Yael T. Abouhalkah

Let’s skip ahead and peek at Kansas City’s 2019 mayoral race

Sly James was sworn in as Kansas City’s new mayor in 2011, and he is cruising to re-election in 2015. But it’s not too soon to wonder who will take over as the next mayor in 2019.
Sly James was sworn in as Kansas City’s new mayor in 2011, and he is cruising to re-election in 2015. But it’s not too soon to wonder who will take over as the next mayor in 2019. The Kansas City Star

Kansas City’s 2015 mayoral contest is a dud. So let’s talk about the 2019 race instead.

Sure, that’s four years away. Lots of things can change by then. Surprises can happen. Blah, blah, blah.

But Mayor Sly James is practically guaranteed re-election on June 23 — and deservedly so — against Vincent Lee. James has the potential to keep leading this community in a positive direction on reviving Kansas City International Airport, expanding the streetcar, reinvesting in East Side neighborhoods and supporting better public schools.

By 2019, though, James will be forced from office by the city’s two-term limit. That will leave an open mayoral race, which always draws a large group of candidates, the exact opposite of what normally happens when an incumbent is running. See this year, when only three people filed.

Six candidates were on the primary ballot in 1999, when Emanuel Cleaver left because of term limits, and 12 filed in 2007, as Kay Barnes departed.

As Election Day approaches in a few weeks, it makes sense to watch for who will win seats on the 12-member City Council. Who will have the organizational skills and popularity, for instance, to put together strong enough campaigns to push them over the finish line?

Those victories will put them in position to work with James on topics of high interest, while giving them chances to carve out their own achievements.

Alphabetically, here’s a list of five potential 2019 mayoral candidates.

Jolie Justus: The energetic 4th District candidate is already a veteran elected official after serving eight years in the Missouri Senate. She gained respect for working with a wide range of lawmakers to finally revise the state’s criminal code. She had more clout than most Democrats in the GOP-dominated General Assembly.

Quinton Lucas: The 3rd District at-large candidate is already recognized as a well-informed, thoughtful lawyer with the potential to represent urban core voters who for too long have lacked strong representation from their council members.

Katheryn Shields: The 4th District at-large candidate will first have to get by incumbent Jim Glover, who narrowly beat her in the April primary. Shields is a former City Council member and, more notably, was the Jackson County executive for 12 sometimes tumultuous years. The highlight was the reasonable, voter-approved tax increase to keep the Royals and Chiefs in Kansas City.

Scott Taylor: The 6th District at-large incumbent has no opponent. Taylor is a more methodical public servant, choosing his words and battles closely. He’s been a solid supporter for small business growth.

Scott Wagner: The 1st District at-large incumbent will easily win re-election. In his first term and on the 2015 campaign trail, Wagner has emerged as a detail-oriented elected official on homeless issues, Northland growth and economic development deals.

All of these candidates also face hurdles to reaching higher office.

None is really well known around the city, including those with experience in elected office. Shields finished close to last in the 2007 mayoral contest after being accused, along with her husband, of mortgage fraud-related charges. Both were acquitted later in 2007.

Sure, other councilmanic candidates could emerge. Plus here’s a crucial caveat: The next mayor may not come from the City Council. Indeed, the last three did not.

Barnes was a former council member but in the private sector when voters chose her in 1999. Mark Funkhouser had been a long-time city auditor when he was elected in 2007. And James, a lawyer, was an out-of-the-box choice, politically speaking, in 2011.

So much for the future. Let’s get back to the present and hope that voters show up two days after summer starts to select the best possible political leaders for Kansas City.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah.