Life in Platte County revolves around Kansas City, but it’s hard not to feel like City Hall is located on another planet. The city is so big, and so many critical components are located outside our county, there is a major disconnect with City Hall. The final mayoral and City Council seat elections being held in late June doesn’t seem to help connections any. I’m writing this on election eve, so I don’t know how strong voter turnout was. Predictions were that it would be very low, as it was for an earlier primary election.
Candidates are campaigning. Relatively few voters are listening.
I wouldn’t want to see Kansas City elections held in November. There’s no sense getting them mixed up in the state and federal partisan politics. There have been traces of Republican versus Democrat, or conservative versus moderate Republican, under the surface of Kansas City’s elections. But partisan politics have always been overshadowed by basic city issues.
That’s the best deal for taxpayers.
I would think the easiest thing would be for Kansas City to choose City Council leaders on the same Tuesday in April that other municipal entities such as towns and schools use. I do see the value in the city holding a primary in late winter ahead of final elections. The city is big enough, and issues complex enough, that some separation is good.
Maybe people who seek election or manage them prefer to separate the city from all other elections so money spent on campaign ads doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of various other elections. This summer, election time seems to conflict with a vacation mode voters are in. Sure we’re still going to work, but summer just has a different pace and feel and worrying about a city election in June just doesn’t seem to fit.
Some other factors work against voter interest in this Kansas City election, too.
For one, the next presidential race is already under way, and many of us are already tired of being hit with hype and speculation for that. Voter fatigue seems to get very little respite.
So nobody’s applauding an offseason election.
The mayoral election is usually an attention getter in cities, and it has drawn voter interest in Kansas City in the past. But this time, nobody expected incumbent Sly James to be seriously challenged. He’s popular and had done a good job.
Challenger Vincent Lee makes it officially an election race on paper. On the streets and at the polls, it’s James all the way.
There’s a general feeling of well being in Kansas City right now. That doesn’t mean major problems don’t exist for a City Council to solve.
I got lost driving out of the stadium parking lot after a Royals game on Saturday night. That gave me a lengthy tour of the Blue River valley industrial district, both the old factory section and the residential neighborhoods to the west. If only industry used tax breaks designed to remove blight more in those areas rather than on farm fields in the Northland, our metro area would be better off.
But the Royals are winning. The Chiefs are hopeful. The Kansas City International Airport terminal rebuilding issue has gone quietly into back-room planning for a next move. Kansas City is treading water economically. And City Hall does some things pretty well.
So voters are not riled.
I’m not sure if voter apathy makes the job easier or harder for those elected on Tuesday. I suppose business may be a tad easier to conduct when an electorate is not fired up by discontent and following your every move. If nobody cared much what happened at KCI, we’d likely have a huge, new, single passenger terminal by now, but people cared about that, so we are hoping for something better.
Those elected to Kansas City Council do wind up with major pressures and issues.
The mix of growth, urban sprawl, aging infrastructure, reduced funds from federal and state grants, problems in the Kansas City School District, multiple county, city and state entities to partner or spar with all take time and thought. I suspect for the hard working council members it’s discouraging to find solutions and create successes, only to look around and see that almost nobody noticed.
Congrats to those elected on Tuesday. Voter turnout at the polls may not show it, but people do care.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.