Optimists, pessimists and Mayor Sly James
The Kansas City Star
Right on schedule, Mayor Sly James and his supporters are putting out vibes that Kansas City has bright days ahead of it. So don’t listen to the pessimists and defeatists: Be optimistic and work for a better future.
James is upbeat in large part because of the surprisingly large margin of victory for Tuesday’s sales-tax increase for parks and roads. And he’s certainly pleased that a downtown streetcar system (something I generally support) appears to be funded and off to a strong start, despite lots of skepticism.
So like every other mayor I have written about over a quarter century for The Star - from Richard Berkley to Emanuel Cleaver to Kay Barnes to Mark Funkhouser - James is telling people to ignore the naysayers and support his optimistic view of the city.
Mayors, by the very nature of their job, have to be in that camp. Cleaver and Barnes, in particular, didn’t cotton to people saying (or writing) much negative about the city. Funkhouser often talked about his desire to ignore the “old guard” of civic officials.
I agree with James’ argument - up to a point.
KC is gaining population, not losing it, as the naysayers often claim.
KC has good schools in different parts of the city, not just the long-troubled KC Public Schools.
KC has done a lot to improve its amenities, including the KC Zoo, not just let everything go to pot.
Still, KC - like all big, older cities - still faces plenty of challenges in attracting residents and keeping businesses. The city has to do a very good job of spending the tax dollars it gets, not wasting them, as it improves infrastructure and other important amenities.
Plus, there’s a difference between being a pessimistic person and being someone who wants positive change in KC.
I’m sure James didn’t like it when the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City (and, let’s admit it, myself and the KC Star editorial board) didn’t support his proposed sales tax increase.
The Civic Council members are tired of City Hall promising to come up with long-term financial plans, then never putting one together.
I wrote often that - while James and his administration are on the right path with a lot of good initiatives - they hadn’t made enough progress to warrant giving City Hall more money.
The voters disagreed, though.
So what does that mean for the future?
I’m hopeful it means that James will continue to work on all the positive initiatives he had pledged to do before: the pension reform, the health insurance reform, the Fire Department reforms.
Of course, he gets a chance to be proud of what he’s accomplished with the sales tax victory.
He also gets a chance to say that victory proves Kansas Citians are more optimistic about the future than some of the people who didn’t support the tax increase.
But there’s no need to support what a mayor or City Council member or city manager want to do with tax dollars and for the future of Kansas City just to be “upbeat” about Kansas City.
As James knows, there are plenty more challenges ahead. There’s a limited amount of public dollars available to spend on all the grand ideas he and others have to make Kansas City a better place.
That means even the mayor and his backers will be setting priorities and being choosy when they decide how to lead KC.