race — a state where white nationalists rallied at Charlottesville but that also elected a black governor and voted for President Barack Obama.
Miller and Kaine spoke to and took questions from a crowd of voters at the Westport Flea Market. Miller, a construction attorney, previously chaired the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and is one of several outside candidates running to succeed Mayor Sly James. Six of the 12 members of the City Council are also running.
Eleven candidates will be on the non-partisan primary ballot in April. The two top vote-getters will advance to a June general election.
“Even if he wasn’t a senator, it would mean a lot to have his confidence because I so respect him,” Miller said, “but yes, to have one of my very best friends in the world — who I have followed his career closely — to have him come back to Kansas City and endorse me is a thrill.”
Miller and Kaine had a packed schedule, including a meeting with faith leaders, a lunch and town hall, a discussion on women in leadership and the opening of Miller’s campaign office.
At the town hall, Miller and Kaine discussed Kaine’s experience as Hillary Clinton’s running mate on 2016 presidential ticket. along with transit, workforce development and police-community relations in Kansas City.
“So one of the real challenges of being mayor is people who do not feel like city hall has been for them or the state government has been for them,” Kaine said, “and listening, and hearing and then trying to balance the demand of this community and the fact you’ve got a finite budget — how can you make it all work?”
Miller said creating an economically and socially inclusive city and ensuring equitable growth was one of the most important issues for the mayoral candidates.
“I think the next mayor has got to be not only making us a prosperous city, but a city that has inclusive prosperity,” Miller said.
At the beginning of the year, Miller’s campaign had the most cash on hand, according to quarterly campaign finance filings. He has $252,280.99 to 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus’ $249,992.62.
Shortly after Kaine spoke in Westport, a second woman came forward with allegations Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax had assaulted her.
That, the Northam scandal and Attorney General Mark Herring’s admission to previously wearing blackface have rocked Virginia for the last week.
Kaine and fellow members of Congress have called on Northam to resign, but have not asked for the same from Herring. Kaine said that reflects in part conversations with the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, NCAAP and other black leaders.
“They feel like, ‘Hey, this makes us mad, but we kind of understand your situation, and we want to continue to work together,’ and that was enormously important to us to hear how the community was reacting both to the event and how he’s handling it,” Kaine said. “So we have not called on him to step down, although he has not yet faced press questions and public questions, and he needs to do that.”
Kaine said in Fairfax’s case, it was a “very powerful and compelling statement of sexual assault” against a “very strong and unequivocal denial.” He said he and other officials are “earnestly seeking more information.”
At the same time, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working to find a compromise over border security to avoid another government shutdown next week.