Four years ago was probably my first real involvement in any ways into Kansas City politics. I made a conscious decision to go out to a lot of the candidate forums, meet the candidates, RSS feed their blogs, etc. I found many candidates that I really liked, that were really mostly just neighborhood activists that wanted to run for city council and make an improvement in Kansas City. Most were fairly accomplished in their roles in neighborhoods and on city committees.
Most then got few votes in the primaries and few advanced to the general election -- and others got crushed by candidates with a lot of money in the general election.
So this go around, I kind of had a better idea of what to expect. Small-budget candidates would have a tough road to hoe, would not get a lot of endorsements from large organizations (who I still think are more concerned with endorsing who they think will win so they can then go back and ask favors later vs choosing who will represent their interests the best).
Yet, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by the election results.
While Mike Burke got the support of virtually the who's who of Kansas City politics and raised nearly 70% more money than Sly James, James, a political outsider (who, admittedly had plenty of support of his own), earned the mayorship in last week's vote.
Meanwhile, some of the neighborhood activists did pretty well in the council races as well. I was pleased to see Jermaine Reed get 75% of the votes in his district in spite of having less money, and less name recognition than incumbant Sharon Sanders Brooks. I was also impressed that Reverend Brooks won the 5th district seat in spite of having half the money as Ken Bacchus (who also benefited from more name recognition and having had been formerly on the city council.
Even a few other neighborhood candidates ran very tight races in spite of having less money. Brandon Ellington earned 45% of the votes in spite of operating on a shoestring budget that was 25% of that of incumbant Melba Curls and Tracy Ward earned 40% of the vote, in spite of having only raised around $4,000 compared to her opponent, Scott Taylor, who raised $61,000.
While I was a big fan of both Ellington and Ward, I have to note that I feel a little optimism for "the little guys" of Kansas City politics. Whereas four years ago I think many of these smaller budgeted campaigns would have made little noise in the grand scheme of KC politics, I think the internet and social media have played a vital role in helping these candidates who are not among the political elites in KC to reach out to voters in a more cost-effective way. And I think their ability to get their stances out on issues, and to reach constituents, in a way that is much more cost-effective than mailings and traditional advertising.
It is also simply amazing that there were many candidates (Sharon Sanders Brooks, Melba Curls, Ken Bachhus) who had no online presence at all).
Having money is still important. The candidate with the most money still won in the majority of cases. But I think the gap is closing....and I think in the long run that will be good for KC politics - so that the people with the best ideas get elected, and not just the person with the most money or endorsements.
Tony actually posted the budgets and the number of votes for each political candidate this morning...which saved me a little work in writing this post, so thanks for that.