Vote "no" for mayor

Vote "no" for mayor

I have never been so alienated from city politics. This year's mayoral race seems to offer no really good choices and neither does the marijuana referendum. I'd just stay home, but that runs against my nature as well. I just don't know what to do.

The mayoral race this year seems to be one of the dirtiest and least enlightening in recent memory. Bill Warren injecting himself into the middle of the race didn't help much either.

First, it is the process. Ten candidates went into the primaries. That scattered the votes over a wide spectrum of possibilities, but it also led to the success of the two best financed candidates. Jeff Longwell and Sam Williams emerged as the contenders.

Jeff Longwell had the most name recognition going into the primaries. As a city commissioner, he appeared in the papers frequently and seemed to be a logical choice. The other incumbent, Lavonta Williams, probably had as good a resume as Longwell but was not so well financed and had to overcome her race and sex, neither a disqualifier in itself but together too big a pill for many Wichitans to swallow.

Sam Williams had the opposite problem: no one knew who he was. Other than a few insiders, Sam Williams had no name recognition. To overcome that would be expensive and, as anyone with a mailbox knows, he was able to flood the city and the media with campaign literature. That meant spending a lot of money, but that seemed to be no obstacle.

Incumbency is usually an advantage, but in this case it is a problem to be overcome. The city had just asked voters for a property tax increase to fund roads and an underexplained water source. It also included money for "job creation." To many Wichitans this meant bribing large employers to settle here, expand or add positions. The city government seemed closely associated with sweetheart deals to the big guys.

In addition, the city council was identified as suckers in their dealings with the "Minnesota Guys" to (and here we have a term that raises the hackles of many voters) revitalize the downtown area. As the fortunes of the "MG" rose, this seemed like a great idea. Now that they are embroiled in closer scrutiny of their legal and financial dealings it seems less like a good thing.

Mr. Longwell can truthfully say that he opposed the whole omnibus sales tax scheme, but it may not be enough to distance himself from the downtown revival singlemindedness of a council which does not seem to think anything of interest or value exists south of Kellogg. Looking at his financial backers doesn't help soothe me either.

Sam Williams either did or didn't vote for the sales tax increase. Bill Warren and some of his colleagues from the Old Town area claim that they were told one thing while Williams claimed to do the opposite.

Mr. Williams has also been, shall we say, less than punctilious about identifying himself as a CPA. Apparently he was once an accoutant but has lately been working in a position more like a consultant or lobbyist. He is supported by the Chamber of Commerce crowd, which must have dug deep in their pockets to get him elected.

Something about this split among the downtown money men is entertaining to watch, but one way or the other, one of their guys will be our next mayor. It would be an excellent time to have a populist emerge as a write-in candidate. None has. I guess we are expected to hold our noses and push a button.

Now on the marijuana issue. I don't smoke pot anymore. Not since the early 1970s during my Army days. (Good soldiers got sent to Vietnam. Screw ups got kicked out of the service. Where's the risk?) Many of my friends do. I have a long time buddy who is a judge. He stopped smoking when his kids started bringing DARE material home from school but resumed after they went off to college. And he's a septuagenarian like me.

I agree with the pro-initiative people that penalties for using marijuana are too harsh. Still, this initiative will not do much about that. State and federal laws will probably override local ordinances. Only electing judges pledged to more rational sentencing will keep us from saddling hundreds of our fellow Wichitans with records and keep our jails overflowing with non-violent offenders.

Our ordinance, however, will probably mean long and expensive litigation. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt seems determined to force "errant" cities into line with state drug policy. It is likely that a vote for the initiative will do little more than set off a lengthy and expensive argument that will take the courts years to straighten out. But it would at least send a message. Is that good enough?

So what am I left with? None of the above for mayor and a futile yes on the initiative? Write in Richard Crowson for mayor? (Sorry, Karen, I just needed a name to use as an example. I'm not trying to shove your husband into public life.)

Or should I just hunker down and hope for a progressive leader to emerge. Politics, anyone?