In politics, change is hard. In KCK, it’s almost impossible. Meet Mayor David Alvey

Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County Unified Government Mayor David Alvey
·4 min read

Unified Government Mayor David Alvey makes his pitch for a second term.

“We’ve got to redevelop our vacated neighborhoods,” he told The Star Editorial Board a few days ago, outlining a campaign goal.

That sounded familiar, so I hunted down a video from a Kansas City, Kansas, campaign debate in 2017. “We need to eliminate the blight,” the candidate said. “I believe everyone deserves a neighborhood they’re proud of, to come home to.”

Except … Alvey wasn’t the candidate. Those words actually came from Mark Holland, Alvey’s opponent, who wanted a second term, just as Alvey does now.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the current mayor uses nearly the same rhetoric as his predecessor, despite a strange ongoing feud between the two. Neighborhood problems are a political perennial, and change is hard.

In KCK, though, change is almost impossible. The status quo is always king, and Alvey is unquestionably this year’s status quo candidate.

The county’s high property taxes will remain so if he wins another term. Electric rates aren’t going down, because the mayor likes hefty payments from the Board of Public Utilities for the UG’s budget. Handouts to developers will continue.

Most disturbingly, the mayor continues to ignore growing calls for a Justice Department civil rights investigation into KCK’s scandal-plagued police department.

“Frankly, I don’t believe we need an independent investigation of the police department. I think we have to have the chief, who is responsible for this, to come to us with an honest assessment based on his experience and his understanding of what is needed, and I trust Chief Oakman to do that. I think that if Chief Oakman says that I need additional help to figure this out, then — and of course we know KBI has investigated some things. They turned it over to the FBI. The FBI is currently investigating, so I don’t make any comments on that, obviously, but whatever comes out of those investigations, if there’s something lacking, we’re going to continue to take a look, but I don’t think — at this point I’m not calling for a Department of Justice investigation.”

Asked about the lack of community trust in the police, he disputed the premise of the question: “I would say that’s not accurate. There are some parts of our community that doesn’t trust, but most of our community is not asking for this.”

And what about those who have reason not to trust, and are in pain as a result? “We let the FBI continue their investigation,” he said, “and then complete that.”

It’s no criticism of newly-installed Police Chief Karl Oakman to say an in-house investigation is the last thing the people of Kansas City, Kansas, want or deserve. The lurid stories of department corruption, much of it based on race, have in fact shattered community confidence in the KCKPD.

No one trusts this department to investigate itself. Only the DOJ has the tools to do so.

Incumbent opposed DOJ investigation of KCK fire service

Are we surprised that Alvey is more interested in protecting the police than a weary public? No. In 2017 he was asked about involving the Justice Department in a probe of racism in the KCK fire service. He thought it was a bad idea.

Let the chief deal with it, Alvey said.

Last April, a jury awarded a Black KCK firefighter $2.4 million in back pay and damages for racial discrimination and retaliation in the department. After the verdict, Alvey’s UG issued a statement: The trial exposed “underlying and unacceptable issues within the culture of our fire department,” it said.

Well, yes. Let those with eyes see.

Alvey bristled — became furious, actually — when asked about the concern, common in KCK, that only a handful of politically-connected families, including his, are typically allowed to govern, making change more difficult.

“My family has never, ever taken advantage of its position or its power,” he said, heatedly. “It’s always been about service and honesty, and I take offense when people say that.”

The bigger problem in KCK, as Alvey must surely know, is the 50-year background hum of everyday cronyism that still permeates public institutions in that city, and Wyandotte County. It’s so embedded in the city’s political culture that many residents have simply surrendered, unwilling and unable to change it, or punish even monsters such as Roger Golubski.

To their credit, some KCK voters refuse to give up. They will vote for change, and they expect it. More often than not they are disappointed. That could be the case again this year.

The choice in August, and again in November, seems clear. If voters prefer David Alvey’s still-waters approach (he does get credit for a strong COVID-19 response), he will be reelected.

Voters who think the Unified Government needs to change will need to look somewhere else.

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