On Kansas City’s council ballot: Newcomers to City Hall, but not to politics, activism

Kansas City’s next mayor will take office this summer with a City Council where at least six of the twelve members will be new.

While they will be novices on the council, the contenders are not new to politics or community activism. The field includes a pastor, a barber, the editor of a labor newspaper, a real estate agent and an incumbent in the Missouri House of Representatives.

The first-term members will be joined by at least three council incumbents who are running unopposed.

A look at Tuesday’s ballot:

Kevin O’Neill, 1st District at-large

A reporter and columnist for the KC Labor Beacon for the past 27 years, O’Neill said his career experience had “loosened (his) filter” and given him “the opportunity to call out injustice when I see it.”

“While I don’t always take the most popular side, I do believe I take the right side more often than not,” he said.

O’Neill, who is running unopposed for a first term, said he’s seen middle and lower-class families “stripped of wages, benefits, rights and other middle class traits.” The most important issues facing Kansas City, he believes, are crime, trash pickup and reform of tax incentive agencies.

Teresa Loar, 2nd District at-large

Loar served on the City Council from 1995 to 2003 and was elected again in 2015. This would be her fourth term. She is running unopposed.

“I know my community inside and out—from the schools to the business, from the faith community to the nonprofits,” she said. “I have always been a very active member of my city and still am. I’m persistent, bold, assertive and some would say fearless. But those are qualities that you must possess to lead.”

In 2011, she went to Kabul, Afghanistan, for two years to work on an infrastructure project.

It “was an experience of a lifetime,” she said.

Brandon Ellington, 3rd District, at-large

Ellington was elected in 2012 to the Missouri House of Representatives, where he currently serves. He was vice chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and is the current minority whip.

He decried the status quo of council leadership in Kansas City: “(It is) corporations over people, and with me as Councilman, it would always be people over corporations.” He called for more evidence-based practices and programs in policing and investment in basic services and infrastructure for neighborhoods to be “made whole.”

Ellington used to own an entertainment company and enjoys producing “socially conscious visual and audio material.”

He added that he wants to go skydiving some day.

Wallace Hartsfield, II, 3rd District at-large

Hartsfield has been a professor, community organizer and pastor. He said he would bring to the council an ability to build consensus and work together across disparate groups in Kansas City.

“I strongly believe the most pressing issue facing our city is the deep economic and racial divide that has plagued us for the last 50 years plus,” he said. “Our city must not become numb to these disparities, rather I believe we must move a collective response that will require the support of the entire city council.”

Hartsfield graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music, and loves to play the keyboards.

Katheryn Shields, 4th District at-large

Shields is an incumbent who has served as a Kansas City councilmember for 12 years and Jackson County executive for 12 years. She was on the Council from 1987 to 1994, and elected again in 2015. She’s a lawyer, and believes her experience in government will allow her to work well with the new mayor and council members.

The current mayor and city manager have focused on new large-scale projects to the detriment of maintaining existing infrastructure, she said. She believes that infrastructure decay is the most important issue in Kansas City.

She has one son who was born on her 10th wedding anniversary.

“We will be celebrating his 30th birthday this July 28 and our 40th wedding anniversary,” she said. “Other than a few years at Chuck E. Cheese, it has all been wonderful.”

Robert Westfall, 4th District at-large

Westfall, born and raised in Kansas City, studied business and public policy at the University of Missouri. In his 20s, he developed a drinking problem and received multiple DWIs until his license was suspended for a decade.

He quit drinking when he was 27.

The experience of addiction and “squandering many of the opportunities I was given as a youth” made him quit “feeling sorry for myself,” he said.

This led to him becoming “committed to fixing the systemic roadblocks that have kept too many from having their own opportunities for far too long.”

“How do we define success as a city? Is it by changes to our skyline? Or is it that everyone living within our city who is willing to put in the work should have the same opportunity for a safe, happy, and fulfilling life?” Westfall said. “I think it is the latter.”

