The short campaign season for the mayoral primary in Kansas City, Kan., went into full swing in the past two weeks, with endorsements, door-to-door campaigning and candidate forums starting throughout the community.
Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to select the top two vote-getters of the five primary mayoral candidates in Kansas City, Kan. The five mayoral candidates are UG commissioners Mark Holland, Ann Murguia and Nathan Barnes, as well as Cordell Meeks III and Janice Witt. It is a nonpartisan election where all residents who are registered to vote, from all parties and unaffiliated voters, may cast a ballot. The mayor’s campaign is the most closely watched contest in Kansas City, Kan., as Mayor Joe Reardon has announced he is not seeking re-election.
Reardon and former Mayor Carol Marinovich last week gave Commissioner Mark Holland’s mayoral campaign a boost with an endorsement news conference. The two former mayors talked about Holland leading the community forward, in the same direction it has gone for the past 16 years under the unification of the city and county governments.
Reardon cited Holland’s “strong vision,” and was quoted as saying: “I’ve spent a lot of time with Mark and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed serving with him on the commission. I know he has a strong vision for Wyandotte County and understands that collaboration, hard work and persistence will keep Wyandotte County moving forward on the path that our residents, businesses and leaders have forged during the past 16 years.”
Marinovich said last week she thinks Holland is the right candidate for mayor because he knows and understands the whole county. She said she had looked at all the candidates and thought that Holland has “strength of character, vision and a proven track record, along with being a man of integrity and honesty.”
But the other candidates running for mayor don’t think the campaign is over and they are campaigning, making speeches at forums and going door-to-door.
Last weekend, former state Sen. Mark Gilstrap, the chair of the Wyandotte County Republican Party, endorsed Ann Murguia, sending out a blast email. He said the endorsement is from him, not the party, as the local GOP party had not made any endorsements at that time.
Gilstrap said he sees Holland and Murguia as the frontrunners, and thinks they’ll probably make it through the primary. His geographic view is that four candidates, Holland, Barnes, Meeks and Witt, will battle it out for the majority of votes in the north side of the city, while Murguia will take the south side.
Murguia said she was busy campaigning last weekend, having covered District 2 door-to-door last Saturday with volunteers. She also spoke at a Turner boxing event, and at a Dub’s Dread neighborhood group. She said she enjoys meeting people, talking and listening to them.
Murguia said she was not very surprised by Holland’s endorsements last week, as Reardon had previously endorsed her opponents in commission-level campaigns, but she won those anyway. Murguia has been endorsed by Laborers Local 1290.
Commissioner Nathan Barnes has been attending many community forums, and has been going door-to-door as part of his regular campaign schedule.
He said his reaction to the mayor’s endorsement of Holland last week was that it might indicate “desperation.” “When you pull out your big guns in the primary, it means you’re very concerned about making it through the primary,” he said.
“But this is going to be a people’s campaign,” he said. “This is going to be about the people and the wishes of the people of Wyandotte County seeing through the smokescreen of business as usual vs. us looking forward to the future. The future’s going to be a future of inclusion rather than exclusion.”
He said his campaign would represent inclusion, and that there are a lot of residents here who feel left out.
Barnes said that to move forward, there needs to be a unifying spirit in Wyandotte County, and he represents that unifying spirit that could move the community forward. “That becomes more important than any niche group of individuals,” he said.
Cordell Meeks III, running in his first campaign, said he was going door-to-door campaigning and has met with several neighborhood groups. He was meeting with leaders and educators in the community, as well, and he has the support of many individuals in the community with whom he’s served on boards, he added.
He said he felt his experience as a small business owner, working with companies across the metro area, and his passion for diversity will help him in working with the local government. Meeks has been training people for more than 20 years in using their differences to work for them instead of against them. “The same strategy could help our citizens out,” he said.
Janice Witt is attending forums and some events. She is using social media a lot, and has some volunteers placing fliers on cars and contacting their friends. She is going door-to-door a bit, but not much. She said she’s getting some backing from ordinary residents, but she’s not seeking any endorsements. “The people I’m running for are all those regular-name folks who don’t have any name-dropping ability,” she said.
Holland also was attending community events on the weekend, including a nonprofit fundraiser Saturday, and said he was overwhelmed with the positive response to his campaign, and the support coming from the grassroots. He is starting to see endorsements from a lot of the pro-consolidation supporters, he said.
Holland noted that he was the only candidate among the five who has been elected countywide previously, in 2007 and 2011. The UG Commission 1st District at large position that he holds has its boundaries on the north side of the city during the primary, but he has run countywide in the general election.
“I’ve had broad support across town and continue to work hard to show I am their person and continue to win their support as mayor,” he said. His vision for the past six years has been looking out for the county as a whole, he added.
Their top reasons for running
The Wyandotte Daily News has sent questionnaires to the candidates, and here are some of their answers on their top reasons for running:
Nathan Barnes: To make Wyandotte County a better place to live and work; to diversify our tax base and the work place with more blue collar and white collar jobs for Wyandotte County residents. To continue and extend the growth and success established in Wyandotte County’s north into all areas of Wyandotte County. My top campaign issue is taxes.
