It was a really big shew ( in Ed Sullivan speak).
The mayoral candidates — six of them — sat on a stage on the Sprint Center floor this morning, looking up at the audience. Their images were displayed on the video screen above the arena scoreboard, and the LED ribbon on the face of the upper deck said, “2011 Kansas City Mayoral Candidate Forum.”
It would have been nice if 15,000 or so political fans had been in attendance, but the Kansas City Industrial Council, which sponsored the forum, had to settle for a couple of hundred people in Section 117.
Council officials weren’t expecting thousands, but they were ready.
And having the event at Sprint Center was a brilliant stroke, in my opinion. In recent weeks, some of the candidates — Jim Rowland, most notably — have wrung their hands about Kansas City’s direction the last four years, but Sprint Center stands as a credit to our city; it’s one of our recent success stories.
Even without an anchor tenant, Sprint Center is one of the busiest arenas in the nation. Along with the Power & Light District, it has helped resurrect Downtown and keep Kansas City in the hunt as a convention and visitor destination.
For the most part, the people at this morning’s forum were interested in capital improvements and infrastructure issues, such as river levies and the massive sewer-system improvements that Kansas City is launching.
As he has in most of the forums, Roland banged away at Mayor Mark Funkhouser and the current council, saying that a “toxic atmosphere” had settled in at City Hall, preventing the city from moving ahead on any front.
With that line of attack, Roland, a councilman from 1999 to 2006, aims to tar not only Funkhouser but also Councilwoman Deb Hermann, a leading mayoral contender who is completing her second term on the council.
Interestingly, another leading contender, Sly James — whose stock rose considerably over the weekend after he received The Star’s endorsement, along with Mike Burke — came to the defense of the current council, while managing to avoid mentioning Funkhouser specifically.
“I believe our council has worked hard to keep us in the best possible position,” James said. “We have some good people trying to do good things, and they deserve our respect for that.”
James didn’t give the council a complete pass, however, saying that the city seems to be “wandering around from crisis to crisis, putting Band Aids” on its problems, instead of devising a strategic, overall plan of action.
For her part, Hermann got a chance to return fire at Rowland, after Rowland noted that the city had boosted sewer rates by about 15 percent last year and water rates by about 10 percent — and was planning to implement similar rate increases again this year.
Hermann suggested that the current rate increases might not have been so large if the council had not frozen water rates in the year 2000. She didn’t even have to say that Rowland was on the council then; Rowland had told the audience in his opening remarks that he was elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.
The third leading contender, Burke (whom I support and have contributed to), made his mark in the forum by proposing a way to accelerate progress on capital improvements projects.
The city brings in about $70 million a year for capital improvements from a one-cent, voter-approved sales tax. In May of each year, when the council approves the city budget, it also approves the capital improvements expenditures for the coming year.
Burke proposed separating the $70 million in sales-tax, capital improvements projects from the regular budget and approving the capital projects in the fall so that those projects would be ready to go the following spring. As it is, he said, those projects often aren’t ready to get underway until fall or winter, about the time the construction season is winding down for the year.