Kansas City Mayor Sly James and several dozen City Council candidates are in the early stages of their campaigns as they seek support from neighborhood groups and political organizations.
From watching them in action, it’s clear that many candidates are still either learning more about the topics or have not reached firm conclusions about what they would do if they made it to City Hall. They need to get on a fast learning curve, though, because voters are going to expect to see more definitive answers on the campaign trail.
Here are a few highlights of important issues that deserving plenty of discussion before the April 7 primaries:
Streetcars: James has been one of the few to declare that he’s strongly inclined to support expansion of the initial downtown starter line, which is expected to be carrying passengers by this time next year. The likely extension would go south on Main, through neighborhoods where a majority of voters supported an expansion plan on a 2014 ballot.
However, that proposal ultimately died because it attracted very little approval on the East Side. Council candidates looking for votes there — which includes many running in citywide, at-large races — either say they oppose expansion or want to study it further.
It’s likely that building a bigger and more successful line will be a front-and-center topic at City Hall by late 2016 or 2017, after the downtown system has been up and running for a while.
Neighborhoods: It’s extremely encouraging to hear how many candidates are beating the drum for city agencies to pay more attention to the needs of neighborhoods — knocking down dangerous buildings, pouring new sidewalks, cracking down on code violations and repairing sewers as examples. These priorities deserve more attention from James and the next council.
Unfortunately, these smaller issues too often get lost in the hustle-bustle of bigger projects when council members actually get into office. If voters really want to emphasize the importance of neighborhood matters over the next four years, they need to embrace candidates who have been strong neighborhood advocates before running for office.
KCI upgrades: As with streetcars, a number of candidates oppose changes or are taking a wait-and-see approach on what kinds of upgrades they might support. That’s the politically smart thing to do, based on what appears to be strong public love for the current, convenient airport.
But airlines and the city are working on potential changes that the council could on the ballot in the next year or two. Voters need to determine just how flexible candidates are when it comes to supporting costly upgrades at KCI.
Public safety spending: The police and fire departments were insulated from large cutbacks during the recession, while many other city departments were slashed. With city finances slowly getting better, elected officials have been trying to rebuild a few agencies.
Some candidates do agree it’s high time for the Police Department and city to merge a few functions, such as human resources, to save money and be more efficient.
On a less optimistic note, some candidates say they support continued state control of police, making Kansas City the only city in the nation with this outmoded system.
Candidates will need to be well versed on other topics, such as how to quickly build more roads in the Northland and to get more grocers to locate in the central city. Running for office in 2015 in Kansas City will require plenty of knowledge and stamina.