Government & Politics

KCI single-terminal campaign coming down to the wire

Town hall meeting answers questions on the new KCI proposal

Panelists Mayor Sly James, Geoffrey Stricker of Edgemoor Infrastructure and Council members Jolie Justus and Jermaine Reed joined The Kansas City Star Opinion's Town Hall discussion about the vote on building a new $1 billion terminal at Kansas Ci
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Panelists Mayor Sly James, Geoffrey Stricker of Edgemoor Infrastructure and Council members Jolie Justus and Jermaine Reed joined The Kansas City Star Opinion's Town Hall discussion about the vote on building a new $1 billion terminal at Kansas Ci

The $700,000 worth of television ads have pounded local airwaves. The latest spot uses warm scenes of children and families at KCI to show that “airports are about people.”

Ten rounds campaign literature hit the mail. Three waves of canvassers knocked, and knocked again, on 60,000 doors. Mayor Sly James and other surrogate speakers racked up more than 100 appearances in front of business, civic and neighborhood groups.

The only metric that matters, of course, will be the votes counted on Tuesday. On that number, architects of the campaign for a $1 billion, privately financed single-terminal airport remain guarded.

“We have always expected this election to be close,” said campaign manager Mark Nevins. “And we’re going to run through Election Day like it’s neck-and-neck.”

This is what operatives usually say in the final days of a campaign. It’s their way of keeping volunteers motivated and prodding complacent “yes” voters to turn out at the polls. Those leading the quest for “A Better KCI” as the yard signs say, sound like they mean it.

While organized opposition has been scant, the campaign faces headwinds. Strategists say they are dealing with an inherent distrust of City Hall and government in general, making it a challenge to get across the message that no tax dollars will be used to construct or operate the new facility. Memories of the messy search for an airport developer, which led to charges of backroom dealing and favoritism, still resonate for some voters.

“When you look at the trust issue, it’s real and pervasive,” said political consultant Phil Scaglia, who has run the campaign’s canvassing ground game from an unmarked storefront in the Union Hill neighborhood just south of downtown.

Then there is timing. The campaign has had barely 45 days to sell the city’s electorate on the idea. A November election in a city accustomed to municipal contests in April could depress turnout. Cold or rainy weather could drive it down even further. Turnout could be as low as ten percent of the city’s 300,000 registered voters.

“There is a path to victory, but it is a narrow one,” Scaglia said.

Take a quick, virtual tour of the Indianapolis, Raleigh-Durham and Southwest Florida (Fort Myers) International Airports to see what might be in store for Kansas City after the November vote.

On Election Day the campaign will deploy workers to monitor turnout at bellwether polling places. If the numbers are light, “jump teams” will be sent into neighborhoods in question to help draw out the vote.

The summary of a September poll circulated by the campaign found 51 percent of 503 likely voters favored a new terminal while 45 percent were against. Nevins to key called the margin “razor thin” and left “little room for error.”

Campaign spending reports filed last week show that Nevins again commissioned the polling firm Global Strategy Group. An e-mail circulated by the leading anti-single terminal group, Citizens for Responsible Government (CFRG), said a new poll “being floated around City Hall” shows the “yes” vote at 55 percent, “down from 58 percent” earlier in the week.

“We are headed in the right direction and need to close the gap. How can we do that? We need to hustle!” said the email. CFRG, which has raised just over $100,000 to the pro-terminal campaign’s $1.6 million, opposes most local government initiatives. It favors renovation of the three existing KCI terminals.

Nevins declined to discuss the findings, except to say that the campaign did not conduct two surveys in one week.

Support for the ballot question came directly from City Hall as well.. Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte sent an e-mail to municipal employees Thursday urging them to support the measure as a potential boon to the city’s economy.

“It is anticipated that fewer than 50,000 votes will be cast citywide and the polling indicates that this election will be very close,” said Schulte. “If all 4,400 city employees turned out to vote and brought just one person with them, the outcome of this election would be determined by just the vote of city employees!”

Schulte did not return phone or e-mail messages Friday afternoon. State law bars expenditure of public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure. City spokesman Chris Hernandez said the e-mail only “encourages city employees to do their civic duty by voting,” and provides facts and information about KCI.

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