For the first time in its 42-year history, the Lawrence Board of Realtors is endorsing candidates for Lawrence City Commission.
After interviewing seven of nine announced candidates for three commission seats up for election, board leaders have given the organization's backing - promotional and financial - to James Bush, Rob Chestnut and Mike Dever.
Mary Jones, the board's president, said that while all seven of the candidates interviewed "share our concern for maintaining Lawrence's quality of life," the three endorsed candidates stand out because of their philosophies regarding "expanding housing opportunity, economic development and job growth."
The endorsed candidates each will receive $200 from the Lawrence board's political funds, which come from money returned by the National Board of Realtors. The contributions will be for the Feb. 27 primary election.
If all three candidates advance - the primary will whittle the field from nine to six candidates - each will receive $500 from the board, the maximum allowed by law. Three commissioners will be elected during the April 3 general election.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors, with 335 members, is a professional organization of real estate sales agents who are licensed as Realtors. The group also has about 40 affiliate members - title companies, mortgage providers, banks, home inspectors and others - and dozens of inactive members who live in the city.
Such professionals often participate in campaigns as individuals, at times serving on candidates' steering committees or contributing to individual campaigns. But the board only recently decided to take an active role as an organization.
The city's largest business organization, the 1,200-member Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, also has been more active this election season. Its leaders have questioned candidates about issues and will welcome candidates to meet with members and others during an after-hours mixer from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Lawrence Visitor Center in North Lawrence.The chamber can't endorse candidates, given its status as a nonprofit organization, said Joan Golden, chamber chair.
With major issues and expenses facing the community, Jones said, the commission needs leaders committed to boosting employment opportunities in town.
"We're not looking for carte blanche or anything like that on development," Jones said. "We're looking for people to get onto the commission that are business-minded and will help the community move forward and bring some jobs in here. :
"We don't want to be a bedroom community to Topeka and Kansas City."
Added Mike McGrew, chairman of the board's Government Affairs Committee, which recommended candidates for endorsement: "If people have jobs, they can afford to buy houses. But beyond that, Lawrence is a better place if more people have more opportunities for better jobs."
Bush works as senior pastor for First Southern Baptist Church; Chestnut is chief financial officer for Allen Press; and Dever owns GuideWire Consulting, a firm that provides environmental assessments, screenings, investigations and other services.
Candidates Jake Davis and Michael Limburg did not accept board invitations to be interviewed.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors chose not to endorse candidates for the Lawrence school board.