He Talks About the Importance of Inclusion and his Brownback Tweet
by Kyle V. Piccola
What do you get when you mix a thriving city, high quality of life, enduring commitment to the LGBT community and a bow tie? If the first three didn’t give it away, the last one certainly did. Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who is up for re-election this year (the mayoral primary is April 7), remains determined as ever to continue moving Kansas City toward prosperity, and he wants to make sure everyone knows they are welcome here.
Anymore it seems that Kansas City is making the top of national lists at least every other week. From best cities to visit, coolest cities in America, to most recently, top places in the U.S. for tech startups. This comes as no shock to people who have called Kansas City home for many years. But why now? Perhaps it’s all timing, or perhaps it’s because Kansas City has a leader in James who doesn’t shy away from being bold, never allows KC to fall short of its potential and has a vision where diversity continues to be the driving force of prosperity.
What inspired you to run for office and want to lead Kansas City?
I grew up loving this city, its people and all of its wonderful amenities. I recognized our great potential to be a major city.
If you win re-election, what are your priorities for the next four years? What are your goals for Kansas City by the time you leave office?
The focus of my administration has been the 4-E agenda I set four years ago: Education, enforcement, employment and efficiency. We have so many wonderful initiatives in place related to these areas. I plan to build on and expand them to make Kansas City best. I expect the perceptions and realities of education in Kansas City to be much improved and I expect violent crime to be markedly reduced.
You’re such a great ally to the LGBT community and have been very outspoken about issues that face it. Why is it important to you that LGBT people see equality?
The vitality and character of Kansas City derives from its diversity. Inclusion is an essential value in both my personal life and in my official capacity as mayor. It is important for us to honor and appreciate our differences and to treat each individual with dignity and respect.
You’re pretty famous for “the tweet” or at least here in KC. What prompted you to respond to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s attack on the LGBT community?
I don’t want there to be any confusion about our city’s position on the issue of inclusion. I consider it my privilege and duty to let the country know that in Kansas City, Missouri, we value our LGBT community members and allies. I also believe that it is imperative for each of us to publicly reject all forms of prejudice and bigotry.
We are at a time when the LGBT community is moving past marriage equality and talking about other important issues, like the 44 percent unemployment rate for trans people, the barriers to healthcare LGBT people face, and the denial of access to public accommodations. Do you see things that Kansas City can do to continue being a leader in LGBT equality?
We must first continue to champion, support and enforce and educate others to do the same.
A big discussion across the country right now is race relations and how that affects people of color. You’ve been very successful adding diversity to the city and navigating similar talks. The LGBT community is not immune to that conversation. What advice would you offer as we start to mend relations between the LGBT community and LGBT people of color?
To resolve divisiveness, it is imperative that people who are passionate about any issue acknowledge the past, find common ground and resolve to move beyond the discomfort that often accompanies discussion of issues of this type. Nothing beats one-on-one personal relationships to foster deeper levels of understanding.
There is currently a bill in the Missouri General Assembly that would strip authority from cities to mandate their own employee benefits above what the state provides. Being the leader of a thriving city where those added employee benefits have no doubt aided the city’s success, what would you say to the legislators looking to pass a bill like this?Topics and priorities important to metropolitan areas often differ from those of rural or even suburban areas. When states intervene on clearly municipal matters, it usually has more to do with politics than leadership. Kansas City and its city council decided almost a decade ago – long before I was on the scene – to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees. On this topic and many others, the state should not be telling us what to do.
You have been such a successful elected official, and I feel confident saying that you will continue to be. What are your plans after 2020?
I am focusing on building an innovative city that citizens appreciate and the world admires. I have no idea of what I’ll do next. Right now, I am content to do the job I love in the city I love.