Last time a new mayor and City Council were elected, Kansas City was a different place.
Eight years later, the Sly James era is ending. As his successor and City Council members take their seats in August, they’ll inherit a long-running economic revitalization, a transformed downtown and — they can hope — an airport terminal under construction.
“This will really be the first council and the first mayor in a long time...to walk into a city that has an economic engine that is really humming,” said Pat McInerney, a prominent Kansas City attorney and Democratic activist.
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In Kansas City, mayors and City Council members are limited to two consecutive four-year terms. So every eight years, the city’s leadership changes significantly.
With six council incumbents (Alissia Canady, Jolie Justus, Quinton Lucas, Jermaine Reed, Scott Taylor and Scott Wagner and running for mayor in the April 2 primary, at least half of the 12 seats will turn over. In the race for Wagner’s 1st District at-large seat, Kevin O’Neill is running unopposed. The newcomers will be joined by three incumbents who are uncontested for second terms: Heather Hall, Teresa Loar and Kevin McManus.
Loar, who represents the 2nd District at-large, said the four uncontested seats are not surprising. Unseating an incumbent takes a lot of money and time, and holding elected office requires a tough hide.
“Politics is not a very enticing career these days,” Loar said. “It’s kind of a bloodsport, to be truthful with you. Your reputation is on the line. You have to listen to a lot of crap about you, and people say a lot of negative things and the pay is less than stellar. You give a lot to come down here to do the people’s work for certain.”
She said her district, along with those that Hall and McManus represent — the 2nd, 1st and 6th, respectively — are often less competitive than the more central 3rd, 4th and 5th, where issues like affordable housing, economic development, crime and infrastructure are more likely to touch lives directly.
“You get out to suburbia and even though it does affect their lives, it doesn’t seem like it as much,” Loar said.
The other three council members running for reelection—Dan Fowler, 2nd District, Katheryn Shields, 4th District at-large, and Lee Barnes, 5th District at-large— all face opponents.
Whatever mandate the voters give the new mayor and council members, it may take some time for initiatives to get rolling.
“There’s always a pretty steep learning curve, and that is — it’s made even more challenging for a new City Council in Kansas City because...there’s so much going on,” McInerney said.
Whereas the council incumbents running for mayor started campaigning in earnest months ahead of the Jan. 8 filing deadline, a couple of new names have emerged to round out the field of 11: Clay Chastain and Henry Klein.
Meanwhile, Rita Berry, a community activist, has dropped out. Roi Chinn didn’t garner enough signatures to secure his spot on the ballot, according to the clerk’s office.
In an email, Chinn said he was withdrawing from the race because a family member has cancer. He said he had learned from the election that to be a “top-tier” candidate one must “sell out” to developers and “play the political game.”
“I realize this is a blow for those that have put their faith, investment and time into my campaign and for that I am truly sorry,” he said.
1st District at-large
2nd District at-large
3rd District at-large
Wallace Hartsfield, II
Joseph “Joey Cuts” Thomas
4th District at-large
5th District at-large
Lee Barnes, Jr.
Edward Bell II
6th District at-large
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the official list following certification by the City Clerk’s Office. Roi Chinn, Cathy Thomas and Angie Sims, whose signatures were still being processed at the time of original publication, were removed from the races for mayor, 3rd District and 5th District, respectively.
The list has also been updated to correct misspellings from the unofficial list provided by the city.