As unlikely as it seems, greater Kansas City finds itself in a position to benefit from the madness that has deranged America these last six months. Much depends on our elected officials, most notably Quinton Lucas, the mayor of the region’s flagship city.
Lucas can choose to position Kansas City as the sanest major city in America and a hotbed of commerce and common sense, or he can lead Kansas City into the commerce-killing insanity that has engulfed a madhouse of our potential competitors, Minneapolis and St. Louis most proximately.
These last few months I have been watching a young mayor not quite certain how to negotiate the two-front war he and we are fighting. On the one front he must deal with the radicals of various sorts who would happily turn Kansas City into the KC Autonomous Zone. On the other front, a subtler one, he must deal with those groups and individuals whose obsession with COVID-19 could doom the city to a generation of regression and debt. Our audience is feeling the pain.
Many of the organizations considered by our readers to shining examples of organizational excellence have been hurt the most by operating restrictions imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The riots didn’t help much either. Given that, this issue of Ingram’s is taking a novel approach to a 32-year-old tradition with our Best of Business Kansas City awards. We’re hitting the pause button while many of those perennial reader favorites are still recovering. Instead, we’re recognizing those that have garnered the most votes in their respective categories over the years, and polling their leadership on what it takes to be the Best of the Best.
As you’ll read from their stories, somewhere in there is a lesson for public-sector leadership in this region. So I take this occasion, as we focus on leadership and what it means to strive for excellence, to offer Lucas and other local elected officials a little tough love on what it will take to make this region the best of the best as well. My Own Recovery Plan
Reign in the public health officials. On July 24, the “Core 4 Public Health Officers and Directors” of Jackson, Wyandotte, and Johnson Counties put out a scare letter that generated headlines about the need for more “aggressive action.” Before demanding new job-killing actions, these officials ought to account for their prior actions. For two months, we sheltered in place and shut down our economy, and I have yet to hear word one as to why we did that or whether it worked. The only numbers here that really matter are deaths. If you don’t die, in
most cases, you recover. This isn’t polio. There are no iron lungs or kids in braces.
When I look at the numbers on the official Missouri COVID-19 Dashboard. (Kansans, check your dashboard), I see a bell curve. Near July’s end, Missouri had gone six straight weeks without a day on which more than 10 people died with COVID; at the peak, it was more than 25 a day. The great majority of Missouri deaths have been in the St. Louis area, and most of those were people over 80. In Platte, Clay, and Jackson County, including Kansas City—an area of nearly a million people—the combined COVID death toll for the past five months has been less than one a day. The defeatist Core 4 officials who insist, “We are now again losing the battle with COVID-19,” should not be in charge of this or any war.
Open the schools. Our alarmist media do not want us to know how many people in Missouri under 20 years of age have reportedly died of COVID since the outbreak began. The answer is one. Yes, one. A heart-breaking loss, of course, but no more so than others in that age group who have died of other causes. Some of the forces that want to keep the schools closed are less concerned about the kids than they would have us think. With each day schools remain closed, the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white, yawns wider, and home schoolers keep kicking butt. Only seven people under 30 in Missouri have died of COVID, often with underlying health conditions. The saner colleges should open up as well. The less sane ones are better off staying closed until the radical virus passes. In 2015, the University of Missouri suffered grievously from that virus. Too bad the first dose offered no immunity.
Protect and Promote the Country Club Plaza. The combination of the two viruses has done incalculable damage to Kansas City’s showcase shopping and living area. For the past century, the Country Club Plaza and the neighborhoods around it have been the city’s defining difference, the heart of the metro. Mayor Lucas has to step up here. So do civic leaders. The stripping of the J.C. Nichols name from the fountain and Boulevard was a disgrace. Letting the Plaza collapse would be a tragedy.
Stop trying to be Portland. For the past 20 years I have moderated numerous roundtables at which city planners have held up Portland, Oregon, as the city Kansas City should emulate. The planners universally called for more public transportation and greater population density. Never once did I hear the slightest caveat about what a pandemic would do to that model. Look to New York City for the answer.
Public transportation made New York the world’s leading hot zone. New York did not really have much choice. We do. Portland also did an enviable job recruiting creative people. Cities with a flourishing “creative class,” we were told, did better economically than those without one. I heard this a lot. I argued that a city just might attract one creative person too many and “tip.” Once it tipped, I wrote, “Bad things would begin to happen.” I underestimated just how bad those things could be.
The good citizens of Portland and Seattle now know first-hand. Keep KCPD under state control. Those who think local control will
make all the difference, check out Minneapolis and St. Louis. It does. And yes, let’s talk about race. For 50 years, we’ve been talking to each other about race—as candidly as we talk to our grandmothers about sex. If the mayor is willing to talk honestly about race, I am too. If an honest conversation gets me “cancelled,” that’s OK. My show has run long enough already.