As Kansas City Mayor Sly James cruises toward re-election in 2015, the 12 City Council races will attract more deserved attention from voters and lots of money from supporters.
More than two dozen council candidates this week filed nominating petitions; the filing deadline is mid-January.
One goal is to help oversee a $1.4 billion budget in the region’s largest city. The challenges come fast and furious as interest groups seek funds for public safety, other basic services and corporate tax breaks. Among the story lines:
▪ How will term limits affect the next council?
Voters in 1990 approved a charter change that decreed council members could not serve more than eight years in a row. Term limits ensure turnover and attract different people to run for the job without worrying about battling entrenched incumbents. But the limits also shove experienced elected officials out the door.
In 2015, that list comprises Russ Johnson, Ed Ford, Melba Curls, Jan Marcason, Cindy Circo and John Sharp.
The new council is going to need a replacement for Johnson, a passionate booster of the streetcar system, to make sure the line keeps moving forward, presumably with an extension on Main Street. Marcason capably tackled huge topics, such as the extremely costly upgrade of city sewers and overhauling public pension plans. Sharp irritated James and colleagues with some of his stands; agree or disagree with him, it’s often good to see someone unafraid to rattle cages at City Hall. Who will be the next bee in James’ bonnet?
It’s also notable that at least one incumbent, Michael Brooks, does not deserve to be returned to office because of his poor track record the last four years. Incumbents Jermaine Reed and Dick Davis already have drawn four and three challengers for their seats, respectively, indicating tough re-election races ahead.
It’s possible up to nine new council members could be in office this time next year.
▪ Can newcomers, including several younger ones, improve relations between City Hall and residents?
The powerful business leaders seeking tax breaks or those who want to tear down Kemper Arena will always have easy access to elected officials.
But one key to improving Kansas City is something that good council members recognize: They must keep in close touch with neighborhood leaders and other residents about the true needs of their parts of the city, whether it’s about battling crime, pouring new sidewalks, cleaning out storm drains or upgrading parks.
This grunt work doesn’t appeal to everyone. But it certainly requires more attention by new council members.
Fortunately, it appears several newcomers already have been doing that kind of good work in the community, such as serving on neighborhood-related advisory groups at City Hall. Now they must tap into that experience to get elected.
▪ Will James work with other candidates to form a team he can count on to advance major initiatives in the next term?
Like most mayors in the past quarter-century, James has used the bully pulpit well and gotten his way on most major issues, such as which ones to place before voters. But James and the council could always do better at pulling in the same direction in setting policies and spending money, especially given competition from suburbs for new residents and businesses.
Given his presumed glide path to re-election, James could use some of his popularity to either publicly or privately help a slate of council candidates. His influence could better establish his leadership credentials for the next four years.
The council primaries are in April, and the general election in June. These will be entertaining political contests, crucial to shaping a better future for the city.