On Tuesday, voters in Wyandotte County will narrow the field of candidates for the Mayor/CEO of Unified Government. The number running will be reduced from five to two, going into the April general election. KCUR’s Dan Verbeck reports on candidates’ backgrounds and issue-positions that have appeared since the campaign began in earnest only a month ago.
Campaign styles are not all the same but there’s nothing half-hearted about the passion to take the mayor’s seat being vacated by Joe Reardon. Three of the hopefuls sit on the Unified Government Commission and most hold down separate jobs as well.
There is a church pastor, owner of a corporate training business, one candidate runs a non-profit community agency. Two are women, three are men.
Most appeared in a forum to answer questions and to introduce themselves. Nathan Barnes says he’s represented the Northeast District since 1995. He wants to bring to the entire county the kind of resurrection started in the old Northeast area--“when I came to office we had not built, there had not been one single new housing permit built in the northeast area for over 40 years.”
Now Barnes says there has been $75 million worth of development. And still there is blight.
Mark Holland is senior Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church and said he has ability to move the county to a new level since it consolidated governments 16 years ago. His plan is to find relief from property taxes and make neighborhoods healthier.
Cordell Meeks owns a corporate training firm and chairs the U.G. Human Relations Commission, his first step into running for office, saying, “I’ve also spent over 20 years working with organizations to improve the community here, I’ve served on dozens of boards. I’ve taught in the school district here.”
Ann Murguia mingles her job as a Commissioner on Unified Government with that of executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Commission. She’s done that for nearly 6 years and says she can put the experience to use as Mayor by bringing together sparring interests.
Janice Witt describes herself as “just a countian.”
She wants to return to customer service for all citizens. She holds a masters’ degree in hospitality management-- “every taxpaying citizen here, I feel , has had a lapse in representation in our leadership. There’s been a lot of infighting and divisiveness that has carried over into our overall dysfunction in our county leadership.”
One question was whether the highly blighted Eastern Part of the County can find the same prosperity as the thriving West portions around Kansas Speedway. Mark Holland thinks it has taken a generation for the deterioration East of I-635 to take hold--“and my belief is it’s going to take a generation for it to be completely turned around. But that gives us a sense of urgency that we need to start right now, with the redevelopment of the infrastructure, the redevelopment of the houses and the businesses.”
Holland calls it strategically seeding success, “the next two most strategic investments that we need to make, I believe,are in our downtown and in Indian Springs. The Indian Springs at I-635 and I-70 is an eyesore. We are emptying it out so we can push it over and redevelop that area. And we need to take the fruit of the western Wyandotte development that’s been so successful and continue to plant it around our community.”
Barnes sees a connection between East and West and success in the outer reaches is bound to translate into financial aid for the poverty stricken portions. Murguia, too, is worried at a rapid reduction in the tax base in impoverished areas.
Janice Witt blames the three sitting Commissioners who are running for Mayor as part of the problem-- “but we need to be able to spread the generous amount of positive atmosphere that there is at the Legends area though out the entire County. My concern is not what we’re going to do. We have to build. In order to build we need a solid foundation. In order to have that foundation we have to be clear on what got us where we are. And what got us where we are, not to be accusatory, are the people that are sitting around the table at this panel.”
None of the commissioner-mayoral candidates rose to that, saying the problems are too entrenched over too long a time. However, all agree the starting time for renewal is now.
Meeks believes the aging central city can change, as has Kansas City Missouri’s downtown with River market and loft apartments. t will take time.
Every one of the candidates for Mayor, each in their own way, is eying the expected windfall from a hotel tax and sales tax generated out of development in the western part of the County. It’s now going to pay back state bonds that financed The Cerner Corporation office park and the Sporting Park stadium.
When it arrives, most candidates would cut property taxes.
Barnes said he can restore the inner city and lower property taxes at the same time, with creative budgeting. He worries the state will find a way to siphon off the windfall.
Murguia isn’t certain the windfall will actually fall but blames local government for the level of tax on property, “over the last eight years, the property tax in Wyandotte County has been raised by $7 million. To me, that’s ridiculous, And that is absolutely an impediment to what we’re trying to do in the way of economic development.”
Candidates have been spending a lot of time trying to make their mark on voters. The primary election is Tuesday.
Two candidates will survive.
The general election is April 2nd.