Lee Barnes, Jr., 5th District at-large

Barnes, an incumbent, grew up in Kansas City and graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in engineering. He is a director of a nonprofit that develops educational programs and a Treasurer and Trustee for Metropolitan Missionary Baptist church.

He said the top priority facing the city is “repairing or replacing our aging infrastructure, in addition to improving our basic services to citizens.” Funds need to be distributed equally, he said, but communities should understand that circumstances dictate that some areas need more money from the city than others at a given time.

Barnes has recorded and performed on the drums for Ground Level, a local band, for more than 25 years.

Dwayne Williams, 5th District at-large

Williams is president and CEO of the Twelfth Street Heritage Development Corporation that rehabilitates inner-city homes in Kansas City. It also runs programs to mentor urban core youth and to help those who have been released from prison readjust to society.

He wants to see more neighborhood policing, more investment in law enforcement equipment and technology and a focus on economic inequality to address the issues of crime and public safety in Kansas City.

Williams said he has a “great love for and appreciation for horses,” and loves fishing, having gone in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Sea of Cortez and the Gulf of Mexico.

Andrea Bough, 6th District at-large

Bough is an attorney specializing in commercial real estate, land use, development and economic development. She was a member of Mayor Sly James’ transition team, and chaired the mayor’s Commission on Ethics Reform.

She believes that violent crime is the single most important issue facing Kansas City. While it should be addressed through “immediate solutions,” she said, it’s especially important to also do so through its “root causes,” such as community policing, mental health services and help for the needy.

Bough described herself as a “huge sports fan” who has tracked statistics for her son’s baseball and basketball teams and went to a Red Sox vs. Royals game at Fenway Park in Boston with her husband for her 25th wedding anniversary.

Stacey Johnson-Cosby, 6th District at-large

Johnson-Cosby has been a real estate agent in Kansas City for 32 years. She said this experience gives her the perspective to advocate for economic development projects and help shepherd them forward.

She believes crime and neighborhood safety is the biggest issue facing Kansas City.

“We must do something different than we have done in the past,” Johnson-Cosby said, so she wants to start a summit to bring together experts and community members to brainstorm potential solutions.

She has been married to her husband for 31 years, and both of her parents and two of her sisters are military veterans.

Heather Hall, 1st District

Hall, an incumbent running unopposed, said she is diligent about seeking new information and is consistent in her decision making process before voting.

“I’m working on roads, sidewalks and trash collection. I will continue to work with law enforcement to keep our citizens and officers safe,” she said.

She and her husband love to sail.

Dan Fowler, 2nd District

Fowler, an incumbent, has lived in the Northland since 1987 when he moved from the Kansas side and has represented the 2nd District since 2015. He has been Chairman of the Ethics and Legal Review Committee and vice-chair of the Airport Committee.

Public safety is the most important issue facing Kansas City, he said, and since state and federal funds are so scarce, the city, local businesses and philanthropies and other groups need to work together to find solutions.

He loves riding his bike, hanging out with his grandkids and reading history. His favorite historical figure is Winston Churchill.

Kevin M. McEvoy, 2nd District

McEvoy works as a sales manager and has lived in Kansas City since 2004. He enjoys volunteering and coaching youth sports.

He said he “would ask voters to understand that I am not someone steeped in the connections of City Hall and the failures of the past.”

He believes violent crime and the homicide rate are the most significant issues facing the city, and one specific solution that he recommended was investing in streetlights and road and sidewalk maintenance in high-crime areas.

He was a volunteer firefighter. He once dressed up as Santa Claus and rode around on a firetruck talking to children about their Christmas wishes, and he also volunteered at Ground Zero in New York City in the days after 9/11.

Melissa Robinson, 3rd District

Robinson has worked for health care nonprofits and chaired the Kansas City Public School Board of Directors. She is currently executive director of the Black Health Care Coalition.

