Mayor Sly James was sworn in for a second term Saturday and proclaimed that Kansas City is poised for greatness.
“The initials KC are as hot as Johnny Cueto’s fastball,” James told a crowd that filled the Gem Theater in the 18th & Vine Jazz District. “People are talking about us around the country and the world.”
Longtime City Hall watchers said they thought this was the first time the mayor and council were sworn in at a location other than City Hall. James’ chief of staff, Joni Wickham, said that was deliberate.
“He wants to focus a lot of his energy on the East Side and wanted to kick it off right,” Wickham said.
In a short inaugural speech, James celebrated Kansas City’s progress the past four years in new technology companies, a new downtown streetcar route, reduction in the homicide rate and improvements to early childhood education. But he said many challenges remain, including vacant and blighted housing, drive-by shootings of children and the need for more East Side development and for more jobs and businesses throughout the city.
“We are not done yet if we want a city with safe neighborhoods, world-class schools, abundant cultural opportunities and a high quality of life,” he said.
The mayor has formed new committees to address housing, the airport, youth development and capital investment in entrepreneurship, which he said will be priorities going forward.
Along with James, 12 council members were sworn in — three incumbents and nine new members.
Those in the audience were enthusiastic about the new group.
“It’s going to be great,” said Rianna Deselich, who serves on the Kansas City Neighborhood Advisory Council. “There are more women, very strong women.”
This council has five women, versus three on the last council, and five African-Americans, compared to four before. Deselich said she appreciates the greater diversity and the young, up-and-coming members of the new council.
But this new group may also be more feisty and more prone to challenge James’ agenda.
“I think there are a lot of strong-willed people there,” said Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett, who attended Saturday’s ceremony. He noted the group includes eight lawyers as well as some who have served previously on the City Council or in other high-powered elective offices.
But Burnett said James is a “strong, charismatic character” who will work hard to forge a consensus with his new colleagues.
Saturday’s ceremony went forward without a hitch despite the fact that mayoral challenger Vincent Lee filed a lawsuit in early July to challenge James’ electoral victory and to try to halt him from taking the oath of office.
The lawsuit raised some of the same late-tax-payment issues that primary mayoral candidate Clay Chastain had raised in trying to disqualify James from running for mayor. That lawsuit was dismissed by a Jackson County judge, and the dismissal was upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals before the June 23 general election.
City Attorney Bill Geary said Saturday he was aware of Lee’s lawsuit.
“We have not yet been officially served,” he said. “If Mr. Lee insists on going forward and actually serving the city, we’ll of course defend against the accusations, again.”
Before James took office in 2011, new councils had celebrated with an inaugural ball. But James rethought that tradition and hosted a picnic at Starlight Theatre four years ago. After this year’s Gem Theater inaugural, the crowd went across the street to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, where the Heart of America Hot Dog Festival was just getting underway.
Wickham said the inaugural planning committee had been pondering what type of reception to have when it discovered the hot dog festival was scheduled for the same day and in the same basic venue.
“It was a very nice coincidence,” she said.
James said he just wanted a different atmosphere and the hot dog festival fit that bill.
“You’ll find a very different crowd here than at an inaugural ball,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”