(Editor's note: The following story was written for the Jan. 18 print edition of the Wyandotte Daily News, before the filing announcement of Janice Witt for mayor, and before Sen. David Haley announced he would not be a candidate.)
The political landscape changed suddenly in Kansas City, Kan., when Mayor Joe Reardon announced he would not seek re-election.
The announcement on Jan. 9 sparked speculation around town on who would run for mayor in the spring city elections. The primary is Feb. 26 and the general election is April 2. The filing deadline is noon Jan. 22.
The mayor’s contest quickly developed into a four-way race as of noon Jan. 15, with the possibility of other candidates adding their names to the contest in the coming week.
Joining Unified Government Commissioner Nathan Barnes in seeking election were Commissioner Mark Holland and Commissioner Ann Murguia. Cordell Meeks III added his name to the list of announced candidates on Jan. 15.
Some of the issues expected to come up during the election include extending development to all areas of the city and property tax rates.
Mayor Reardon cited family reasons for not running, in an interview Jan. 10.
“I have two young sons, Connor and Jack,” he said. “I realized if I ran and won, at the end of my term, Jack would be getting ready to go to college, and it was important to me to spend more time with him.”
Reardon said he had served as mayor for eight years and was proud of his accomplishments. He said he feels he leaves the community better than when he first took office. Under his administration, expansion continued in Wyandotte County, including a new Cerner office complex announced in the Village West area, retail and industrial construction including grocery stores in different areas of Kansas City, Kan., and the Google Fiber project here.
The mayor said on Jan. 10 he was not endorsing anyone yet. He said he preferred to see who is running first.
He also did not confirm any rumors about what he might do next. “I am not prepared to announce what my next steps are,” he said. “I love this community, and I want to continue to be involved.”
After his announcement, several candidates weighed whether to run for mayor. Only Barnes had already filed for mayor before the announcement.
Three candidates, Holland, Murguia and Meeks, added their names in the next few days. Other candidates who said they had been considering it or were being urged to run, although they had not decided as of last week, were former state Sen. Chris Steineger, State Sen. David Haley and Janice Witt. Some other names also have been mentioned.
Almost everyone contacted expressed surprise that Mayor Reardon would not run for a third term, except for potential candidate Witt, who said, “I told you.” She predicted last fall that the mayor would not file for re-election.
Regardless of whatever else happens, the main effect of the mayor’s announcement last week will be to stimulate more public interest in the upcoming spring elections.
Nathan Barnes, who filed first for mayor, represents the 1st District, including northeast Kansas City, Kan. He said recently that he was interested in providing economic development for all areas of Kansas City, Kan., including the northeast area. He has served as a commissioner since 1997.
During the past few years Barnes has been very involved in making sure that companies receiving tax breaks hire minority, women and local contractors or employees. He also has helped with efforts to provide an amnesty program for people with traffic tickets. He was a factor in the recent expansion of new homes in the Quindaro neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan.
Barnes also was outspoken about the Google Fiber project in Kansas City, Kan., wanting more assurances that low-income and remote areas would be served. He was concerned that the minimum connection fee would mean that some people would not be able to afford it.
Barnes holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas and is a real estate developer and owner of Nefertiti Ballroom.
He has served on many UG committees and is a past chairman of the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City, Kan., Advisory Board and a past chairman of the Wyandotte County Democratic Central Committee. In 1997 he was named to the Friends of Yates Black Men of Distinction. He has served on the National Black Caucus of Elected Officials.
Barnes also has served in the past on the board of Avenue Area Inc., on Mid-America Regional Council committees and as an alternate to MARC board. He has been a member of the PIC-LEO Board, an elected officials board for the Workforce Investment Area III, and a member of the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce business programs and services committee. He is married.
Mark Holland, who is the pastor of Trinity Community Church in Kansas City, Kan., has served as commissioner-at large, District 1, since 2007. He is in the middle of his term. During the past few years, he has led some efforts to improve the parks in the community.
“I believe in leadership that is ethical and accountable, and I think we have come a great long way with unification in Wyandotte County, and we need to take it to the next level,” Holland said. “We’re really on a great trajectory now, and we need to broaden it to the whole city.”
