The Missouri River has historically represented a political divide within Kansas City, with the Northland voting more conservatively than voters south of the river in local and statewide elections.
In this year’s City Council election on June 20, voters across the city will have a say in who from the Northland will win the at-large races for the 1st and 2nd Districts. Northland residents themselves will have a choice of in-district candidates on the City Council ballot with a variety of perspectives on affordable housing, policing and infrastructure.
Among these candidates are a high school teacher, an organizer with KC Tenants, the citywide tenant union, a labor union advocate, a former state legislator, a consultant, a school district lawyer and a real estate agent.
The Northland City Council districts look much different than they did four years ago. The fast-growing part of Kansas City was the subject of a fierce redistricting battle following the 2020 census. Despite opposition from the political and business establishment in the Northland, the City Council opted to draw horizontal lines that essentially separated newer, more affluent neighborhoods in the northernmost part of the city from less affluent communities closer to the river. (Portions of the Northland, mainly the area between North Kansas City and Gladstone, are in the 4th District.)
Early voting began on June 6 and Election Day is June 20. The Beacon is publishing stories introducing the candidates on the City Council ballot and printing their responses to a three-part questionnaire. The questionnaire includes three biographical questions, four lightning-round yes-or-no questions and five short-answer policy questions. Some responses have been lightly edited for length or clarity.
This story includes candidates on the City Council ballot for the in-district and at-large races in the 1st and 2nd District. Responses from the 4th District at-large candidates can be seen here, and in-district candidates will be included in a future story.
Some candidate responses come from a previous Beacon election guide compiled for the April 2023 primary.
In the 2nd District, candidate Wes Rogers, running unopposed, did not submit responses prior to publication.
Click on a link to jump to a question:
- Meet the candidates
- Lightning-round questions
- How would you increase affordable housing in Kansas City?
- How should the city collaborate with a police department that cannot be held accountable to city regulation?
- What deciding factors would convince you to ask city taxpayers to subsidize a downtown stadium for the Royals?
- Is Kansas City taking the issue of missing Black women seriously enough? What can city government do to address this?
- If elected, what issues will you make your own?
Meet the candidates
In this race, Chris Gahagan is facing off against Nathan Willett to replace Heather Hall, who is ineligible to run for reelection.
Gahagan is a personal injury attorney who has served as general counsel for a school district in south Kansas City.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: The Spirit of Cooperation Fountain in Anita B. Gorman Park
Willett is a high school math teacher.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: The Northland Fountain at Anita Gorman Park — not only is it one of the most recognizable fountains in the Northland, the namesake of the park has been a family friend for over 50 years.
1st District at large
Incumbent Kevin O’Neill is facing a challenge from Ronda Smith after a three-candidate primary in April.
O’Neill is the former owner and publisher of the Kansas City Labor Beacon newspaper.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: Fountain in Mill Creek Park
Smith is a real estate agent.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: Firefighters Memorial and the Children’s Fountain
2nd District at large
With incumbent Teresa Loar unable to run for reelection, Lindsay French is running against Jenay Manley in a face-off between candidates representing major political factions in the city.
French has a consulting background in visual communications, city planning and design and public engagement.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: Northland Fountain in Anita B. Gorman Park
Manley is an organizer with KC Tenants, a citywide tenant union that advocates for affordable housing and tenant rights.
Favorite Kansas City fountain: Northland Fountain
Lightning round questions
Candidates were asked for a yes-or-no position in response to these four questions:
- Should Kansas City be granted local control of its police department?
- Should third-party “but-for” financial analysis be required to receive tax incentives in KC?
- Should access to information for the news media be restricted by the city manager’s office?
- Do you believe that $1,200 per month for rent is affordable?
How would you increase affordable housing in Kansas City?
Gahagan (1st District): Use the housing trust fund for incremental redevelopment and repairs in existing neighborhoods and to offer additional incentives to developers who include affordable housing units in their projects to encourage more units or increase the density of their projects in exchange for providing affordable housing options. Update zoning/building codes to allow more flexible land use. Streamline the planning process to make affordable housing projects less expensive to build. Foster collaboration between the public sector, developers and nonprofits to create projects to leverage the strengths and additional resources of different entities to develop affordable housing at a larger scale.
Willett (1st District): The root of our affordable housing problem is a supply problem. In my district, the newly adopted housing codes will make it $30,000 more expensive to build an average size house. We need to work with builders to eliminate barriers, not put in place policies that price people out of the market. Affordable housing is a factor in other problems facing our city. It drives up the student-mobility rate in our schools which, in turn, creates a less stable environment.
