Yael T. Abouhalkah

Mayor Sly James will be re-elected, but Kansas City also needs a solid City Council

The spotlight won’t be on Kansas City Mayor Sly James during the upcoming elections because he’s going to win easily.
The spotlight won’t be on Kansas City Mayor Sly James during the upcoming elections because he’s going to win easily. The Kansas City Star

More than 40 Kansas Citians have filed to run for mayor and City Council seats this year. They range from qualified and experienced candidates to long-shot dreamers.

Because of a recent city charter change, voters will have plenty of time to learn more about the men and women who want to help control a $1.4 billion budget. Primary elections that used to be held in late February won’t occur until April 7. The general election that once was held in late March instead will occur June 23.

This will be the seventh general city election I have written about since 1991. I’ve seen plenty of surprises during campaigns, including some of those long-shot dreamers doing better than anyone expected.

This column (with one exception) isn’t about who’s going to win. It’s a reminder that Kansas Citians need to elect a sensible and responsible council, much like the one we’ve generally enjoyed the last four years.

Here are five takeaways after seeing who wants to serve starting Aug. 1.

▪ Congratulations to Mayor Sly James, who squares off against two minor candidates, on his impending re-election in June.

The mayor has the first-term accomplishments, the gregarious personality and the boatloads of cash required to win.

James in the coming weeks needs to assist the council candidates who could best help accomplish his priorities in a second term. One traditional excuse — “I’m just concentrating on my own race” — won’t work this time. The mayor will have the lead role in selling various programs and projects to Kansas Citians until 2019. He’ll want as many council allies as possible.

▪ New political leadership is coming for the large numbers of black residents who live in the 3rd and 5th districts.

This is a potential changing of the guard for a big part of the city that too often feels neglected at City Hall. Overall, 19 candidates have filed to run for the four seats available in the two districts. All four could be held by newcomers come late June.

Melba Curls and Cindy Circo are leaving office because of term limits. Michael Brooks resigned after disgracing his office. Plus, incumbent Jermaine Reed faces four challengers.

▪ Most incumbents don’t have cakewalk elections.

That’s a good thing, because voters will see incumbents challenged to explain the votes they have taken as well as their hopes for the future.

Besides Reed, other incumbents who drew opponents are Dick Davis, Scott Wagner and Jim Glover. Only Scott Taylor will cruise to re-election.

▪ Other intriguing story lines abound.

Will former firefighter union president Louie Wright make it to City Hall? Will ex-City Council members Teresa Loar, Ken Bacchus and Katheryn Shields return? Can former state lawmaker Jolie Justus and former Jackson County legislator Theresa Garza Ruiz step into another political ring?

Most notably, which newcomers will wow people with their personalities and winning ideas, too?

▪ Competitive races require your attention, for very good reasons.

Kansas Citians will have the chances to see candidates at lots of political forums before the April primaries. Go hear them answer questions. Look at their websites. Check out their backgrounds.

When elected, the 12 council members and James will have tremendous influence over the futures of costly projects such as a renovated Kansas City International Airport and streetcar expansion.

They also will control how millions of dollars are used for neighborhood improvements, public safety and basic services affecting residents and businesses.

Kansas City will benefit tremendously if the 2015 elections produce a City Council full of smart, savvy and sometimes combative elected officials.

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

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