A s quiet as it’s kept, Kansans will head to the polls on Tues., Nov. 2 to fill positions on the important positions that lead our cities and direct the education of our children. While these elections may not be as high profile and big budget as last year’s elections, these even-year (the last number of the year are always even) elections have the greatest impact on our everyday lives.
“If you’re yelling ‘defund the police,’ remember, your city council members are the ones that fund the police, and if you’re concerned about your child, or grandchild, having lost ground during the pandemic, the school board is the organization that will implement and fund a plan to help students catch up,” said former state Sen. Rip Gooch, who also served on the Wichita City Council.
If you don’t like your water rates, your city council sets those; or in Wyandotte County, the rates are set by the Board of Public Utilities.
If your streets have potholes, the basketball court in the park needs repaving, or you want a new street light in your neighborhood, all of these issues are approved by locally elected officials.
This year, in particular, school boards are the ones who make decisions about how to keep our children safe and healthy at school in the midst of a pandemic and how to help our children catch from a year where the pandemic made learning difficult.
WICHITA CITY COUNCIL RACES
In Wichita, city council candidates run in nonpartisan races by district and only voters who live in the district can vote for them. By nonpartisan, candidates do not file to run as a candidate with any identifiable political party affiliation. Elected members are limited to two terms. There is currently one African American serving on the council.
The District 1 city council seat, which covers most of what is often described as Near Northeast Wichita, is currently held by Brandon Johnson. He is being opposed for reelection by Myron Ackerman, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau last year. If re-elected, this will be Johnson’s last term.
During his first term, Johnson proved to be a strong advocate for his district. He ran on a platform of saving the McAdams Pool and came through. He’s also helped bring considerable investments into the district, including a recently announced renovation and expansion of the aging McAdams Park Recreation Center. Following in the model of a series of great representatives for the district, Johnson was easy to access, communicated well, and fought for safety in and economic development of the district.
In other city council races, incumbent Cindy Claycomb is being challenged by newcomer Maggie Ballard in her race for the District 6 city council seat. This district covers most of central North Wichita and the Riverside area.
In the District 3 race, incumbent Jared Cerullo is being challenged by another newcomer, Mike Hoheisel, to represent this Southeast Wichita district. Cerullo, was appointed earlier this year to fill the remaining term of James Clendenin, who resigned in December 2020 in the midst of a scandal and cover-up surrounding a scathing video produced against then-candidate for mayor Brandon Whipple.
WICHITA SCHOOL BOARD
In Wichita, school board members run by districts, but in the general election, voters citywide cast votes in all races. These races are nonpartisan as well, which means the candidate’s political party is not something they should openly campaign on. There are no terms limits for board members who serve without compensation. There is currently one African American serving on the board.
Until the 2017 election, the District 1 seat, which covers a large part of Near-Northeast Wichita had been held by an African American. In that race, incumbent Betty Arnold – an African American – lost in a close race to now-incumbent Ben Blankley – a White male. Blankley has done little to connect to African-American members of the district, which is not to say that he’s made decisions that worked against the district’s Black students, it just leaves the district without a person residents feel they connect with on issues.
The lone African American on the board is Mia Turner who represents District 5, a district based in the western part of the county. Two other incumbents are seeking reelection Ron Rosales in District 6 which covers North-Central Wichita and Julie Hedrick, who represent District 2, which covers Far-East Wichita.
Instead of talking about each of the incumbents’ opponents individually, we’re covering them as a group, since that’s how they appear to be competing. In what are supposed to be nonpartisan races, Diane Albert in District 1, Brent Davis in District 2, Kathy Bond in District 5 and Hazel Stabler in District 6 are being promoted as a “Vote 4 Change” in literature paid for by the Sedgwick County Republican Party.
There are two other candidates: Justin Bjork in District 2 has withdrawn and is supporting Hedrick; Holly Terrill, a third candidate in the District 6 race, is still campaigning for the seat.
WYANDOTTE COUNTY UNIFIED GOVERNMENT MAYOR
The most exciting race has to be for mayor of the Unified Government, with Tyrone Garner, a retired Kansas City Police Department deputy chief, competing against one-term Mayor David Alvey.
The incumbent mayor’s absence at a recent debate held at First Missionary Baptist Church may indicate he’s relinquished the Black vote to Garner and that he is working to win the race by focusing on the city’s White and Hispanic communities. Despite its liberal leanings and its minority-majority status, Kansas City, KS, has never elected a Black mayor. So Garner is going to need a strong Black turnout to pull out a victory.
WYANDOTTE COUNTY COMMISSION
District 1 incumbent Commissioner Gayle Townsend will take on real estate company owner Melvin Williams. What Williams seems to lack in knowledge about the city, he strives to make up for with his passion for the district. However, if during the elections, he fails to do the work needed to get informed on the topics, it leaves you wondering if he’s elected, whether he’ll do the necessary work required to make informed decisions.
In one of the most interesting and competitive races, incumbent District 8 Commissioner Jane Philbrook, who is seeking her third term, has a bright and informed opponent in Andrew Davis. A student in the master’s of public administration program at the University of Kansas, Davis has an understanding of government management and operations that will make him an asset for his district from day one. His understanding of the issues shows in his well-thought-out proposals to address many of the issues of his district and the county. With a good turnout, Davis may be able to pull off an upset.
Incumbents Mike Kane in District 5 and Tom Burroughs in District 2 are being opposed by newcomers Eleanor Morales Clark and Claudine Sanders, respectively.
BOARD OF PUBLIC UTILITIES
Wyandotte County residents’ frustration with the Board of Public Utilities is growing, but has it reached a level where voters are finally ready to elect new leaders for the company that provides them water and electricity?
There are two seats open on the BPU board. At-Large District incumbent Mary Gonzales is being challenged by Gwendolyn Bass. In the second at-large race, the incumbent was already kicked to the curb in the primary, so the board is guaranteed to have at least one new member. In this race, David Haley, who represents the county in the Kansas Senate, is being opposed by Mark Gilstrap. Gilstrap ran for Kansas House in 2020 and also had a previous run for the Kansas Senate, but lost in both races.
Haley, who says he’s running for the position because he’s tired of hearing people complain about their utility rates but nothing seems to change. Two years ago, Haley ran for a seat on the board but came up short by 37 votes.
KANSAS CITY SCHOOL BOARD
There are three seats open on the USD 500 school board and five candidates. Competing are incumbents Maxine Drew and Wanda Brownlee Paige and strong contenders Rachel Henderson and Angelynn Howell. All four are Black females and all are strong candidates who showed in a recent debate both their knowledge and passion for our children. The fifth candidate in the race is Diosselyn Tot.
WYANDOTTE COUNTY SHERIFF
Incumbent Sheriff Don Ash is not seeking reelection and has endorsed an officer within the department, Lt. Col. Daniel Soptic. He’s competing against Celisha Towers, who is making her second run for sheriff. Towers, a former member of the department, is running to bring about change that a lot of people will agree is needed. However, despite her passion, her lack of leadership skills will make it difficult for her to win over a lot of voters. Sadly, if Soptic’s elected, county residents can expect more of the same old thing