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Kansas City Election Guide: What Voters Should Know About the June 2023 Ballot Kansas City is headed back to the polls on June 20. The new City Council needs to address an urgent need for more affordable housing, recent spikes in violent crime, economic development and neighborhood livability issues like trash services, infrastructure and short-term rentals.

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Above image credit: Kansas Citians head to the polls on June 20 to determine the course at City Hall. (File photo).
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13 minute read

Kansas City voters go to the polls on Tuesday, June 20 to select a new City Council that will confront major challenges over the next four years.

The most pressing issues for city leadership include the critical shortage of affordable housing, solutions to homelessness, proposals to address the alarming homicide and violent crime rate, a sensible approach to development incentives, and strategies to improve basic services and neighborhood livability.

The next council will also likely be involved in decisions about a new downtown baseball stadium for the Kansas City Royals. Plus Kansas City must prepare to host World Cup games in 2026.

Quinton Lucas
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.

The 2023 mayor’s race is virtually a non-event. Incumbent Quinton Lucas faces perennial mayoral candidate Clay Chastain, whose primary residence is in Virginia but who uses his sister’s address in Kansas City. Lucas received 81% of the vote in the April 4 primary, while Chastain received 19%.

In addition to voting for mayor, Kansas City residents are casting ballots for six at-large (citywide) council members. They also are selecting their preferred in-district candidate in the part of the city where they live.

All 12 council seats (at-large and in-district) are on the ballot, and six of the 12 current council members are term-limited out, so the new council will have a lot of turnover and new representation.

Most races feature the top two candidates who prevailed in the April 4 primary. Two in-district seats have only one candidate on the ballot, who automatically win election.

In District 2, south of Barry Road in the Northland, Wes Rogers faces no opposition. He previously served two terms in the Missouri House.

In District 5 south of the Missouri River, incumbent Ryana Parks-Shaw has no opponent.

Some of the races, while non-partisan, include candidates with very different political views and supporters. The current council has frequently seen clashes between members representing the Northland versus south of the river. Some members have prioritized public safety and police funding while others give higher priority to police reform and economic justice.

Development projects and incentives have been sources of friction. Depending on who gets elected, those rifts could worsen.

Candidates are seeking support from a variety of Kansas City interest groups, including KC Tenants Power (the political arm of a tenants’ rights advocacy group that is becoming increasingly influential), the Fraternal Order of Police, Taxpayers Unlimited (the firefighters’ political organization), construction and development officials, labor, municipal employees, civic and neighborhood leaders, the African American political club Freedom Inc. and the Latino political club La Raza.

Here’s what you need to know to vote in Kansas City’s municipal election in June.

KC Voter Guide logo

Key Dates:

  • May 24, 2023: Last day to register to vote in Kansas City’s General Municipal Election.
  • June 6, 2023: No Excuse In-Person Absentee (Early) Voting Opens.
  • June 20, 2023: Polls are open from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20. If you are in line when polls close, stay in line — you have the right to cast your vote.

How do I register to vote?

In Missouri, you must be 17-and-a-half years old to register and 18 years old by Election Day to vote. You must also be a Missouri resident and a United States citizen.

The deadline to register to vote before the municipal election is May 24, 2023.

Not sure whether you’re already registered? This page at the Secretary of State website can help you find out — and help you find your sample ballot and polling location.

Do I need a photo ID?

Yes, under Missouri’s new election law, a valid photo identification is required to cast a ballot. Valid IDs include non-expired Missouri Driver’s license; state- issued ID, non-expired U.S. passport or military photo ID.

You can get a photo ID for free at the Missouri Department of Revenue or by calling 573-526-VOTE (8683).

Where do I vote?

You can find your polling location (and a sample ballot) on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website. Sample ballots and polling information are available from Kansas City’s election authorities:

Polls in the Kansas City area are open from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20. If you are in line when polls close, stay in line — you have the right to cast your vote!

A Kansas City voter marks her ballot at Southeast Community Center in 2021.
Voters will need to be prepared to vote for mayor, six citywide city council seats and one in-district council seat. Above, a voter marks her ballot at Southeast Community Center in 2021. (Carlos Moreno | KCUR 89.3)

Who is Running for Kansas City Council?

Below are all citywide candidates for city council. Candidates are listed in the order they appear on the ballot.

