The Star’s Editorial Board with KCMO mayoral candidate Phil Glynn
What’s at stake in this Kansas City mayor’s race is whether this is going to be one city or two. Blue-ribbon panels and tinkering won’t do, and the candidates we enthusiastically endorse in the April 2 primary are the change agents this moment requires, Alissia Canady and Phil Glynn.
Canady, a lawyer finishing her first term on the City Council, is in this race because she’s tired of watching her colleagues hand out goodies to developers at the expense of public schools. She’s weary, too, of hearing that nothing can be done about gun violence without new gun laws in GOP-run Jefferson City. Canady is creative, unowned and unafraid to stand up against the way things have always been done. On the current council, she’s sometimes been the only one to do so.
Part of a new generation of African-American leadership in Kansas City, 39-year-old Canady is an impressively outside-the-box thinker who grew up on the East Side and took a full-time job at 16, working an eight-hour shift as a bill collector after high school let out. She bought her first home at 18, put herself through college as a nail tech and sold real estate to save for law school.
On the council, she started a popular program called Love Thy Neighbor, which helps elderly and disabled Kansas Citians repair their homes. She led negotiations that resulted in a first-ever local hiring commitment on a public project for the convention hotel. And she pushed through funding for legal aid to help Kansas City Public Schools families avoid eviction.
As mayor, she’d leverage federal funds to expand the substance abuse treatment and mental health services that she sees as key to reducing violent crime. Her economic development plan would focus more on supporting local start-ups than on luring established companies here.
Authentic and plainspoken, she questions opponents who “voted in lockstep on every giveaway, and now you want to be for the people?” But when the council was divided over a gun safety resolution in Westport, she came up with the compromise that made it work. She supported wanding all of those coming into the area, “for the safety of people of every color,” but suggested monitoring the entry points to prevent racial profiling.
In answer to a question at a campaign event about how she’d lead the local discussion on race, she told the mostly African-American crowd she’s not interested in exercises with no measurable result. “I’ll be honest; I’m not talking about race. We’ve been talking about race for too long. I want to talk about green — economic development, employment opportunities, health care. As long as we keep talking about color, we’re going to keep having this conversation for another 50 years.”
In the same disruptor mold is 38-year-old Brookside native Phil Glynn, who along with his wife Elizabeth runs a Crossroads-based business that develops affordable housing and neighborhood amenities for Native American communities all over the country. He does for a living what Kansas City most needs right now.
Affable and accomplished, Glynn has already built thousands of units of affordable housing with federal dollars, private investors he recruited and public-private partnerships he put together.
“There isn’t now and won’t be enough money in the city budget” to build the 5,000 affordable units Kansas City needs, and he knows from experience rather than from reading about it “that private investment is out there.”
There is a herd mentality in his industry, as in all others, he says, and the next stop for those building affordable housing won’t be here just because we want it to be.
“My skills fit our needs in this moment,” he says, and we agree.
He also disagrees with giving tax incentives to companies that don’t need them to build in communities that are not blighted. Again, we don’t know that about him because he says so, but because he’s done so. In fact, Mayor Sly James kicked him off the Tax Increment Financing Commission for voting ‘no’ too often.
With violent crime tragically high, affordable housing in terribly short supply and a “transportation system that does not get people to work, we’re not on a good path,” he says, “and it’s unacceptable to me as someone who’s raising a family here. The perception that some parts of Kansas City are doing well and others aren’t is not reality” because when some families and neighborhoods suffer, we all do.
Mayor Sly James has done much that was right in his two terms, and he deserves a lot of credit for his accomplishments. But he was not known for transparency, and he focused a lot of time and effort on luxury downtown development. The question of which of the 11 mayoral candidates to choose really turns on whether you’re in the market for Sly 2.0 or think we need to turn our attention elsewhere now.
If you believe gentrification lifts all boats, then you are a Sly 2.0 voter.
Jolie Justus, the City Council member James has endorsed, is running as Sly with a smile. Without question she’d be less brusque and confrontational with colleagues, who almost universally see him as a bully. When asked in an interview how she’d be different, she answered, “Have you met Sly James? I kid.”
But like him, she believes in working behind the scenes rather than in broad daylight. And in her endorsement meeting with us, she repeatedly used the term “half a loaf” as if that were the goal instead of the fallback position.
Her approach is more that of the legislator she was for eight years than of the bold leader the city needs. On the council, she tends to disappear in the face of controversy.
It’s Justus and Steve Miller who have raised the most money in this race. A construction lawyer and former chair of the board that oversees the Missouri Department of Transportation, Miller has been the most hesitant of all of the candidates to say exactly what policies he’s for and against.
But in his campaign literature and online ads, he uses language nearly identical to Justus’: “Kansas City’s momentum has never been greater, but if we are going to continue this momentum, we need experienced leadership.”
He wants the city to “dream big” and speaks passionately about a long-range city planning process that he continues to tout as his own, when that’s not a solution to anything, and is already in the city budget that passed last week.
This is a fine field of candidates, but the differences between them are stark and consequential.
We’re also impressed by councilman and KU law professor Quinton Lucas, who pushed through the city’s first incentive reform, capping abatements at 75 percent.
The Star is partnering with the nonprofit Verify More on candidate background checks, and you can see the results of that screening process here.
What’s at stake in this mayor’s race is equity, and how aggressively and inventively we’re going to address our murder rate, lack of affordable housing and need for economic development across the city. These issues are absolutely related. And whatever you think about how this election ought to go, you owe it to your children and theirs to wake up and decide.