Sly James coasts to victory as KC mayor in near record low voter turnout

Kansas City Mayor Sly James sailed to an easy victory against opponent Vincent “General” Lee in Tuesday’s general election. After James spoke at Union Station, former Mayor Richard L. Berkley (let )congratulated James on his victory. James then posed for a selfie with Berkley.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James sailed to an easy victory against opponent Vincent “General” Lee in Tuesday’s general election. After James spoke at Union Station, former Mayor Richard L. Berkley (let )congratulated James on his victory. James then posed for a selfie with Berkley. JTOYOSHIBA@KCSTAR.COM

After the least suspenseful mayoral campaign in recent Kansas City history, incumbent Mayor Sly James coasted to victory Tuesday night over low-budget challenger Vincent “General” Lee.

James won with 87 percent of the vote in one of the lowest City Council election turnouts in a generation, according to final unofficial returns.

The incumbent declared victory shortly before 9 p.m. at Union Station, where his supporters had gathered for a victory party. He spoke in front of a huge American flag, with family members gathered on the stage.

“This is a win for all of you,” James said as the crowd cheered.

Among winners of closely watched City Council races were Heather Hall, Katheryn Shields and Alissia Canady.

Despite winning a second mayoral term, James lost in his campaign to try to drive high voter turnout and thus make it harder to mount frivolous or divisive petition initiatives over the next four years. Turnout was just 8 percent in Platte County and was even worse than during the April 7 primary. It was only 8 percent in Clay County and 13 percent in Kansas City south of the Missouri River.

Since initiative petition drives need just 5 percent of the mayoral turnout, the apathy in this election could set the stage for numerous grass-roots causes, such as those that transit activist Clay Chastain has mounted for years.

With barely 34,000 people voting for mayor, that means the threshold for petition signatures will likely be about 1,700, compared to about 3,570 over the past four years.

In an interview with The Star, James said the city may want to reconsider holding elections in late June. The late date, he said, may have contributed to the poor turnout.

But he conceded the new threshold for initiative petitions appears locked in place for the next four years. “That cow’s already out of the barn,” he said.

One petition initiative is already underway, seeking a public vote before the city executes any agreement to develop, finance or construct a downtown convention hotel.

Dan Coffey, who is leading that petition drive, said he thought his group might collect about 200 signatures during Tuesday’s election. But they can keep collecting even after the election and have an indefinite time period to present their initiative for City Council consideration.

James’ re-election has been almost a foregone conclusion since former city councilman and would-be challenger Dan Cofran considered running and then opted out late last year.

James, 63, had the power of incumbency, popularity in polls and a nearly $1 million campaign war chest to deter any other viable opponents.

Lee, 59, who was a frequent gadfly at City Hall in the 1990s but less visible recently, jumped into the race in January. But he raised almost no money, had an almost invisible campaign except for yard signs, and appeared in only one debate.

Lee spoke with The Star at the Sheraton Hotel at Crown Center. He said he might still pursue legal action against James for tax problems that surfaced during the campaign.

But he said he had no regrets about his effort. “The people are so busy with their lives and so frustrated with the system that they feel like their votes really don’t count,” he said.

While the mayoral contest was lackluster, the issues facing the next mayor and council won’t be. These are the city leaders who likely will help decide how to modernize Kansas City International Airport, what to do about Kemper Arena, whether and how to expand the downtown streetcar system, and how to improve the city’s crumbling infrastructure and struggling neighborhoods.

Even though the mayor’s spot was secure, the rest of the 13-member City Council will undergo significant turnover. At least six council members are term-limited out of their seats and another is serving just an interim term, and incumbents Dick Davis and Jim Glover were defeated.

One big question from this campaign was whether the new council members would forge a cohesive, reliably supportive group for James’s agenda or whether they would be more independent and combative than the current council.

The new council takes office Aug. 1.

Council results were:

▪  1st District, covering most of Kansas City in Clay County, between Davis, who has been active in Northland politics for years, and Hall, whose husband is a police officer and who had lots of law enforcement support. In unofficial returns Tuesday night, Hall had 54 percent to Davis’ 46 percent.

▪  1st District at-large, in which incumbent Scott Wagner beat challenger Jeff Roberts with 80 percent of the vote to earn a second term.

▪  2nd District, representing Platte County, featuring lawyer Dan Fowler, who was unopposed and will replace Russ Johnson, who is term-limited out.

▪  2nd District at-large, featuring former Councilwoman Teresa Loar against Jay Hodges, who worked more than three years in James’ administration. Loar won with 66 percent and replaces Ed Ford, who is term-limited out.

▪  3rd District, representing the urban core, in which incumbent Jermaine Reed defeated challenger and Kansas City school district activist Jamekia Kendrix with 72 percent of the vote.

▪  3rd District at-large, in which Quinton Lucas defeated Stephan Gordon with 74 percent of the vote. Lucas replaces Melba Curls, who is term-limited out.

▪  4th District, representing a sliver of the Northland, old Northeast and south along State Line Road to 59th Street, featuring Jolie Justus, who defeated John Fierro with 77 percent of the vote. Justus replaces Jan Marcason, who is term-limited out.

▪  4th District at-large, pitting incumbent Jim Glover, who has served numerous terms on the City Council, against former Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields. Shields upset Glover, winning by just 110 votes in unofficial results.

During the campaign Glover had touted his experience in housing and urban development and his best-known achievement, the Midtown Marketplace, with Costco and Home Depot. Shields cited her passion for historic preservation and her work to redevelop the Truman Sports Complex.

▪  5th District, representing east Kansas City neighborhoods, between former City Councilman Ken Bacchus and Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Alissia Canady. In unofficial returns, Canady had 51 percent to Bacchus’ 49 percent. She replaces Cokethia Hill, an interim member who replaced Michael Brooks.

▪  5th District at-large, in which Lee Barnes Jr. beat Dennis Anthony, 77 percent to 23 percent. Barnes replaces Cindy Circo, who is term-limited out.

▪  6th District, representing the southwest corridor and south Kansas City, Kevin McManus defeated Terrence Nash, 75 percent to 25 percent, to replace John Sharp, who is term-limited out.

▪  6th District at-large incumbent Scott Taylor ran unopposed and earned a second term.

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

Kansas City Council winners:

1st District: Heather Hall

1st District at-large: Scott Wagner

2nd District: Dan Fowler

2nd District at-large: Teresa Loar

3rd District: Jermaine Reed

3rd District at-large: Quinton Lucas

4th District: Jolie Justus

4th District at-large: Katheryn Shields

5th District: Alissia Canady

5th District at-large: Lee Barnes

6th District: Kevin McManus

6th District at-large: Scott Taylor


Petition numbers

The threshold for signatures to mount petition initiatives in Kansas City will be much lower over the next four years, due to the extremely low turnout in Tuesday night’s mayoral election. With slightly more than 34,000 people voting in Tuesday’s mayor’s race, the threshold for signatures will be about 1,700, or 5 percent of that mayoral turnout. Four years ago, more than 71,400 people voted in the mayor’s race, so the signature requirement was just over 3,570.

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