1st District At-Large

Kevin O’Neill (incumbent) was the longtime publisher and editor of the Kansas City Labor Beacon and is a strong proponent of the Northland, unions, labor rights and good-paying jobs. His other priorities include safe neighborhoods and responsible spending of taxpayer dollars.

According to his May 11 campaign finance report, O’Neill had $146,000 cash on hand, with support from a variety of donors including construction labor groups, the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors, development officials and Taxpayers Unlimited, the political arm of the Kansas City firefighters’ union.

Ronda Smith works for a management firm in accounting and previously worked in the real estate industry. Her husband, Markus Smith, is a retired Kansas City Police officer who then worked as legislative aide to 1st District Councilwoman Heather Hall. Smith is running against what she sees as government overreach during the pandemic and favors strong support for police and “traditional” values. She was involved in an unsuccessful effort to recall Mayor Quinton Lucas and Councilman Eric Bunch.

According to her May 3 campaign finance report, Smith had $888 on hand, from individual donors.

2nd District At-Large

This is an open seat as Teresa Loar is term-limited out.

Lindsay French is lead designer at TJP Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm. Her campaign treasurer is Scott Wagner, who served two City Council terms and is now a Clay County Commissioner. French says she would be a problem solver and common-sense coalition builder. She is a member of the Northland Regional Chamber and is endorsed by Freedom Inc., the Citizens Association, and the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO along with other civic, construction trade and labor groups.

According to her May 11 campaign finance report, Frank had $49,485 on hand. French received donations from groups including the Regional Association of Realtors, the Home Builders Association and Public Safety Concern.

Jenay Manley is a single mom and activist for tenants’ rights. She has been an outspoken leader and organizer with KC Tenants, the citywide tenants union. She says she will be a voice for poor and working-class people, and her priorities include affordable housing, economic justice and reliable public transit. She is endorsed by KC Tenants Power, the Service Employees International Union, and the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council among other groups.

According to her May 11 campaign finance report, Manley had $6,072 on hand, from numerous individual donors.

3rd District At-Large

Melissa Patterson Hazley is a researcher, college teacher and campaign consultant. She serves on the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax Board and says she would be a collaborative voice for positive change. Her priorities include diverse and affordable housing options, good paying jobs, enhanced public safety, improved basic services and opportunities for youth, including support for the public schools.

As of her May 11 campaign finance report, Patterson Hazley had $45,306 on hand. She has received campaign contributions from political action committees, labor unions and individual donors. Two of the largest donations were from Block & Co. Inc. Realtors and the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.

Brandon Ellington (incumbent) grew up on the East Side and is seeking a second term on a platform of representing the underprivileged and disenfranchised. He is frequently a lone City Council dissenting vote on city ordinances but he successfully pushed for the city’s new office of citizen engagement, created in 2022. Before he was elected to City Council he served on the Missouri House of Representatives.

According to his May 9 campaign finance report, Ellington had $22,343 on hand. Ellington received several large donations from Taxpayers Unlimited and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO, along with donations from individual donors.

Kansas City's downtown skyline.
Kansas City’s downtown skyline. (Carlos Moreno | KCUR 89.3)

4th District At-Large

This is an open seat as Katheryn Shields is term-limited out.

Crispin Rea served on the Kansas City School Board in the early 2000s and has been one of the few Latinos to serve in Kansas City elective office. He was a caseworker with the Kansas City No Violence Alliance before becoming an assistant prosecuting attorney. He has served seven years in the Jackson County Prosecutor’s office, mostly with the Special Victims Unit. He volunteers with the Mattie Rhodes Center and the Police Athletic League. His priorities include safe neighborhoods, strong basic services, small business development and job creation. He is endorsed by various labor groups, La Raza and Freedom Inc.

According to his May 11 campaign finance report, Rea has $51,092 on hand. Rea received campaign contributions from individual donors, political action committees, and unions. One of the largest donations was from the MO State Council of Fire Fighters.

Justin M. Short grew up in the Northland, now lives downtown and says he would represent all parts of the city, both North and South. He is the 4th District’s representative on the LGBTQ Commission. He supports downtown’s development and says he would be a proponent for community-driven development throughout the city. Another priority is strong basic services. He has been endorsed by former Mayor Kay Barnes, by the Fraternal Order of Police, and various civic and construction groups.

As of his May 12 campaign finance report, Short had $36,578 on hand. He received donations from political action committees and individual donors.

5th District At-Large

This is an open seat as Lee Barnes is term limited out.

