When Sly James announced two years ago that he was going to run for Mayor of Kansas City, no one believed that he could do it. Even his closest friends said “well, at least you’ll have to change your name back to Sylvester.”
But he ignored the nay-sayers and he didn’t go back to Sylvester.
Instead, he rolled up his sleeves, got to work shaking hands and introducing himself, and building a campaign one voter at a time.
What he did was build a grassroots coalition of supporters, starting with tireless community activist Dr. Sugar Lee Lewis, who was out there every day, rain or shine, talking to people and planting lawn signs, from the Northland, where no minority candidate, not even our much-beloved former Mayor and current U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, ever pulled more than 30% of the vote all the way down south where Kansas City becomes Martin City.
His campaign office was a beehive of activity practically 24 hours a day for two years as the cleanest, most issues-driven campaign I have ever seen unfolded.
That would be Dr. Lewis and yours truly with hands to mouth as the first returns started to come in.
And last night, when the returns from the Northland started coming in, we knew he was going to win in a walk. We always knew he was going to carry most of the gentrifying inner city where I live and all of the east side, so when I saw 35% in the northland, I started doing the statistical analysis in my head, and turned to Dr. Lewis and said “He’s got this” even before the first vote was reported from the Fifth and Sixth districts
That’s when the party really started.
When the new Mayor came to the podium to address the crowd, he verified for everyone in the room and watching on television that faced with a tough choice and two good candidates, we picked the right one. He spent the first two minutes of his speech thanking Mike Burke for the clean, issues-driven campaign that both men waged for the privilege of leading our city, and he also let Mr. Burke know that although Sly won the election, Mike should be prepared to spend no small amount of time on the 29th floor of City Hall because he will be “up to his neck” in the work that needs to be done to get our city back on track.
The man who made himself a national laughing stock will be vacating the 29th floor of City Hall on May first when either Sly James or Mike Burke is sworn in as the next mayor of our fair city. By coming in third in the primary, the controversy-and-scandals plagued Mark Funkhouser becomes the first Mayor of Kansas City to be denied a second term since the voters decided Frank Cromwell didn’t deserve one…in 1924.
The General election is March 22nd, and to be eligible to vote you have to be registered by March 9, or if you have moved have your registration updated by then. You can register or update your registration in person at the KC Election Board, recently relocated to Union Station, or at any branch of the Kansas City public library.
If you live in Kansas City and want to review the returns for city council races, you can find them here.
One last thing before I go sleep the sleep of the weary and the just — Alvin, I can now accept your forgiveness. But damnit — Tony was right and I was wrong. Do you have any idea how hard that is even to get my head around, let alone accept?
Chicago isn’t the only big, blue city with a mayoral primary tomorrow, Kansas City has one, too, in which about 15% of us will go to the polls and decide which two candidate of the six in the primary will appear on the general election ballot in April.
For me, tomorrow morning and the polls opening can not get here fast enough, because voting for someone NOT named Mark Funkhouser will be, for me, an act of redemption. I literally wrote a post* on November 8, 2006 laying out a case that if he didn’t run, the people of the city should draft him. Then I busted my ass to get him elected.
I quickly learned that he was in over his head and I have spent the last three-plus years apologizing to Alvin Brooks, who I knew personally, professionally and politically long before that election, for backing his opponent four years ago. He has long since forgiven my transgression, but I can’t forgive myself until I vote against that arrogant sumbitch. I am fully expecting the heavens to open up and a choir of angels to sing when I put my ballot in the optical scan machine tomorrow morning. I have had one standard line that I have used for about three-and-a-half years whenever anyone asks me about the mayor: “Ugh. Please. Funkhouser was the biggest political mistake of my life, and I voted for Dukakis…in the primary.”
With the primary tomorrow, all six candidates gathered today at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library for a live debate/candidate forum that was moderated by Steve Kraske, political reporter for the Kansas City Star and host of KCUR’s Up to Date for a special 90-minute edition of the show that broadcast the forum live, as it was conducted in front of a live audience of about 250 people. (If you missed it, but live in KC and want to listen before you vote, you can do so at the link.)
They had the press sequestered over by the wall, but the person in the audience closest to me takes her civic responsibilities seriously and took great notes.
With the polls opening in less than twelve hours, I don’t have time to do a transcript of a 90-minute broadcast, so I will just give my overall impression of the five candidates challenging the incumbent — Sly James, Jim Rowland, Mike Burke, Deb Hermann, Henry Klein — and let my remarks so far stand on their own as what I think about him and his leadership of the city I love and call home.
I really wanted to like Deb Hermann and muster some support for her, but today’s forum just left me cold. Before the event got underway, they drew names, with the intent of asking a question of the opponent whose name they drew. When Kraske asked her whose name she drew and to ask her question she informed the room that she drew Mayor Funkhouser’s name, but since she has been on the council and asking questions of him for three-and-a-half years and she would just pass. Hmmm. So will I…
I get a definite Dennis Kucinich vibe off of Henry Klein. He says the right things, he’s bright and charming and engaging, gives a damn about public safety and local control of our police department, knows the issues cold…and is probably only going to finish fifth, just in front of Funk, when the votes are tallied tomorrow.
Mike Burke is a development attorney and definitely a top-tier candidate. He has a long history of service to the community, including serving in the administration of the much-loved and missed three-termer Dick Berkley, who served from 1979 to 1991. His experience and his history of service make him a solid choice that you wouldn’t regret voting for all day every day for three-plus years when he proved to be in over his head, because he wouldn’t be.
Jim Rowland is a civics teacher by training, he has served on the city council and he oversaw the rehab of the Truman Sports Complex and there was no drama, labor disputes, scandals, kickback schemes, accounting chicanery, cost overruns, missed deadlines…He joked during today’s event that maybe he should have messed up just a little in order to get his name in the paper and raise his name-recognition a bit.
And finally, Sly James. Sly is a retired Marine, a trial lawyer and a community activist. When we tried to recall Funkhouser a little over a year ago, he is who we wanted to replace him. He has the legal background, the leadership experience and the vivacious personality, quick wit and oratory skills to make a great mayor for our city.
I walked in with an “anyone but Funkhouser” feeling, and I moved Deb Hermann into that category about thirty minutes in. I got the same feeling off her that I get from Funkhouser — they seem to think they are doing me a favor by offering their services. I wanted to tell them both not to do me any favors — we’ll handle it ourselves and not trouble you poor vexed and put-upon souls.
When it was over, those two were out of there like a shot from a gun, it was as if they couldn’t get away from the rabble fast enough. The other candidates were shaking hands and talking to the people who came out to hear their ideas in a 90 minute forum on the Plaza, knowing that those people will sure as hell take five minutes to go to their neighborhood polling place and vote tomorrow.
Sly James and Jim Rowland — the two who act the most like they actually want the job, talking with voters in the hallway after the debate. As long as there were voters with questions, they were there to listen and answer.
* Unfortunately, the post in question, which appeared on the original Blue Girl, Red State blog was lost to the ether during an upgrade of the Blogger platform, so I can’t link back to it.