When choosing Wichita’s next mayor, voters have to decide where they fall on a crucial question:
Should our city continue its current trajectory, even if it means questionable behavior and backroom deals involving elected officials? Or do we try something different and demand something more — a new way of doing business that values transparency and respects public input?
Two candidates clearly advocate the latter, and each has qualities that would serve him well as mayor during this pivotal time for Wichita.
But only one — Brandon Whipple — earned enough voter support to advance to the Nov. 5 ballot, and he is the candidate we endorse in this election.
Whipple, 37, isn’t new to politics but is a relative newcomer to Kansas, having first traveled to Wichita from his native New Hampshire at age 21 for a year-long mission with AmeriCorps, during which he worked with at-risk youth at South High School.
He was elected to the Kansas Legislature in 2012, representing District 96 in south Wichita. His run for mayor marks his first bid for an executive-branch position, but he exhibits energy, political experience and a fresh perspective that could serve the city well.
Before the August primary, The Eagle editorial board recommended Lyndy Wells, a retired public affairs director for Intrust Bank who has deep business connections and civic experience.
His late-addition write-in candidacy offers another option for voters looking to alter the course at City Hall. But it also raises the prospect of splitting the change votes and re-electing incumbent Mayor Jeff Longwell, whom The Eagle endorsed in the last mayoral election.
That’s something voters need to consider if they’re troubled by Longwell’s “just trust us” approach on a downtown baseball stadium or a recent Eagle investigation that revealed a favor-to-friends strategy with the contract for a new water treatment plant.
Whipple, who has called for a local ethics commission for elected officials, offers a refreshing commitment to transparency. He also notes that major city business — like a recent lease agreement for a new airport hotel — don’t belong on the council’s consent agenda, where routine items usually are approved without discussion.
Whipple proposes a bigger-picture look at Wichita’s economy and its potential for growth, suggesting that we look to other cities in the region for comparison and inspiration. He says Wichita should consider initiatives such as Tulsa Remote, a program that offers full-time remote workers a $10,000 incentive and other perks to base themselves in that Oklahoma city.
While he acknowledges the need to attract major employers, Whipple points to small businesses as the key to energizing Wichita’s economy, and he supports limiting needless restrictions and red tape that can stymie startups.
“More and more, we need a department of ‘yes,’” he said. “We need people who will . . . promote our small businesses and give them what they need.”
On public safety and infrastructure, Whipple advocates a “back to basics” approach, calling for more police officers to reduce response times. He also has proposed a local ordinance that would protect LGBTQ people, soldiers and veterans from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Wichita’s mayor and City Council will face several major decisions over the next few years, including how to spur the local economy, how to proceed with a new water treatment plant, and what to do along the east bank of the Arkansas River.
Those challenges require a mayor who will consider all options, value community input and pledge to be transparent in city dealings, and Whipple is our choice.