Kansas City voters will go to the polls next month to elect a mayor and 12 City Council members. But just how many people will show up?
That intriguing question hangs over the June 23 general election.
At the top of the ticket, Mayor Sly James is expected to easily win a second term in a lackluster race that will drive down voter participation.
James must step forward to help drum up public interest in how his and other contests could affect the city’s future. Council candidates — especially in four races The Star highlights today — also have a duty to try to attract voters to the ballot box. If they don’t, total turnout next month could be abysmal.
That would allow a small number of citizens to decide who’s going to guide city policies and a $1.4 billion annual budget.
It also would create a potential headache for elected officials as well as Kansas Citians: They could face a larger than usual number of initiative petitions.
The Star has long supported the initiative petition process because it allows citizens the right to place their own ideas on the ballot. But making it ridiculously easy to do that also could lead to costly elections for no legitimate reasons. That’s long been the case with poorly conceived light-rail initiatives.
The city charter is clear about how initiative petitions can get on the ballot. They must be signed by “at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for candidates for the office of mayor” at the general election.
The current goal is just under 3,600 signatures, or 5 percent of the almost 72,000 votes cast in the 2011 mayoral final.
However, it’s possible the number of required signatures could plummet after June 23.
Only 33,000 voters showed up to help decide the April mayoral primary. The general election likely will attract more; in 2011, about 40 percent additional votes were cast in the highly competitive final election. Even under that optimistic scenario, only 45,000 or so Kansas Citians might vote in June.
But the number also could be lower. The election is in the first week of summer, when Kansas Citians could be on vacation.
If the vote for mayor falls below 40,000, the number of required signatures for an initiative petition could drop under 2,000 — less than 1 percent of the city’s total registered voters.
James and the nearly two dozen other candidates on the ballot must do everything they can to motivate voters to show up on June 23. One good way to do that is for the candidates to attend community debates and forums in the coming weeks.
Candidates also must focus voters’ attention on the crucial issues that will face the next council. They include how to upgrade the airport, whether to extend the streetcar, which projects will get millions in taxpayer subsidies and whether to seek a tax increase to better repair aging infrastructure.
Here are four City Council contests that deserve more scrutiny from voters.
1st District: Incumbent Dick Davis finished second in the primary behind Heather Hall. Davis deserves re-election, and will be a strong vote for better public transit and reasonable public pensions. Hall worked hard to win the primary, but her lukewarm view of the city’s all-important effort to renew the 1 percent earnings tax in 2016 is cause for concern.
2nd District at large: Former council member Teresa Loar easily beat newcomer Jay Hodges in the primary, but the general could be much closer. Both candidates are outspoken and strong-willed on the campaign trail, yet neither candidate has offered a compelling package of initiatives they would follow. The Star will make an endorsement in this race in June.
4th District at large: Current council member Jim Glover edged former council member Katheryn Shields in April. Both have strong credentials for making a positive difference on economic development and neighborhood issues. The Star has recommended Glover, but Shields will be an attractive alternative to some voters, especially those who embrace her support for historic preservation.
5th District: Newcomer Alissia Canady narrowly beat former council member Ken Bacchus in the primary. Canady is the best choice. She offers strong credentials as an assistant prosecutor interested in rebuilding neighborhoods in a district that must get more attention from City Hall. Canady has grown more skilled at discussing key issues while offering more than the rehashed views of Bacchus.
Sadly, too many voters ignored these and other council contests in April. The candidates who badly want to win on June 23 have lots of work to do to woo supporters to the polls.