It is time to clean out the City Commission election refrigerator. There are canned speeches, moldy questionnaires and calorie-laden political advertisements in here. But I’ve had enough of all that, so I’ll just pass along some leftovers of a different type — leftover notes from my notebook.
• Let’s set the table for who is who in this new City Commission. First, Hugh Carter and Aron Cromwell will finish their terms at next Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Mike Dever and Bob Schumm were the two incumbent commissioners who were not up for re-election. Mike Amyx and newbies Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan will be sworn into their terms at next week’s meeting. That’s your five.
• Schumm’s one-year term as mayor will end on Tuesday. If tradition holds — and it will — vice mayor Dever will be elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as mayor. Also, it is expected that Mike Amyx, as the top vote winner in the election, will be elected as vice mayor. That means he’ll be in line to be the mayor in April 2014. If tradition holds, Farmer, as the second-place finisher, is in line to be the vice mayor in April 2014, which means he’ll be mayor in April 2015.
• There was so much action with the political newcomers last night — Farmer, Riordan and fourth-place finisher Leslie Soden — that it was easy to overlook the accomplishment of Amyx. The downtown barber shop owner won his fifth term on the City Commission. His first term on the commission was a two-year term in 1983. All the rest have been four-year terms. So, at the end of this new term, he will have served 18 years on the City Commission, although not consecutively. I’ll have to brush up on my history to determine who, if anyone, has served longer on the City Commission. In addition, Amyx served four-plus years as a Douglas County commissioner in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I woke up at 1:15 in the morning (election morning),” Amyx told me at last night’s vote counting. “I was so excited I couldn’t go back to sleep. I’m as excited today as I was in 1983.”
• Political pundits (in Lawrence, I think that is just code for guys who sit on bar stools and talk about politics) will spend a bit of time figuring out what impact the new political action committee Lawrence United had on the race. Two of the three candidates it endorsed won election, but the question will be whether they won because of the PACs endorsement or in spite of it? The PAC endorsed Farmer, Riordan and unsuccessful candidate Rob Chestnut.
For Farmer, the numbers didn’t change much from the primary election, when he finished second by about a 400-vote margin. On Tuesday, he finished second with about a 440-vote margin. Farmer was solidly in the top three all night long, and that pretty much was the case during the primary election too.
For Riordan, the situation was different. He won third place only by 97 votes after having secured third place in the primary by 310 votes. And Riordan definitely had a tension-filled night. Until the last West Lawrence returns came in, it appeared he was going to lose to Soden, who was seeking to become the first candidate in recent memory to go from sixth place in the primary to the top three.
Riordan told me last night that he thought some voters did react negatively to a well-funded PAC becoming involved in a City Commission race. But Riordan, a Lawrence physician, also pointed out that people who believed PAC funding would influence him perhaps were forgetting something. The biggest contributor to Riordan’s campaign was Riordan himself. He estimated that once all the figures are totaled, he will have provided about 60 percent of the funds — about $18,000 — for his campaign.
The third candidate endorsed by the PAC, Chestnut, certainly didn’t get a boost. He was in fourth place after the February primary but fell to sixth place on Tuesday. One difference between Chestnut and the other two is that Chestnut also was the subject of a supportive mailing by the Americans for Prosperity group in the days before the election. Perhaps the takeaway is that help from Americans for Prosperity is no help at all in Lawrence city politics. Or that may just be hokum as well. It is worth noting that Chestnut finished last in the ballots that were voted in advance as well, and a good number of them likely were cast before the AFP mailer. So, I don’t know. That’s the thing about political punditry — there’s a lot of guessing involved.
• Speaking of guessing, that's what some people will be doing to try to figure out Soden’s rise in the general election. Was it — as she suggested — an indication that Lawrence residents still are pretty divided over this proposed recreation center? Soden and Amyx were the most outspoken candidates on the issue. Or, was it that the Lawrence electorate really does want to have a female voice on the commission? There hasn’t been a woman on the commission since Sue Hack left the commission in 2009.
