Outspoken Mayor Sly James appears ready to rumble with anyone who crosses him, which can be a pretty entertaining sight for Kansas Citians.
Being in a bit of a bad mood, though, seems to be more common than ever for James. That’s not always a good look for the city’s top politician.
In recent days I’ve heard James described by a host of people, including fellow politicians, as “prickly,” “angry,” “hot-headed,” “aggressive,” “overly intense” or some other not-exactly-positive term.
In almost all cases, these observers seem to be right where I am at the moment: They support James and his agenda for Kansas City as he runs for a second term. He has had an effective first four years in office partly because he’s such a hard-charging kind of guy. He’s definitely not timid about speaking his mind.
Oh, and he’s going to easily win re-election, deservedly so, as the April 7 primary vote showed.
But James keeps putting his temper on display in ways that may or may not harm his image and the city’s as well.
▪ At a public budget hearing several weeks ago, James unleashed a rousing diatribe, all caught on video, in responding to complaints about the city budget. James got things rolling this way, telling the audience: “There was a lot of stuff that was said in here that was dead, flat-out wrong.”
▪ Last Thursday, James lashed out at Uber as the City Council passed rules to govern ride-hailing services. The mayor’s money line: “The idea that we are kicking Uber out, that is so much garbage.” He then posted his remarks on YouTube to rub the point home. But will Uber damage the city’s tech-friendly reputation by leaving town, as threatened?
▪ On Wednesday, James was irritated with light-rail activist Clay Chastain after he filed a lawsuit seeking to remove James’ name from the June 23 general election ballot. Chastain finished third in last week’s three-person mayoral primary and now wants on the general ballot.
Chastain — correctly so — said James had failed to pay his property taxes on a few vehicles by the Dec. 31, 2014 deadline.
The mayor issued a statement that began this way: “This is another one of Clay Chastain’s desperate, attention-grabbing antics.”
Keep in mind that, during the primary, James paid barely a lick of attention to Chastain or the other candidate, Vincent Lee, now set to face James in the general.
Sure, the mayor didn’t enjoy being embroiled in Chastain’s “gotcha” moment. However, his late tax payment is a legitimate topic to bring up regarding a mayor who pushed through a sales tax increase in his first term and has said he may seek another boost in taxes in his second term.
James also probably didn’t like having to cop to the late taxes because he had such a weak excuse for missing the deadline: “My late payment was due to a misunderstanding related to acquisition of a new vehicle. Several taxes and fees were paid when we registered the vehicle. When I learned that some taxes were not collected at the time of of vehicle registration, I promptly paid the amounts due.”
Sorry, but if you’re running to be the mayor of a city that spends $1.4 billion a year — which will include the $83 the mayor owed on his vehicles — you should double-check that all your own taxes have been paid, by the deadline.
James didn’t do that and will be penalized by some Kansas Citians who will remind him of the issue when he’s campaigning for the earnings tax renewal in 2016 or another tax-related issue in the future.
Through all the recent incidents, James has been pretty consistent in speaking out against critics.
“That’s me, and I’m not going to start changing who I am,” James told me last month.
Get used to it: Kansas Citians likely will see a lot more of the mayor’s straight talk over the next four years.