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Buzz notes: Game show mayoral forum addresses crime, economic development, transit

Who will replace Sly James as mayor of Kansas City? Meet the candidates vying for the city’s top job.

Meet the candidates running for mayor of Kansas City.
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Meet the candidates running for mayor of Kansas City.

With dozens of forums planned for the mayoral campaign, it would be impossible for anyone to go to all of them. To help you sort through who’s saying what and to whom, check out The Star’s series of cut-to-the chase summaries. Here are highlights of the most recent mayoral debate.

The event: “Candidates and Cold Ones,” a game show-inspired forum put on by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Attendees: Kansas City Council members Alissia Canady, Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas, Jermaine Reed, Scott Taylor and Scott Wagner; Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn; bank branch manager Henry Klein; Vincent “The General” Lee and construction attorney Steve Miller. Transportation activist Clay Chastain was apparently invited. There was a seat labeled for him on stage, but he did not attend.

A new format: The issues — crime and violence, economic development, pre-K, transportation and more — may not have been new, but the format was.

To avoid the monotony that comes after well over a dozen mayoral forums, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce took a game show-style approach to the forum. Each candidate got to pick a couple categories and answer questions drawn from a fish bowl. For their final questions, they could let an audience member weigh in or take a question from the moderator, Polsinelli’s Diana Ashton.

The rapid-fire questions and limited candidate interaction made for a quick-moving forum focused on some of the city’s top issues.

On crime and violence: Despite calls for more affordable housing and better infrastructure, this remains the biggest issue for Kansas City voters. According to an independent poll commissioned by The Star, it’s the top issue to 35 percent of them.

Solutions have proved difficult as the city’s homicide rate hovers among the highest in the nation.

Several candidates promoted the idea of increased community policing to improve police-neighborhood relations. But getting there is another thing.

“We have dedicated police officers that want to do community policing,” Taylor said. “We’ve talked about it for decades — doing community policing — but we don’t have the proper number of officers. They’re just going from call to call to call. We need to make sure that there are enough to do community policing.”

Wagner said he “of course” supports having more community police officers.

“The reality is back that in the days when you used to have them it was because the federal government gave us lots of money to hire them,” Wagner said. “They don’t do that anymore.”

Wagner added he does not believe, given the police department’s existing staffing, that more uniformed police officers should be diverted to “non-enforcement” jobs. He argued that’s where more civilian employees could be helpful so officers with the authority to arrest could stay focused on those functions.

Along with community policing, hosts asked how Kansas City could recruit a police force to better represent the city’s diversity. Lucas said the police department had already begun doing the important work of recruiting from inner-city high schools and colleges.

Lucas said there’s a stigma now among young people of color about being a police officer that makes it imperative that the department build relationships with neighborhoods.

“In many ways, the way that you’re actually recruiting a police force or police officer of the future is by being good to people in the neighborhood at 10 years old,” Lucas said.

Klein, who manages a Bank of America branch at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue, has been calling at forums for local control of the police department. It has been governed by a board appointed by the Missouri governor since 1939. Some argue Kansas City should regain control over the police department to better address violent crime.

“Our priorities need to be the police department’s priorities and not the other way around,” Klein said.

Better economic development and housing: As the city grapples with how to provide targeted economic development incentives, Glynn, whose company builds affordable housing in indigenous communities, said the city’s taxpayers — which he likened to investors on a project — need a seat at the table.

“My work with investors in the private sector has shown me that investors have the right to demand a return,” Glynn said. “That return should come in the form of housing that our working families and seniors can actually afford, the revitalization of communities that are experiencing real blight and, like I just mentioned, quality jobs.”

He said he would work with the next council to clarify how the city should be using its tax incentives.

Canady looked to the audience to pick a category for her final question, calling on a man wearing a hat from the newly-formed KC Tenants group, which is advocating for more affordable housing and better policies for the city’s renters.

Asked what the city can do to support small businesses, Canady said the city needs to create equity and provide incubation, technical support and access to capital for small businesses.

“We have to make sure we create a system of economic equity where people have access to capital when they have vision and a plan because currently that’s one of the biggest impediments to most small business owners, particularly on the east side, of getting their foot in the door,” Canady said.

Lee, who calls himself The General, has pushed moving Kansas City International Airport to Jackson County and creating a military base out of KCI, a vision that will almost definitely not be realized. He wants to open steel, aluminum and car manufacturing plants in the city.

Transportation: Justus, a frequent advocate of transit, said the city needs to push for more transit beyond the planned extension of the streetcar from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and connect various modes of public transportation.

“In the 2030 Kansas City that I want to live in, everybody’s a 15-minute wait from public transportation,” Justus said, adding that the city needs to push for more east-west transit lines.

Justus added the city needs to work with other cities in the area to find a regional approach to funding transit.

Reed, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Kansas Citians, like his younger brother, need better access to jobs in their neighborhood or reliable transit to get them to work. His brother, he said, lives off of 39th Street.

“But he goes all the way up north to Taco Bell where he’s working as a cashier — all the way up north — and it takes him nearly two hours every single day,” Reed said.

Kansas City is working to extend the streetcar south from Union Station to UMKC, but it needs a federal grant to help fund the construction costs. Asked what he would do if President Donald Trump’s administration didn’t grant it, Miller, a construction attorney said he had experience asking the federal government for transit funds.

“Sometimes it means continuing to pound on the door,” Miller said.

He added he would be hesitant to ask local taxpayers for more funds to make the project possible.

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