Founder of Save Century II enters race for Sedgwick County Commission as a Democrat

Celeste Racette, a former fraud investigator and founder of Save Century II, is running for a seat on the Sedgwick County Commission.

Racette, who placed fourth as an Independent in a crowded field of Wichita mayoral candidates last year, is running as a Democrat to represent District 3 in western Sedgwick County.

“I really do believe that taxpayers need a voice and need a vote, and that’s when I stepped forward,” said Racette, who rose to local prominence by founding a group dedicated to the preservation of Century II and Wichita’s former Central Library.

The District 3 seat is currently held by David Dennis, who has said he plans to retire from politics at the end of his second term. Two candidates — Greg Ferris, a former Wichita City Council member and current municipal lobbyist, and Stephanie Wise, a commercial real estate broker — have filed to run in the Republican primary.

Racette, 68, said she’s entering the race because she isn’t satisfied with either of those options.

“When I looked at the candidates that were running, I felt once again, special interests and business interests were running for election,” Racette said.

Ferris and a representative for Wise disputed that assessment.

“I don’t represent any special interests. I’m not sure what she’s thinking of. I really don’t know Stephanie well enough, but I don’t think Stephanie’s representing special interests,” said Ferris, who has done consulting work for Steven Enterprises, Key Construction, Wichita Foundation and numerous other businesses and groups in the 25 years since he last held public office. He told The Eagle he plans to discontinue all consulting work if elected.

Wise has said she would keep her position at Street Commercial if elected. Her campaign manager, Ben Davis, said she would recuse herself from any vote that may present a conflict of interest.

“In the case of Stephanie, there’s absolutely no special interests happening here, nobody scratching anyone’s back,” Davis said. “She’s not a developer. She’s a real estate broker.”

The filing deadline is Monday, June 3. Unless another Democrat files to run for the seat, Racette will automatically qualify for the Nov. 5 general election.

District 3 includes much of west Wichita, as well as Goddard, Colwich, Bentley, Mount Hope, Andale, Garden Plain, Cheney and Viola.

As the governing body for Sedgwick County, commissioners are responsible for setting policy direction and approving a budget for vital services such as EMS, 911, Comcare, corrections and the sheriff’s office. They also oversee Fire District 1 and serve as the board of health, the board of canvassers of elections, and the hearing panel on tax appeals. Commissioners’ base salary is $101,527 a year.


As a bank regulator and investigator with the FDIC, Racette helped uncover a predatory payday loan scam involving CashCall and Western Sky following the financial crash of 2008. She said her financial oversight expertise would be an asset to the county.

“I’m going to use my accounting degree and my MBA to make sure we’re not wasting taxpayer monies, because we’re all paying higher property taxes,” Racette said.

She said she’s committed to holding property taxes flat, even if valuations increase as they have consistently in recent years. “That’s my pledge,” Racette said, promising to “look for areas where we can consolidate or eliminate waste.”

But the demand for vital county services is only increasing, she acknowledged.

“We’re expanding outside in the county — Maize, Andover, and other areas outside of Wichita — so we’ve got to support the infrastructure and make sure the services are good, top notch,” Racette said. “We’ve got EMS, we’ve got firefighters. We’ve got to continue to build the highways out to the outer edges of the county.”

Party affiliation

A lifelong Democrat, Racette had a falling out with the local party in 2021 over a dispute about the ethics surrounding Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson’s vote on a $4 million federal COVID-19 grant.

“There’s so many reasons why I’m going back to the Democratic party that I think are important,” Racette said.

One of those reasons is Medicaid expansion, an issue the County Commission has repeatedly declined to include on its legislative platform as Republican lawmakers continue to thwart Gov. Laura Kelly’s expansion efforts. Racette’s husband, Eric Bruce, is a bankruptcy lawyer, and she said she’s seen how medical emergencies can financially ruin uninsured families.

“I see him representing people that are defaulting on what? Hospital bills, especially in the rural areas that are in District 3,” she said.

Sarah Lopez, the lone Democrat on the five-member County Commission, is defending her seat this year against former Wichita City Council member Jeff Blubaugh, a Republican.

Filings with the county election office show Racette has $4,357 left over in her campaign account from her mayoral bid. That money can be used for her county race. Racette drew 6,831 votes in the mayoral primary contest, accounting for 16.8% of all votes cast.