Mayor Sly James lambasted parties fighting over construction of the new KCI single terminal Sunday, likening them to “hogs who have to belly up to the billion-dollar trough.”
James, making his annual appearance at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Midtown, didn’t name names. But he seemed to leave little doubt about the sources of his frustration. Trade unions are at odds with airport developer Edgemoor over a labor agreement to govern the KCI job site. Edgemoor has also been the target of anonymous campaign-style phone calls telling KC residents that the firm is wrong for the job.
In a 30-minute address that is generally regarded as a dry run for his annual state of the city speech, James expressed gratification with voters’ overwhelming approval of the single-terminal proposal last November. He said his job now is to “keep the City Council focused” on completing an initial memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor.
The mayor expressed impatience with other hurdles that need to be cleared.
“Now we have to get through all the nonsense, all the politics. All the hogs who have to belly up to the billion-dollar trough and suck out what they can and do it any way they can,” he said.
In a brief interview following the speech, James was asked who the “hogs” were.
“People who want to benefit from the process. That’s about it,” he said.
Labor leaders have been pressing Edgemoor for an agreement to employ only unionized workers at the site. Edgemoor has said it cannot meet its targets for hiring minority and women-owned firms under an all-union pact. Labor has been trying to recruit non-union minority firms to sign a one-time-only agreement to join bargaining units for the airport project.
On Monday afternoon, however, James said in a statement that he didn’t have unions in mind when he was talking about hogs.
“I’m disappointed The Star made the erroneous assumption I was referring to labor unions in yesterday’s remarks,” James said. “Do I get fired up about shady political gamesmanship happening behind the scenes of the new KCI project? Yes. Do I think trade unions are to blame? Absolutely not. It’s skilled union workers who will be building the future of the new KCI, from the moment ground is broken to the day that first flight takes off.”
In his Sunday address, James also criticized the anonymous calls critical of Edgemoor.
“We got these robo calls going out there and saying all sorts of nasty stuff. Now let's ask this question,” he said. Who do we think is doing that? It sure as heck isn’t the city. I assure you it’s not Edgemoor. But somebody has some interests here.”
After the talk, James again declined to be specific.
“I don’t have any idea. I have suspicions but suspicions are not facts,” he said. “I’m not saying anything about suspicions.”
The Maryland-based Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate was chosen by a city selection committee for the $1 billion contract, prevailing over three other firms last summer in an unusually contentious procurement process.
Burns & McDonnell, the Kansas City company that campaigned for the job with television spots touting itself as “the hometown team,” was disqualified. It has since teamed up with AECOM, the runner-up bidder, to present itself as an alternative if the the city cannot complete an agreement with Edgemoor.
A Burns & McDonnell spokeswoman said late last week that the company was not involved in the calls. An AECOM spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
James is barred by state law from taking sides, but has been prodding the players to reach a compromise. The objective, he said, is to build the terminal, “not making sure that everybody who wants to belly up can do so.”
“There’s plenty to go around and if we all act normal and nice we can get something,” he said. “But we’re not going to do it if we try to elbow other people out of the way.”
James revisited familiar themes in his other comments to the church audience. He pledged to redouble his efforts to address the city’s homicide rate, but said the state’s lax gun laws had to change. He also challenged communities plagued by violent crime to do be cooperative with police investigations.
“I don’t care how many police we have, they can’t be everywhere,” he said. “When people know what’s going on, when they know who did it and they don’t say, then let me say this: They need to stop calling me and asking me what I’m going to do about it....That’s on you.”
The mayor renewed his pleas for racial equity and diversity, saying he’s walked out of meetings where attendees were all middle-aged white men. He wouldn’t name the gatherings.
“I said, ‘Until you guys find some age differences some gender differences, some color differences I’m not coming back.”