Fortunately, KC mayor's race will be lively in 2011
Kansas City’s mayoral race in 2011 promises to be spirited and wide open, based on what happened in 2010.
For starters, a small crowd of qualified candidates has decided to challenge Mayor Mark Funkhouser. That’s significant, because incumbent mayors seeking a second term in Kansas City usually face only token challenges. Since the 1940s, every mayor running for a second term has been re-elected.
But Funkhouser has had an incredibly troubled first term. He has been an inept political leader with the City Council, has clashed often with the business community and has failed to deliver on some of his promised initiatives. And don’t forget the huge taxpayer-financed payouts for court cases involving the actions of his wife, Gloria Squitiro.
Challengers at this point include current council member Deb Hermann; former council members Mike Burke and Jim Rowland; lawyer Sly James; businessman Henry Klein; and former Mayor Charles Wheeler.
In recent weeks, several candidates have picked up endorsements from civic and labor groups. But let’s face it: Most voters won’t pay much attention to this race until after the holidays are over.
That means fast-moving events in the first few months of 2011. Voters will narrow the field to two candidates in the Feb. 22 primary. The March 22 general election will match the primary’s top two vote-getters.
In the intervening weeks, the candidates must talk about the critical issues facing Kansas Citians and lay out clear priorities they want to pursue. They must also raise money for ad campaigns, be grilled at forums and run campaigns that aren’t based on personal attacks against each other.
Among their priorities, the candidates should:
Continue their stated support of renewing the 1 percent earnings tax at an April election. All have said they know how important the tax is to the city’s future. They must be firm in showing why they want to extend the tax and what policies they would support in cutting the budget and raising other taxes if the e-tax fails.
Lay out innovative ideas on how they would fight violent crime in the city. This persistent problem requires renewed attention from the mayor, who sits on the police board. The mayor — and the police chief and his officers — need to be much more creative in how they go about reducing crime.
Reform the costly city pension system. The next mayor has to lead a strong effort to reduce future pension obligations by moving the city to a 401(k)-style retirement plan that requires less support from taxpayers.
Hire a permanent city manager who has a clear plan for improving street maintenance, codes enforcement and other basic services. Candidates should reinforce the need for better customer service throughout city government, and especially in the Water Services Department.
Kansas City’s next mayor will have to work positively and creatively with other elected officials plus civic, neighborhood and labor groups. The winner on March 22 must be ready to push Kansas City in a positive direction after the hapless stewardship of the current mayor. Editor’s note: This is part three of an editorial series on issues that cross over from 2010 to 2011.