O’Neill (1st District at large): I’ve been to every corner of this city since taking office and I know that housing issues are complex and vary from district to district. We should consider freezing property taxes in areas that are seeing rapid growth so that growth doesn’t kick out families who live there. We should also ensure that our policies create more housing stock, not less. Additionally, my focus on ensuring every Kansas Citian has a good-paying job is vital when it comes to affordable housing. Put simply, you’re more likely to be able to afford housing if you have a good-paying job.
Smith (1st District at large): I would work with community stakeholders and neighborhood leaders to promote the building of new affordable housing on otherwise vacant lots or buildings.
French (2nd District at large): I don’t want to paint with a broad brush what housing security means in a city as diverse as KC. Rather, we need to have more of a pointed approach that addresses the nuances of the issues based on each neighborhood. Overall, we should not make it unattainable to develop affordable housing in Kansas City. We should also ensure our land use policies provide the housing opportunities necessary to keep pace with demand from working households. We also need a long-term strategic master plan that would drive housing projects in a sustainable, equitable manner.
Manley (2nd District at large): The city should use the Housing Trust Fund to invest in the people here. The Housing Department should be doing research and creating training for people to create cooperatives and community land trusts. My long-term vision is that Kansas City commits to creating a Municipal Social Housing Department to acquire properties and create municipal social housing off the private market, universally accessible and democratically controlled.
How should the city collaborate with a police department that cannot be held accountable to city regulation?
Gahagan (1st District): I will focus on working with Chief (Stacey) Graves to recruit and retain sworn officers and civilian employees to address a severe workforce shortage throughout the department. Chief Graves immediately implemented a plan to provide more patrol officers who were needed in the Northland.
Willett (1st District): The Northland council members were left out of the divisive May 20th, 2021, “same-day” ordinance that aimed to reallocate $42 million of the KCPD budget. This prevented the Northland representatives from bringing it to a committee and calling upon their constituents for feedback. The ordinance was later found to violate Missouri state statutes and thrown out. Current council has ignored my district on public safety measures. While local control sounds great in theory, it would mean 9 to 4 votes bypassing the Northland. I am not ecstatic about our current system but the other would be worse for my constituency.
O’Neill (1st District at large): I’ve been impressed with Chief Graves’ willingness to collaborate and communicate. That’s a step in the right direction. However, we must have greater transparency on how our tax dollars are being spent. If we can track dollar for dollar how our tax dollars are spent on city services like roads and trash pickup, then we should also have that transparency around the money KCPD receives. I’d also like to see more of a focus put on filling the positions currently open at KCPD rather than focusing exclusively on finding more money for the department.
Smith (1st District at large): The city should fully fund and support the Kansas City Police Department so that it can properly protect and serve us all. The Kansas City Police Department has demonstrated self-accountability and is directly accountable to the elected officials in the state government, which every Kansas Citian has a voice in.
French (2nd District at large): We have to focus on data-driven crime prevention strategies and wraparound services that generate measurable outcomes. Both are needed and that work cannot be done in silos. We must also engage the community and build positive relationships and trust with law enforcement. I look forward to working with our new Chief Graves, who is already showing up in communities and working on solutions.
Manley (2nd District at large): The city should collaborate with Kansas City residents to find ways to reduce crime and better understand the issues residents are having with holding the police department accountable. Complaints go directly to the police department, but the city does not have access to those complaints. We can and should implement a complaints program through the city’s Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Department (CREO). If a resident has an issue with KCPD, we should direct them to CREO for complaints and investigations.
What deciding factors would convince you to ask city taxpayers to subsidize a downtown stadium for the Royals?
Gahagan (1st District): Require that the maximum amount of available private funding is utilized and that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent cannibalization of existing entertainment districts. Negotiate a community benefits agreement requiring union contractors for construction, the relocation of current union jobs to the new stadium and that the creation of new jobs in the stadium and entertainment district pay a livable wage and ensure that residents are not priced out of their neighborhoods.
Willett (1st District): If the ownership group finds a site and wants to spend their money to build it, I am OK with that. I oppose putting the taxpayers on the hook for projects that billionaires can pay for. I am proud to be the only candidate in my race to not accept campaign donations from the Royals organization. I will not be bought on this issue.
O’Neill (1st District at large): It would depend on how much public money will be involved, what the public funding would be used for and how the community will benefit from a downtown stadium.
Smith (1st District at large): I will not support the construction of a downtown stadium for the Royals if the taxpayers do not want it or if it costs the city. Do we want more affordable housing in the inner city, or do we want two different mega-baseball stadiums in Kansas City? The choice is simple for me.
