The event: Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce forum at the Kansas City Airport Marriott Tuesday afternoon.
Attendees: Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn, attorney Steve Miller and Council members Jolie Justus, Jermaine Reed, Scott Wagner, Alissia Canady, Scott Taylor and Quinton Lucas.
Top of the group’s agenda: Northland, Northland, Northland.
Home court advantage: Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, 1st District at-large, said anyone who asks why he cares about investment in the Northland need only visit his home, his neighborhood and the homes of his friends.
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“Everybody can say that they enjoy visiting the Northland, but this is my home. I am the only person at this table that can call the Northland their home,” Wagner said. “I grew up here. I went to North Kansas City schools, graduated from Oak Park High School, went to William Jewel College. I remember back in the day when you had to take Barry Road all the way to Liberty.”
He touted his work to help find a funding to replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, which the Missouri Department of Transportation initially suggested shutting down for rehabilitation work.
“So when MoDOT said we have got to close down the Buck O’Neil Bridge for a couple of years, I was the one that hopped up and said, ‘Nope. We need to do something differently.’”
Where candidates agreed: During election time, the name of the game is neighborhoods.
Councilman Jermaine Reed, 3rd District, said he wanted to see City Hall work for every Kansas Citian. One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, was helping eliminate food deserts on the city’s East Side.
“It’s heartwarming to think many times of the many people who come up to you saying, ‘Thank you for your service. Thank you for being able to do this.’ And I think that serves as a real example for how I’ll lead as the next mayor of this city,” Reed said.
Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, said creating “strong neighborhoods” means providing access to affordable housing and making sure the city is working on agendas and projects residents want to see on their block.
Asked about how candidates would address infrastructure in the Northland, Lucas said, again, it was important the city listen to stakeholders early in the planning process, not just once they have a proposal put together.
“Because what you don’t need is somebody who’s going to show up and just say, ‘I’m doing it this way, and this is what’s going to happen. Just hop on board,’” Lucas said.
Justus said Kansas City was “on a roll” and she wanted to make sure success was shared equitably across the city.
Stabilizing neighborhoods is something Phil Glynn says he’s doing, not just talking about. He said his company Travois, which focuses on economic development in Native American communities, has invested $1.4 billion over the years in grocery stores, child care centers and affordable housing to stabilize communities.
“I don’t believe we can be a successful city until and unless we have successful neighborhoods — neighborhoods that have quality housing that our working families and our senior citizens can afford,” Glynn said, “neighborhoods that have high-quality jobs that our citizens have both the skills and the reliable transportation to truly thrive in.”
Where they disagreed: Candidates may all be talking about neighborhoods, but Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, it’s important to look at voting records, not rhetoric.
Canady said council members have championed affordable housing while approving big incentives for developers and claimed to support neighborhoods while voting against their interests.
“Those are key things, and it demonstrates to you the character of each one of us,” Canady said.
She took issue with the “disappointing” processes the council has followed to rename The Paseo for Martin Luther King, Jr., and to approve the KCI project. On the MLK issue, she said her constituents didn’t feel that they were heard.
“They did not support it. And my council colleagues from the 3rd District led the initiative,” Canady said. “That’s a situation where it was a good thing and the process was not perfected and you have an outcome that’s mixed.”
Emerging jabs: Up until now, the candidate forums have been free of ad hominem attacks. But Tuesday’s event brought some barbs, apparently aimed at Councilwoman Jolie Justus, 4th District, widely viewed as the front-runner.
None of her opponents named her, but several decried the process the council has followed to get the terminal project done.
In his opening remarks, Steve Miller took at jab at the council’s work, led by Justus, who chairs the Airport Committee. He said the process elected officials follow to get projects done matters, and that can be seen with the airport, which has been beset delays and political infighting.
Councilman Scott Taylor, 6th District at-large, said the council needed to move forward on the project. The airlines that serve KCI have reached agreement on how to finance the new terminal and council members could vote as early as this month to approve the project.
“I still think we should have picked the hometown team originally and keep the money and jobs here completely in Kansas City,” Taylor said.
Burns & McDonnell’s “hometown” bid to rebuild KCI was rejected.
Canady, too, complained about the process.
In an interview following the forum, Justus said the city was “on the cusp” of taking a vote to approve the new airport.
“This has not been an easy process, but we are really at the point where we’re getting ready to take a vote on one of the most key infrastructure projects in the history of our city,” Justus said, “and I look forward to having that debate at City Council.”
Lucas, who often asks pointed questions during the Airport Committee, pushed back at those who complained about the airport. He said the new terminal should move forward without constant criticism.
“Let’s just, as the late Sen. McCain said, ‘Build the dang thing,’ and make sure that we’re actually keeping moving instead of kind of playing politics and retrospective views over time.”
But Lucas has often expressed his own frustration with the inner workings of the airport committee. In an interview last month about the city’s proposal to borrow outside funds to kick start the project, he said even as a committee member he struggled to get information about the plan and said there was seemingly a new suggested financing arrangement “every week.”
Light-hearted moment: Reed got several big laughs for repeatedly referencing this winter’s pothole problem.
“Hello,” he began his opening statement. “My name is Jermaine Reed, and I’m running for mayor to fix the potholes in Kansas City.”
He went on to promise to fix the potholes in response to a question about infrastructure in the Northland and joked they were among his disappointments as a member of the council.
On the ballot initiatives: None of the eight candidates at Tuesday’s forum supported a proposed 50 percent cap on tax incentives for development.
Only Justus and Taylor confirmed they are supporting Mayor Sly James’ proposal to raise sales taxes by 3/8 of a cent to fund a pre-K expansion.
Five other candidates —Glynn, Reed, Wagner, Canady and Lucas — raised their hands in opposition.
Miller wouldn’t say how he felt about James’ pre-K proposal.
“I’m going to clearly come out on that position before the election. You know, we’re six weeks out,” Miller said, “and I’ve really tried to be thoughtful about this — trying to search my own heart and also listening to the people in Kansas City. And I’m finding people of really good will are sharply divided on the issue.”