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4 KC Mayors Walk Into a Library … It’s No Joke Unprecedented Event Broadcast Tonight on Kansas City PBS

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Above image credit: Nick Haines of Kansas City PBS recently moderated a public conversation with four former Kansas City mayors at the Kansas City Public Library's Country Club Plaza branch. The event will be broadcast on Friday, Feb. 3, as a special "Week in Review." (Ieshia Downton | Flatland)
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5 minute read

Everything was on the table recently when four former Kansas City mayors gathered to discuss their time in office.

They shared all. Regrets. Unfair blame they shouldered. Pearls of wisdom. And their views on the current state of the city.

“Week In Review” host Nick Haines moderated the conversation for an overflow crowd gathered at the Kansas City Public Library’s Country Club Plaza branch. The forum was co-presented by the Citizens Association of Kansas City and Kansas City PBS.

If you weren’t able to attend, a broadcast of the discussion will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday on Kansas City PBS.

The former mayors included:

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a United Methodist minister, was Kansas City’s first Black mayor. He served as mayor from1991-1999. Cleaver participated via a video link from Washington, D.C., where congressional negotiations were underway on increasing the nation’s debt limit.

Kay Barnes, a distinguished professor for public leadership at Park University, was the first and only woman to serve as mayor. She served as mayor from1999-2007.

Mark Funkhouser, president of Funkhouser & Associates, LLC, an independent consulting firm. He served as mayor from 2007-2011.

Sly James, an attorney, is a co-founder of the consulting firm Wickham James Strategies & Solutions. He served as mayor from 2011-2019.

Can You Guess Which Mayor Uttered These Quotes?

“We don’t seem to have the chaotic council meetings anymore that they had during one period in Kansas City.”

“If you’re spending your time missing something, you’re not enjoying what’s ahead. I don’t have time to look back…I do miss the parking.”

Official portrait of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who served as mayor of Kansas City 1991-1999.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who served as mayor of Kansas City from 1991-1999. (Contributed)

“During my time, we had a 20-year low in violent crime in Kansas City. But it’s back.”

“Police tend to be insular. They tend to form a culture that looks inside and that doesn’t work they need to be connected to the community.”

“There is the challenge of developing adequate public/private partnerships to address those development and redevelopment needs … Whether it’s in the 18th and Vine area, certainly in the Northeast and so on. It is an area, though, that I regret I was not able to do more.”

“We have not done a good enough job, or even frankly, an adequate job of taking care of that group of very special people who are between the ages of zero and 5 in this city.”

“If I have a fear. It’s not that we do too much development. It is that we close the doors too quickly.”

“He said, “ ‘Mr. Mayor, before you came, they were taking money out of the city with both hands and now they can only take it out with one.  They got a fight you off.’ “

“It’s all about money and power.”

“There are misconceptions that may be represented in the media, where you know, the full story and what’s being reported is only part of the story.”

Portrait of Kay Barnes.
Kay Barnes, who served as mayor of Kansas City from 1999-2007. (Contributed)

“The problems that we see in Kansas City exist in every major city in this country with affordable housing.”

“Pay attention to the money because nothing else works. If the money isn’t right, you can’t take care of all the other stuff that you want to do.”

“The problem of housing affordable housing was a problem on my first day. It was a problem on my last day. It is a problem this day.”

“I give Kay Barnes tons of credit for having the guts to take the crap from people who didn’t know diddly on tax incentives or TIFs from abatements to do what she did. Because if she hadn’t done it, we’d still be looking at a downtown that sucked and didn’t do anything. So give her some credit for what she did. Absolutely.”

“I would challenge anyone who would suggest that that was money misspent because if you look at all of the development and redevelopment, jobs that have been created, and so on as a result of those projects, we are much better off as a city than we would have been otherwise. “

“You can’t talk about East Side not being developed without recognizing the racial issues in the city.”

“You want to reduce poverty. You want to reduce drains on social services. We need to do better with our children. Right now.“

Mark Funkhouser speaking at a podium.
Mark Funkhouser, who served as mayor of Kansas City from 2007-2011. (Contributed)

“Be very cautious about burning bridges with people. Because I can almost guarantee that a week later, a month later, or a year later, that individual is going to be an important part of an equation for you.”

“Look up the definition of politician and then look up the definition of public servant you find they are not the same.”

“You can stand on the street corner as a mayor or City Council person handing out $20 bills. Thirty percent of the people will say thank you, 30% of the people will say it should have been $50. And 30% of the people say, ‘Oh my gosh, why are you handing out money.’ And the other 10% will just not know what the hell to do.“

“Understand that people are never going to like everything you do. And if you spend too much time trying to please people, it’s going to bite you in the butt.”

“Economic development needs to happen by attracting people. None of that stuff is addressed or solved by where you put the baseball stadium.”

Sly James leaning on a wall and smiling.
Sly James, who served as mayor of Kansas City from 2011-2019. (Contributed)

“Part of your job is to keep knitting the community together because there are a lot of forces trying to pull it apart.”

“The trouble with the streetcar as it is now and other things that we’ve done is that they’re too small to actually have an impact.”

“The big fancy buildings get a lot of press. What doesn’t get as much attention publicly, is just the day-to-day pounding away at some of these issues that are chronic.”

“My big fight was with the city manager. I would want to make sure that the mayor had the city manager that he or she wanted regardless.”

“Give the mayor the power to have limited executive orders where you can write something to be done with a pen and without having to go through all the rigmarole.”  

To connect the quote with the correct mayor, watch the attached video.

The Four Mayors on Kansas City PBS

Mary Sanchez is senior reporter for Kansas City PBS.

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