She wants to improve public safety by investing in mental health support, education and providing jobs that pay a living wage. She said she supports community policing and background checks to buy guns.

Her father loved chess, and she grew up playing against him, beating him for the first time when she was a teenager.

“I challenged him to replay the games from his chess magazines and I would always choose the winning player,” Robinson said. “Now, that my dad has passed away, I still love the game but will only play solo from his old magazines.”

Joseph “Joey Cuts” Thomas, 3rd District

Thomas runs a barbershop in the 18th and Vine District. He started the Know Joey Foundation that provides professional development for young men in the city and hosts two annual events: Fresh Cut Fresh Start and Turkey Tuesday.

He said he doesn’t believe any issue should be more important than another, but if he had to pick one especially important one facing Kansas City it would be “the heart and mindset of the people.”

He loves weather and clouds. He and his brother want to go storm chasing in a refurbished truck.

“I see myself being a meteorologist in my older days. Not sure how far away but years from now,” he said.

Geoff Jolley, 4th District

Jolley has worked as a firefighter, lawyer and aide to Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, which he said combines to give him an ability to empathize with the public as well as to work within the government to get things done.

“Many of the difficult issues we face in our community, from crime to poor health, can be traced to our socio-economic divide,” he said. “By using our resources strategically, and encouraging economic development throughout our entire city, we will help to create a city that can continue to thrive.”

After he graduated from law school, Jolley was a firefighter in Antarctica for six months at a research facility. He said there were days with 24 straight hours of sunlight and wind chills as low as minus 90.

“I arrived on the first flight of the season and left on the last flight,” he said. “It was certainly one of the most interesting and memorable experiences of my life.”

Eric Bunch, 4th District

Bunch is co-founder of BikeWalkKC. He is an advocate for investing in Kansas City’s infrastructure, and he wants to add more bike lanes as streets are repaved. He said one of the proudest moments of his life was leading a campaign that led to Kansas City approving $150 million in 2017 to repair sidewalks.

“Generations of inequality continues to be the most deeply rooted challenge our city faces,” he said. This can be addressed “by investing in affordable housing, public transportation, and education.”

His grandmother, a small-town mayor in southeast Missouri, introduced Bunch to progressive politics, he said. She also passed along an interest in native birds and foliage.

Ryana Parks-Shaw, 5th District

Parks-Shaw was born in Kansas City and has worked in healthcare administration for 25 years. She has served on the Eastern Jackson County Workforce Development Board and the statewide Missouri Hospice and Palliative Care Board.

She wants to create more quality affordable housing in Kansas City through funding the established fair housing plan, through community benefit agreements on developments, through general obligation bonds and by working together with other council members.

“I enjoy line-dancing to all types of music, including country line dancing. It is a fun way to get some exercise without it feeling like you are exercising,” Parks-Shaw said.

Edward Bell, II, 5th District

Bell, born and raised in Kansas City, studied public administration and political science at Park University, then got his Master’s in business administration from Benedectine College.

“My professional experience includes being an educator, community relations specialist, nonprofit leadership, retail management, and executive consulting,” he said. “I serve as a mentor, community advocate, and a caring member of my community.”

Workforce and economic development are at the center of Bell’s campaign. He wants to strengthen unions in his district, and he wants neighborhood groups to collaborate more often and more effectively with elected officials.

Kevin McManus, 6th District

McManus, born and raised in the 6th District, is the incumbent councilman. He previously served in the Missouri House of Representatives.

“As a former member of the state legislature, I know firsthand what happens when a legislative body is more focused on hyper-partisanship than getting things done,” he said. “We accomplish much more -- and have a far greater impact -- when we work together.”

He wants more social workers and more community interaction police officers to make neighborhoods safer, he said, and he wants to forge partnerships with private, public and nonprofit groups to create an affordable “pathway toward homeownership.”

McManus hosted a late-night blues program on FM radio when he was in college, and used to play guitar for a band called the Reg.