French (2nd District at large): I’m interested in learning more about how the stadium would be paid for, how it would benefit our communities and working families, where it will be built and what type of development would be generated around it. We also need to know more about the community benefits that we’d see as a result of it.
Manley (2nd District at large): I would not support public dollars going to a downtown stadium. If a downtown stadium were built in Kansas City, I would work with the communities most directly impacted to see what support they would need to stay in their communities. This would include issues around housing, public transportation and job creation and stability.
Is Kansas City taking the issue of missing Black women seriously enough? What can city government do to address this?
Gahagan (1st District): In response, I read articles in the KC Defender and the Kansas City Beacon addressing this issue. In the case of T.J., who was kidnapped/sexually assaulted, it is clear there were concerns expressed that Black women were missing where no action was taken to investigate if foul play was involved. In April 2023, KCPD stated that new processes would be implemented in missing persons cases but had not yet started. I would ask for follow-up on the status of those processes. The council has no authority over KCPD other than to request information and report the answers publicly.
Willett (1st District): It must be taken seriously and when multiple people from the community bring a concern like this forward, it is my responsibility as a councilperson to ask the questions to our police chief and other leaders to get answers.
O’Neill (1st District at large): This is an area where holistic programs like KC 360 can help address the disconnect between law enforcement and the community. It’s also clear that the process to file a missing persons report should be overhauled.
Smith (1st District at large): The Kansas City Police Department is working tirelessly to resolve the city’s rising crime rates. Our City Council needs to stop handcuffing our police department and slowing down their investigations with red tape and bureaucracy.
French (2nd District at large): This is an issue that has not received enough attention. We need more elected officials using their voices to push for change in how missing persons are reported. We also need more officers who look like the people of Kansas City so that more trust is built.
Manley (2nd District at large): No, Kansas City has not taken this seriously enough. KC Defender was the first news outlet to highlight these stories and has been dismissed despite their reporting. Our city government should take the concerns of our community, specifically Black and brown communities, seriously, even when our police department does not. If and when a concern is raised by the community, we should be actively connecting with the people bringing those concerns to light and supporting them in finding missing women.
If elected, what issues will you make your own?
Gahagan (1st District): Developing relationships and trust between council members, community leaders and residents to allow collaborative problem-solving for issues across the city. There are common problems among council districts and unique problems within districts. By committing to a common goal of improving all areas of the city, we can continue to move our city forward. My primary issues in the 1st District are improvements to basic city services, road and sidewalk repair/upgrades, public safety and economic development to attract new businesses and grow existing businesses to create jobs.
Willett (1st District): Neighborhood improvements — the Northland is 40% of the city yet only received 8% of the GO bonds for infrastructure needs. I will fight for Northland’s share of tax dollars to make neighborhood improvements in our older/aging neighborhoods. In my own neighborhood, I put in a request that was successfully filled that made the sidewalks ADA compliant and safer for kids to get to school. Recruitment and retention of our first responders — our first responders must have a council that points out the good work that they do and has their back when it comes to increasing officer salaries.
O’Neill (1st District at large): We must decrease crime, create more good-paying jobs and protect your tax dollars. Our residents deserve to feel safe in every corner of our city. I’ll continue working on creative solutions to bring down crime. I also understand that hard-working people across our community don’t just need jobs, they need and deserve good-paying jobs. I’ll continue my efforts to protect working families and bring more economic opportunity to Kansas City. I also recognize that our city runs on our tax dollars. I have been, and will always be, an advocate for efficiency at City Hall.
Smith (1st District at large): I will also make transparency and accountability a priority. We work for the people; they have a right to know everything that is going on in their local government.
French (2nd District at large): Listening to voices across Kansas City has shown me our city cares about safe and healthy communities, housing security, equitable development and basic services. As an active listener and coalition builder, I will work to: focus on crime prevention strategies balanced with wraparound services; create a comprehensive housing approach that reflects our diverse neighborhoods, focus on upfront public and stakeholder input and increased equitable development; increase efficiency for basic services like trash pickup, snow removal and street resurfacing. Our city’s momentum can come to a screeching halt if we don’t listen to our residents and focus on their concerns.
Manley (2nd District at large): 1) Co-governance is a model in which the people are proactively and consistently engaged in making decisions that affect our lives. This will include hosting monthly events, door knocking and phone banking to listen to the needs of people. 2) Champion municipal social housing, meeting our housing needs and giving the people decision-making power over how and where we live. This housing is built by organized labor and reinvests in our communities instead of for-profit developers. 3) A wholesale reassessment of our tax incentives policy to create oversight over this process. Ensure that tax incentives are assessed and scrutinized through a public engagement process.
Mili Mansaray contributed reporting for this story.
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