In the primary election there were two female candidates — Soden, who finished sixth, and Judy Bellome, who finished seventh. Between the two, they got 19.6 percent of all the votes in the primary. In the general, Soden, the lone woman in the field, got 16.3 percent of the vote. What does that mean in relation to our question? I don’t know, but I got the abacus out to create a number, so I’m darn sure going to use it.
• Finally, it is worth remembering that we have these elections to create a City Commission that presumably will go out and do something. Now the question is: What will this next commission do? It will be interesting to watch. I can tell you that some of the first words out of Riordan’s mouth involved discussion of a new police headquarters facility. The idea got more talk in this election than it did in the last election. For what it's worth, the three candidates endorsed by the police officers political action committee won the election.
But the new facility could cost between $20 million and $40 million to build. If it moves forward, it will follow an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library, a $25 million recreation center, a $64 million sewage treatment plant that will come with a multiyear increase in sewer rates, and a new curbside recycling program that comes with a $2.81 per month rate increase.
Probably one of the bigger issues the next City Commission will have to figure out is the mood of the public. Does it still have an appetite for large projects or will it want to take a pause?
• One last number for the election: the 16.3 percent voter turnout rate. The number is what it is, but Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said it is worth noting that the rate is affected by several precincts that are dominated by KU students. It has been tough to get them interested in city commission or school board elections. The Burge Union, for example, had three voters, which produced a turnout of 0.25 percent.
Four Lawrence precincts saw turnouts higher than 30 percent:
• Brandon Woods, 1501 Inverness Drive: 33.6 percent.
• American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth: 32.9 percent.
• Liberty Memorial, 1400 Massachusetts: 31 percent.
• Pioneer Ridge Assisted Living, 4851 Harvard: 30.7 percent.
Who knows, this could be one of the last elections we have in April. There continues to be talk at the Statehouse of moving city and school elections to November. I asked Shew what he thought about that. He said he had concerns about combining the races with the partisan presidential and gubernatorial races that take place during the even-numbered years. He said that would make for a multipage ballot, and would add complications for both voters, who would have far more races to become educated about, and for election workers.
But he said an idea to move the city/school elections to November in odd-numbered years — when they would still have the ballot to themselves — is intriguing. He said it is possible that if residents knew that there would be an election every November, it might be easier for folks to remember to vote. But he’s unsure. It will be worth watching to see if such a proposal advances at the Statehouse.
This confuses me. Surely everyone already eats, sleeps and breaths Lawrence City Commission election news. My favorite item in the paper today is the On the Street question where we ask — on Election Day, mind you — how interested folks were in the City Commission race. One guy answered: “I’m interested. I didn’t realize the election was today, but I’ll definitely read about it tomorrow.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Nah, I think I’ll just find my seat and become a political pundit for the rest of the day.
UPDATE: I just recently received a new spreadsheet from the Douglas County Clerk's office showing the voting totals by precinct for the election. Click here to see them for yourself. They provide a lesson in Lawrence election mathematics: What's most important is not winning a precinct but always finishing in the top three.
Don't get me wrong, winning is good. Just ask Amyx. He won 41 of the 64 precincts in the city in route to a runaway first place finish.
But the next most frequent winner was Soden, and by a lot. Soden won 14 of the 64 precincts, but finished fourth in the vote totals. That's because in several precincts, she finished out of the top three.
To show how unimportant winning a precinct is, Farmer and Riordan — the second- and third-place overall winners — each finished first in just two precincts.
Riordan won the precincts at Langston Hughes Elementary and a very small precinct at the Lawrence Union Pacific Depot that had six votes.
Farmer won the precincts at the Lawrence Bible Chapel on Monterey Way and a small precinct at Prairie Park Elementary that had 21 votes.