Mark Holland: I believe Kansas City, Kan., has come a long way since unification in 1997. I believe we need strong leadership to carry us forward into the next chapter. Kansas City, Kan., is coming of age and ready to be a full partner in the metropolitan area. Top campaign issues: Connecting our citizens to the 6,000 new, world-class jobs at GM, KU, Cerner, and the casino. Connecting the pay off of the STAR bonds to real property tax relief. Connecting our citizens to healthier neighborhoods with improved infrastructure, grocery stores, and healthy living options. Connecting every home that wants it with Internet for access to jobs, education, and healthy living.
Cordell Meeks: I am running for mayor of the city that I love. I have chosen to spend my entire life as a KCK resident. I passionately believe in the future of this city. … And with your help we will create a new generation of change and opportunity … we will create new economic development and improve our educational institutions. I believe, that with the help of business and community leaders and the input of our citizens, I can lead our community to the next level of success in economic development and education. I am a small business-owner. I work with corporate leaders across the metro and across the country. I have spent years working to improve our community, volunteering with many groups, bringing people together to achieve success together. I believe all these experiences have prepared me to become CEO of the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County. Top campaign issues: Promote economic development that benefits all areas of Wyandotte County. Leverage the arrival of Google and Cerner to bring in more new, high-wage jobs. Protect county citizens by supporting police and firefighters. Safe streets create healthier neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for all residents. Prioritize education by fully supporting the school district's push for excellence. Increase job training so more Kansas City, Kan., residents qualify to successfully fill new jobs. Produce balanced budgets that keep property taxes low while filling potholes and building new streets and sidewalks.
Ann Murguia: As Mayor, I want to contribute in a positive and constructive manner to our government. I believe we have developed a model in the 3rd District that can be used throughout the county that will stimulate economic development in some of our most challenging neighborhoods while continuing the growth in the western half of our county. I will work with our neighborhood groups, labor, business and others to get things done. As Mayor, I will ensure the Unified Government provides good, open and honest government to everyone. Top campaign issue: Jobs, Community and Better Government. I will create more jobs through economic development, continue to not raise property taxes, continue to respond to neighborhood concerns/issues, and continue to maintain adequate police and fire services.
Janice Witt: Because we all have a civic duty to leave this world a better place because we were here. I want no more division, in our governance. I want all of the people to have a voice, to have a seat at the table. I will always use common sense practical solutions to benefit our community and never leave any group standing on the outside of the fence looking in. The people of Wyandotte County have been ignored long enough and I am running to represent the people. … Top campaign issue: As mayor, I will ensure fair treatment and good customer service as a solid foundation. We will break the chains of corruption, greed, favoritism, nepotism, entitlement and the unfair tax and BPU practices that bind this community to poverty, poor health and poor education.
The candidates, the campaign and the issues
There is a lot in common among the candidates. Most of them talk about reducing property taxes. Most of them talk about more development for the areas of Kansas City, Kan., that have not seen much development lately. Most of the candidates are in their 40s, with one 58-year-old and one 38-year-old. Three of the five have experience on the Unified Government Commission.
Gilstrap said last week: They’re all Democrats. Janice Witt disagrees with his statement. She is unaffiliated. A few years ago, she said, some Democrats said she was a Republican, which wasn’t true. “I am neither. Your boxes do not fit me,” she said. Occasionally, though, she has declared as a Democrat in order to vote in a primary, but she is an unaffiliated voter, she said.
Gilstrap said one reason he has supported Murguia is that he believes she has been more conservative on some of her votes during the past few years against property tax increases. Murguia said she voted against property tax increases over the past few years, while Holland and some other commissioners voted for an increase. However, many current officeholders deny there has been an increase. Murguia’s philosophy is to survey the residents, and try to give each area of the city what it wants. That might be tax reduction in some districts.
All candidates are talking about holding down taxes. Murguia’s platform includes a statement in favor of bringing down the property tax. Also making campaign statements in their questionnaires about holding down the property tax were Barnes, Holland, Meeks and Witt.
Witt said she believes taxes are high for the next several years because the STAR bonds were extended for the soccer stadium and there are too many tax breaks already being given away, but if elected, she would do everything possible to make property taxes and other taxes decrease.
Murguia and Brownback connection
Marinovich said she is concerned not about Murguia’s personal friendship with the governor, but more about policies from a state leader that have not benefited Kansas City, Kan.
Murguia said her husband is an old law school classmate of Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Jerry Moran. On the issues, all that she has in common with the governor are viewpoints on economic development, jobs and housing, she said. “Other than that, we don’t have very much in common,” she said about the issues. They have completely opposite viewpoints on school finance, education and some other issues, she added.
She said it was important to her to work with people of different viewpoints to get things accomplished. “As commissioner or if elected mayor, I will continue to work with whoever wants to help Wyandotte County,” she said.
Gilstrap brought up the issue of whether Holland would be able to continue being the pastor of Trinity Community Church at the same time as holding the full-time position of mayor-CEO. Holland has said previously that he had already worked out that question. Someone would be appointed to run the day-to-day administrative operations of the church if he wins election, and he would continue to participate in policy discussions there and to preach, he said in an earlier interview.
A candidate forum is from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Armourdale Recreation Center, 730 Osage.
The candidates usually attend the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce’s forum, which will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools district office, 2010 N. 59th St. This forum will include the mayor-CEO contest. The forum is sponsored by Chambers, NBRs, independent business organizations. The forum is usually later carried on a local cable television channel.
Several other candidate forums are listed online at www.wyandottedailynews.com, under “Election 2013.”
For more information, visit the questionnaires of the mayoral candidates online at the Wyandotte Daily News website,