Government & Politics

First KC mayoral candidate forum: light scrimmage, not heavy hitting

The nine candidates aspiring to be Kansas City’s next mayor shared a stage for the first time Wednesday night, answering 90 minutes of questions before a Northland audience in what was more a scrimmage without pads than full contact.

The nine candidates in the non-partisan April 2 primary are Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, Councilmen Quinton Lucas, Scott Taylor and Jermaine Reed, Councilwoman Alissia Canady, Crossroads businessman Phil Glynn, construction attorney Stephen Miller, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander and community activist Rita Berry.

The thread of agreement running through the rhetoric at Eastgate School auditorium was that city government needed to move all neighborhoods forward with the same kind of transformational energy it devoted to Downtown in the last decade.

That meant attention to fundamentals such as housing, economic development, public safety and basic services like street repair and trash pick up.

“Everybody should be positioned to win in Kansas City. Everybody should be winning,” said Canady, a former county prosecutor serving her first term as 5th District council member.

“Being mayor is about being a leader of a city,” and that meant all areas, said Kander, who narrowly lost a 2016 U.S. Senate race to Republican incumbent Roy Blunt.

A few shafts of daylight did slip through under questioning from former Northland council member Ed Ford. Some candidates came to the crime issue from different angles.

Lucas, who has had shootings within a couple of blocks of his apartment in the 18th & Vine District, said police could be deployed more visibly and effectively. Glynn stressed more attention to “economic root causes,” such as lack of jobs and decent housing.

“Stable neighborhoods help neighbors prevent crime,” he said.

Kander said the city must take better advantage of cameras and other technology while focusing more attention on individuals well-known to police as likely to behave violently. Wagner cited the importance of teaching de-escalation and conflict resolution.

Controversies surrounding the planned new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport gave the non-incumbent candidates their fattest target of the evening, as Ford asked what they might have done differently. Miller, a former chair of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, called the process of selecting the project developer (Edgemoor) “rushed, confusing and unfair to everyone.” He added that council members had no business being so deeply involved in procurement matters.

Glynn, who emphasized his handling of more than a billion in investor funds to build housing in Native American communities, described the city’s process as “secrecy ... followed by confusion.” Kander said going forward the city needed to have a closer communities of color and unions to ensure a diverse workforce for the terminal.

There were a few personal insights when, instead of pre-cooked closing statements, Ford asked the candidates to reveal something of themselves not publicly known. Some did closing statements anyway.

But Reed spoke of his time as a 14-year-old living in a homeless shelter on Troost. Miller talked about the crushing impact of his wife’s battle with breast cancer and how it inspired him to help support other survivors. Wagner, who if elected would be the city’s first mayor from north of the river, paid tribute to his wife Laura.

Berry recalled a recent encounter with a man who lived on 59th Street but had no car and had to leave for his job in Lenexa every night at midnight. Taylor came clean with the audience — his wife included — about furtive drive-throughs at his favorite Northland taco place, In-A-Tub on North Oak Trafficway ... or its other location on NW Prairie View Road.

The forum was sponsored by Forward Kansas City, a non-partisan Northland advocacy group.