Darrell Curls served nine years on the Hickman Mills School Board but resigned in 2017 because of what he saw as too much board turmoil and turnover. He is a member of the South Kansas City Alliance and the Northland Chamber. He recently retired from Ford Motor Co., where he was a Union Steward. His priorities include improved city services such as trash collection, reduced crime, affordable housing and good-paying jobs.

According to his May 11 campaign finance report, Curls had $24,675 on hand. Curls has received numerous donations from individual donors, labor groups and political action committees, including Taxpayers Unlimited, the Home Builders Association and the regional realtors association.

Michael Kelley is the policy director of BikeWalkKC and a member of Kansas City’s Environmental Management Commission. His priorities include strengthening public health services, addressing homelessness and affordable housing needs, improving basic infrastructure and addressing climate change. He has the endorsement of the KC Tenants Power group.

As of his May 10 campaign finance report, Kelley had $13,493 on hand. Kelley has received most of his campaign contributions from individual donors, including from primary opponent Jess Blubaugh.

6th District At-Large

Andrea Bough (incumbent) is a lawyer specializing in commercial real estate, land use and development. She has been a volunteer with Harvesters and Sheffield Place and served on the Jackson County Mental Health Fund Board. Her priorities include strong basic services, violent crime prevention, tenant advocacy, smart growth, connecting citizens to social services and addressing the climate emergency. She is endorsed by KC Tenants Power, La Raza, Freedom Inc. and various labor and neighborhood groups.

According to her May 10 campaign finance report, Bough had $54,387 cash on hand. Bough received small and large donations from political action committees, unions, and individual donors.

Jill Sasse was a longtime public school teacher who says she is running to keep the city safe and prosperous for future generations. Her priorities include public safety, neighborhood livability and stopping local government overreach.

As of her May 10 campaign finance report, Sasse had $1,317 on hand, with individual donor contributions.

Pedestrians walk past a row of campaign and voter signs at Rockhurst University near a polling location on April 4, 2023 — the candidates who advanced from that election will be on the ballot June 20.
Pedestrians walk past a row of campaign and voter signs at Rockhurst University near a polling location on April 4, 2023 — the candidates who advanced from that election will be on the ballot June 20. (Carlos Moreno | KCUR 89.3)

In-District Candidates

This is the first council election under Kansas City’s redistricting from the 2020 Census. That means residents may be voting in a different district than they have in the past.

1st District

This is an open seat as Heather Hall is term-limited out.

Nathan Willett is a Park Hill School District math teacher who also taught in the Kansas City Public Schools. From May 2020 to July 2021 he was a research assistant with the Show-Me Institute, a St. Louis-based free-market think tank. His priorities include improved infrastructure and basic services, ensuring that public safety services include mental health professionals, and prioritizing affordable housing policies that keep families together and reduce student transience. He is endorsed by current Councilwoman Heather Hall and the Fraternal Order of Police, among other groups.

As of his May 11 campaign finance report, Willett had $23,449 on hand, mostly from individual donors.

Chris Gahagan spent his legal career representing school districts and injured individuals. He has been active in the Northland Chamber and Clay County Economic Development Council and is endorsed by many labor groups. He was appointed in 2020 to the Clay County Constitutional Charter Commission to help clean up county government. The commission drafted a new Clay County Constitution that voters overwhelmingly approved. He is endorsed by the local firefighters union and various construction trade and labor groups.

According to his May 11 campaign finance report, Gahagan had $33,492 on hand. He received donations from a combination of individual donors, businesses, labor and political action committees, including Public Safety Concern and Taxpayers Unlimited.

2nd District

This is an open seat as Dan Fowler is term-limited out.

Wes Rogers is running unopposed. He is a lawyer and served as a Democrat in the Missouri House from 2019 to 2023, representing District 18, which includes part of the Northland.

As of his May 7 campaign finance report, Rogers had $45,918 on hand.

3rd District

Melissa Robinson (incumbent)is seeking a second term in City Hall. She is president of the Black Health Care Coalition, a former president of the Kansas City Public Schools board and former director of crisis intervention with the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. She recently sponsored legislation in support of a commission to explore reparations for Black Kansas Citians.

Robinson says one of the most important issues Kansas City faces is poverty, which she says can lead to crime, violence and despair. If re-elected, she plans to address those issues through a seven-point plan called “Opportunity KC” with ways to address economic stability in neighborhoods with the highest levels of poverty. Building a blight and trash remediation program with neighborhood oversight and connecting utility-burdened households to broadband are a part of the plan. She is endorsed by KC Tenants Power.

