Tuesday night, 8 midtown neighborhoods hosted a mayoral forum. The forum for the candidates was hosted by Hyde Park, Old Hyde Park, Southmoreland, Squire Park, Longfellow, Center City, Ivanhoe and Manheim Neighborhoods.
There was a pretty good attendence at the forum and I think, for many, it was the first time for them to get to see/meet some of the mayoral candidates. I thought about doing an overview of everything that was said, and I may later on, but I really wanted to start on giving my overall opinion of the forum, the mayor's race, and my impression of some of the candidates.
First of all, I want to note that I think the forum format is probaby an impossible thing to do well in a 7 candidate race. In order to include a variety of topics to discuss, and give each candidate time to answer, each candidate is so limited on the amount of time they can use to answer questions that they can really only gloss over their responses. As such, the forums are not a great way to share in-depth ideas of how to address issues. Everyone agrees that crime is an issue that needs to be addressed, but what are the best ways to solve it? It's pretty complex issue. Everyone also agrees that we need to fix schools, and increase jobs. But what are their solutions?
Sadly, when candidates only have a 3 minute answer, they aren't able to dive into specifics and if they try to, they end up not making a lot of sense because the answers are too abreviated to really get across complex ideas.
For this forum, each candidate got a few minutes to express their platform. Then, there were 8 questions asked (one by each neighborhood involved and then one from the audience) and each candidate got a chance to answer. So while the issues may be slanted a bit based on the questions asked by the neighborhoods, I also think the key campaign issues are becoming pretty clear.
Some of the primary issues appear to be:
Housing policy (or lack thereof)
Lack of civility at city hall
Some specific question coming out of the neighorhood questions were:
The possible changes to the Plaza Plan based on Highwoods' proposed demolition of the Neptune Apartments
Low Income Housing
One thing that is striking about topics is that I think a lot of the election issues seem to be focusing on fixing things we've been screwing up in this city (that should have been fixed a decade ago) vs ways to move the city forward into a new generation. A couple of the candidates (Henry Klein & Mike Burke) did talk about some visionary thinking that involved moving the city forward to a new generation, and a couple (Sly James & Deb Hermann) did note that Kansas City is, in spite of all of these issues, a pretty great place to live still.
But an awful lot of focus seems to be on fixing what's wrong with the city. While there is no doubt that many of the things holding this city back things like crime, vacant housing, jobs and education -- it isn't a strong endorsement for the folks that have been leading our government for the past decade (and yes, many of the candidates fit that definition) who have had the opportunity to make improvements to these things -- but haven't. It was just a bit sad to see so much emphasis on fixing what's wrong instead of looking for ways to move the city forward.
Outside of Burke talking a bit about transit, and Klein talking transit and various green initiatives, there was little talk of "what's next".
This really is a pretty diverse group of candidates and each of them provides their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. But I do think that even though they have similar stances on a lot of the issues (no one is pro crime or anti education) I think we could be seeing all of them get a pretty substantial number of votes next month. Thoughts on each coming out of the forum:
Mike Burke - As I noted before, he was one of the few candidates that talked much about things to move the city forward. He talked about the need to improve transit, about bringing and keeping young people in Kansas City and about the opportunity to make Kansas City into the Arts capital of the Midwest. Burke is definitely a part of the establishment in KC politics.
Funkhouser - At some point I'm going to do a profile on Funkhouser's 4 years as mayor. In many ways I agree a lot with his stances on a lot of issues and think he has some pretty solid ideas on how to fix them....but because he (and his wife) has continued to make a spectacle of themselves at city hall, they have shattered any political clout they could have had. I think in a lot of ways KC was lucky that they ended up with Funkhouser as mayor during the recession, because his focus on keeping a responsible budget has probably put the city on stronger financial footing than we otherwise would have been. But it's troubling to see so much division at city hall....and while Funk isn't completely to blame for this, he seems unwiling to even acknowledge it's a problem or that he has played a role in it.
Deb Hermann -- Deb seems to be relying on her being on the budget committee a LOT when it comes to her campaign. Deb seems to be running on a platform of being the candidate that can build consensus at city hall -- and that will work with neighborhoods and city hall to all come up with a solution together. However, maybe one of the scariest answers given on the night was her response to the question about adjusting the Plaza plan based on Highwoods' desire to build a new building at 47th and Main and she said she wouldn't support a plan unless it had a staff recommendation. While I acknowledge that staff recommendations are important, this seems like a pretty big issue to not have a position on. This, along with the consensus builder position, doesn't make her seem like a terribly strong leader.
Sly James -- I have to say that Sly came out looking great in this forum. He was funny, relaxed and engaging. He ran on the platform of the 4 E's: Efficiency in government, Education, employment and enforcement of the law. He seems to really want to bridge the issue with issues with Johnson County to try to focus on building the metro economy vs stealing from each other. At this point, I'm not 100% sure how open JOCO is to this, because the state's PEAK program seems like it's given JOCO and WYCO free reign to target jobs in KCMO to get them to move across the state line. However, Sly seems like a strong enough leader and charismatic enough to do it if it can be done. James was also pretty strong on crime (focusing on post-crime re-entry programs), acknowledging the issues within our prosecution of known criminals (a court issue, not a police issue). He was also pretty strong on the housing issues.
Henry Klein - I first met Henry when he ran for mayor four years ago...and I have to say, I'm a little puzzled by the lack of campaign contributions he seems to garner vs what he brings to the table. He has a solid business background (which is good) and talked a lot about green initiatives (when it came to improving the current sewers plan) and also talked about the city's energy needs when it comes to solar. He was also solid on housing issues and vacant lot issues as he works on the Board of Habitat for Humanity and has worked not only with low-income individuals who are working to get back on their feet, but also has used vacant lots and turned them into homes. Henry doesn't have any political experience -- which may or may not be an advantage for him.
Jim Rowland -I have to confess, I kind of left the forum without much of an opinion on Rowland. I liked that he talked about the need for reducing red tape for small businesses (a HUGE issue in KCMO) and he gave a very passionate voice to the Plaza topic (it's our showpiece, the signature for our city, it's where I proposed to my wife, it's more than a collection fo buildings). He also took a couple of well-time shots at Funkhouser on the lack of professionalism at city hall. But there wasn't a lot for new ideas presented on his part -- which could have been that he was next-to-last in the order.
Charlie Wheeler - He's pretty entertaining to listen to and I'd love to have coffee with Charlie sometime and discuss KC's history....but at this point it is hard to invision him as a major part of KC's future.