The Star endorses Lee Barnes for 5th District at-large Kansas City Council seat

In the race for the 5th District at-large seat on the Kansas City Council, The Star Editorial Board endorses incumbent councilman Lee Barnes Jr., an engineer, small business owner and former school board member, ahead of Tuesday’s election.

His opponent in the race is Dwayne Williams, president and CEO of the Twelfth Street Heritage Development Corporation, which builds and rehabs homes in the urban core. Williams also started a mentoring program, Mentor KC, as well as the Prison-to-Workforce Pipeline. He helped bring the Miss Black America pageant to Kansas City last year.

If he’s re-elected, Barnes says he’ll continue to work on “tackling infrastructure” needs that, as he acknowledged in an interview, “have been around since I ran before.” And long before that.

So what will change in the next four years? Two years ago, voters did approve an $800 million capital improvements program funded by issuing general obligation bonds, and the impact of those investments will be felt over time, Barnes says. Though it’s still not enough, “We’ll put more money out of the ‘GO’ bonds into dealing with roads and streets” in the next four years.

In response to email questions asked of all the City Council candidates, Barnes expanded on that, writing that, “By coordinating and maximizing new resources, such as opportunity zone funding and Central City Sales Tax dollars, in addition to ‘GO’ Bond funds and PIAC dollars, we can equitably repair infrastructure. It’s going to take all of us, remaining focused for a long period of time, to make our city one that supports a quality of life for our families, and helps businesses to grow.”

Barnes also wants to work on funding much-needed affordable housing. And he rejects the criticism that he hasn’t held the line on tax abatements and other incentives.


Who decides the endorsements?

Members of The Kansas City Star editorial board interview political candidates, as well as advocates and opponents of ballot measures. The editorial board is comprised of experienced opinion journalists and is separate from The Star’s newsroom. Members of The Star editorial board are: Star publisher Tony Berg, Colleen McCain Nelson, Derek Donovan, Dave Helling, Melinda Henneberger, Toriano Porter and Michael Ryan. Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.

What does the endorsement process entail?

The Star editorial board meets with political candidates. The interviews are largely focused on public policy, and each lasts about an hour. Board members do additional reporting and research to learn as much as possible about the candidates. The editorial board then convenes to discuss the candidates in each race. Board members seek to reach a consensus on the endorsements, but not every decision is unanimous.

Is the editorial board partisan?

No. In making endorsements, members of the editorial board consider which candidates are well prepared to represent their constituents — not whether they agree with us or belong to a particular political party. We evaluate candidates’ relevant experience, their readiness for office, their depth of knowledge of key issues and their understanding of public policy. We’re seeking candidates who are thoughtful and who offer more than just party-line talking points. The editorial board will endorse both Republicans and Democrats. We make recommendations about who the best-qualified candidates for these jobs are.

Why are endorsements unsigned?

Endorsements reflect the collective views of The Star’s editorial board — not just the opinion of one writer. Board members all discuss and contribute ideas to each endorsement editorial.

Mayoral candidate Quinton Lucas did have Barnes’ help on the 75 percent cap on incentives approved by the council, he said, which was a step in the right direction to rein in overly generous tax breaks.

Barnes told voters in The Star’s candidate questionnaire: “I’ve always done my best to be part of Kansas City, and to put the people first.” And in everything he’s done, he wrote, “I have been accountable equally to every Kansas Citian, regardless of neighborhood.”

While Williams has done laudable work in the community, he lacks the depth of knowledge of policy issues needed to immediately be effective on the council. Barnes, who was elected to the council in 2015, is better prepared to serve on day one, and he has a clear vision of the urgent issues he must tackle in his next term.

The Star is partnering with the nonprofit Verify More on candidate background checks, and you can see the results of that screening process at verifymore.org.