As of her May 11 campaign finance report, Robinson had $19,040 on hand, mostly from individual donors.

Sheri Hall is a local poet and author. She is the founder of Arsyn Spit Fire, an open mic held in Midtown, and the chief executive officer of Poetry for Personal Power, a trauma and resiliency organization that explores the intersection between mental health and the arts. Hall says some of the biggest issues facing Kansas City are public safety and the redirection of housing and infrastructure funds from her district. Hall says she would also address public safety by increasing access to mental health resources and building opportunities for housing, jobs and training.

As of her May 11 campaign finance report, she had $254 cash on hand.

A poll worker peels off an "I Voted" sticker.
A poll worker peels off an “I Voted” sticker. (Carlos Moreno | KCUR 89.3)

4th District

Eric Bunch (incumbent) is running for his second term as 4th District Councilman. He’s supported legislative reform for Kansas City’s short-term rental program. He’s an advocate for pedestrian safety and public transit and was a co-founder of BikeWalkKC. Bunch says one of the greatest issues facing Kansas City is keeping housing affordable and encouraging housing where people have easy access to transit, jobs, and daily necessities.

If re-elected, Bunch says he would work to continue the city’s investments in transit, walkability, public spaces and deeply affordable housing focused on mixed-income developments. He is endorsed by KC Tenants Power, AFL-CIO Kansas City and local labor groups.

According to his May 5 campaign finance report, Bunch had $45,414 on hand, mostly from individuals and some labor groups.

Henry Rizzo served as a Missouri state representative from 1986-2003 and in the Jackson County Legislature until 2006. Rizzo says the greatest issues facing Kansas City are public safety and short-term rentals. If elected, Rizzo says he would push for community policing, more police officers and better basic services including street maintenance and trash pickup.

As of his May 6 campaign finance report, Rizzo had $10,110 on hand, from individuals and some labor groups and political action committees.

5th District

Ryana Parks-Shaw (incumbent) is running unopposed for a second term. Parks-Shaw is a healthcare executive and serves as a member of the Kansas City Zoo Board of Directors and Starlight Theatre Board of Directors. Her husband is Kansas City Public Works Director Michael Shaw.

Parks-Shaw sponsored an ordinance this year to allocate $30 million to the Blueprint for Violence Prevention Fund over the next five years. She says she has been working with nonprofits and neighborhood groups to develop a plan to address violence in the city. During her first term in office she was heavily involved in the city’s efforts to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness and to address the need for rental assistance and affordable housing.

As of her May 11 campaign finance report, Parks-Shaw has $54,343 on hand.

6th District

This is an open seat as Kevin McManus is term-limited out.

Dan Tarwater served as the 4th District Legislator on the Jackson County Legislature from 1994 to 2022, where he was the chairman of the Anti-Drug Committee for 28 years. Tarwater said crime is the biggest issue facing Kansas City and more drug rehabilitation programs are needed because the city can’t just arrest people to handle crime.

Tarwater says he supports Kansas City and Jackson County partnering on a new detention facility. He says the money saved by sharing the cost of a new jail could go towards addressing mental health needs, job training and drug and alcohol rehab. He is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Freedom Inc. and various construction trade groups.

As of his May 10 campaign finance report, Tarwater had $21,399 on hand. He has received donations from unions, such as Construction & General Laborers and the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons. He also received donations from political action committees, including the Northland Strong PAC.

Johnathan Duncan is an Iraq War veteran and Administrative Operations Director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, a non-profit veterans service organization. He also serves as a leader with KC Tenants, a union for working class tenants in the city. Duncan said the biggest issue facing Kansas City is affordable housing. He said prospective apartment renters have difficulty finding affordable apartments and seniors on fixed incomes are facing rising property taxes.

Duncan said housing is often lost to investors seeking homes for short-term rentals. To solve this issue, Duncan wants to ban non-owner occupied short-term rentals in residential areas. He is endorsed by KC Tenants Power, SEIU, and Teamsters Local 41 among other groups.

According to Duncan’s May 11 campaign finance report, he had $22,998 on hand, mostly from individual donors.

This story first appeared on KCUR 89.3, a member of the KC Media Collective. Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Savannah Hawley-Bates and Chris Fortune contributed to this report.

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