He said his goals would be to continue to rebuild the community’s infrastructure, to deliver excellence in service – “we have the best employees and need to be delivering the best service,” – and a focus on the Healthy Communities initiative.
Development in all parts of the county, not just on the west side, has been a recurrent theme at some UG Commission meetings.
“We’ve opened four urban grocery stores in the six years we’ve been there, and we need to open four more,” Holland said. “I think Indian Springs redevelopment needs to be a priority. I believe the opportunity to bring business and jobs to other areas of our community is important. We know our community is underserved as far as retail.”
He said it was important to rejuvenate areas throughout the community.
Holland holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Mo., as well as a Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology, Denver; and bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and anthropology from Southern Methodist University, Dallas. If elected, he would turn over administrative work at the church to someone else, while continuing to preach and to be involved with policy.
He is active in many community organizations, including the Mount Carmel Redevelopment Corp., the Kansas City, Kan., Mayor’s Task Force on Law Enforcement, the Claude Huyck Elementary PTA and the Kansas City, Kan., Rotary Club, and in 2009, received the Emanuel Cleaver II Community Service Award. He and his wife have four children.
Ann Brandau-Murguia, who represents the 3rd District, said that if elected mayor, she would continue her current program of listening to residents, finding out what they want and then basing her priorities on that. In the past she has supported efforts to fund basic services and infrastructure projects such as curbs and sidewalks, based on what the people of the 3rd District have said they wanted.
During the past few years, she has taken a stand against higher property taxes. “Raising taxes is out of the question,” she said. She added she has seen the impact taxes have on everything from businesses to families living paycheck-to-paycheck. Before making any statements on what might potentially be cut from the UG’s budget, she said she would have to have more information on the budget details and study it. She favors spending the money on the priorities of the people who live here.
“I think I developed a model in my District 3 that can be replicated throughout Wyandotte County, engaging the people, find out what they want for development and the community, setting a list of priorities, going after those priorities and getting things done,” she said. She is in her second term in the 3rd District.
Some of the successes in the 3rd District area recently have included the 39th and Rainbow project, a new retail store, a new grocery store and a new library, along with many new homes built and replacement of curbs and sidewalks. She helped secure donors for the new library.
She added that she has a lot of experience in working with the community and developers through her job as executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association. She spends a lot of time dealing with the community and also dealing with the private sector in trying to get businesses to locate here. She has seen up close how property taxes affect housing and developers who want to come to an area, she said. If elected, she would give up her job as ANDA executive director, she said, because mayor-CEO of the UG is a full-time position.
Murguia was named the Humanitarian of the Year in 2011 by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Baker University. She and her husband have three children.
Cordell Meeks III said he believes passionately in the future of Kansas City, Kan., and he is confident in his ability to attract continued economic development that will benefit all parts of Wyandotte County.
Meeks, in a statement, pledged to promote economic development that benefits all of Wyandotte County; support balanced budgets that would keep property taxes low while serving the needs of the citizens; prioritize education by supporting the school district as it pushes for excellence; and celebrate the diversity of the city as a strength. He said he would leverage the development from Google and Cerner into more jobs for the community.
He said he would continue to work to lower property taxes. He did not have a specific plan with details about development and taxes at this time, but he said he would be announcing more details in the future.
Chairman of the Unified Government Human Relations Commission, Meeks, 38, is a small business owner, the CEO of Meeks Multicultural Consulting, a corporate training business. Meeks was appointed in 2005 to the Human Relations Commission by Mayor Reardon.
He has served on the Law Enforcement Advisory Board, and also on several community boards. He has been an active volunteer with the United Way of Wyandotte County, Boys and Girls Clubs of Kansas City, Kan., El Centro, Kansas Children’s Service League and other community groups.
A graduate of the University of Kansas, he has a 12-year-old son.
He said he has thought about taking a leadership role in the community for some time.
“The time is now for me, and I’m ready to step in and take a leadership role,” Meeks said earlier this week while announcing his candidacy.
He said he has a base of support in all four corners of Wyandotte County.
He would be expected to have high voter name recognition because his father and grandfather were elected to office here for two generations. Meeks’ grandfather, Cordell Meeks Sr., was the first African-American district judge in Kansas. His father, Cordell Meeks Jr., was also elected district court judge in Wyandotte County.