Chestnut won at Corpus Christi Catholic Church and a small precinct at Free State High School. Soden won the precincts at: Pickney, Douglas County Senior Services; Carnegie Building (2 precincts); Trinity Lutheran Church (2); Hillcrest Elementary; Central United Methodist Church; Cordley Elementary; Centennial Adult Education; Liberty Memorial; Haskell Stidham Union; East Lawrence Center; New York Elementary. So, a strong East Lawrence and central Lawrence base.
Amyx won all the remaining precincts.
Lawrence City Commission elections aren't decided by wards. All five seats on the commission are at-large positions. If the city had a ward system, it seems likely the results would have been different this year.
Taking stock of Tuesday’s City Commission election and wondering how school bond and recreation center issues will affect the general election
I think I’ve finally shaken the snow from my ballot box, so, how about some news and notes left over from Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission primary election?
• Getting it Done Early: For the first time in memory, there were more people who cast advance ballots than who went to the polls on Election Day. According to the unofficial numbers, 2,910 cast advance ballots, while 2,480 cast ballots on Election Day.
• A Bond Bounce: The talk at the Courthouse Tuesday night quickly turned to how different the April 2 General Election will be from the lightly attended primary election. The main reason is because there will be a $92.5 million school bond issue. Everyone expects that issue to do far more to drive voters to the polls than anything the City Commission is expected to do in the coming weeks.
How big of a bounce may it create in terms of voters? Well, there were 5,390 voters in Tuesday’s primary. The last time the Lawrence school district had a bond issue election was in April 2005. That bond issue drew nearly 21,000 voters. There easily could be 15,000 new voters coming to the polls in April. It could be argued that Tuesday’s primary election may be a poor predictor of how the general election will shape up. But primary elections traditionally have had a pretty good crystal ball quality to them. In 2005 — despite more than 10,000 new voters coming to the polls in the general election — the top three winners in the primary election all ended up in the top three in the general election.
But the possible scenarios this time around will be good for political conversation over the next several weeks.
• A Geography Lesson: I’ve put together a very quick and lazy analysis of voter returns. (Descriptions like that are why a career in marketing has never worked out for me.) Last night I got a breakdown of the vote by precincts. I’ve quickly made a list of how many precincts each candidate won. That’s interesting but don’t read too much into it because several of the precincts were only separated by three or four votes. It also is worth remembering that the precinct totals only include Election Day votes. Advance votes have been counted but haven’t yet been added in on a precinct by precinct basis.
Anyway, here’s what I found: Mike Amyx, the top vote winner, won or tied for first in 24 precincts. They were spread out all over the city. Just try finding an area of town that Amyx didn’t have some success in. Jeremy Farmer, the second place winner, won or tied for first in eight precincts. He also had victories in a wide area, including both in eastern and western Lawrence. Scott Criqui, the fifth-place winner, won or tied for first in five precincts. They all appeared to be in either central or East Lawrence. Rob Chestnut, the fourth-place winner, won four precincts. They all appeared to be in west Lawrence. Leslie Soden, the sixth-place winner, won or tied for first in three precincts. East and central Lawrence were her wheelhouse. Terry Riordan, the third-place vote winner, won or tied for first in just two precincts. But as the overall results would suggest, he didn’t do poorly in really any region.
• The Recreation Center: So, what did this primary election say about how voters feel about the proposed $25 million city recreation center? Beats me. Amyx was the top vote winner, and he has been expressing a lot of concerns about the project. He has called for a public vote on the issue. But the second- and third-place winners, Farmer and Riordan, both have been generally supportive of the project.
Chestnut, in fourth, hasn’t really landed in one camp or the other, although he has raised some questions about the financial aspects of the proposal.
The fifth- and sixth-place finishers, Criqui and Soden, both have expressed multiple concerns with the recreation center project and the lack of a public election on the issue.
What will be interesting to see is how big of an issue the recreation center will be in the general election. Here’s one thought: Historically, fifth- and sixth-place finishers have had a tough row to hoe to break into the top three of the general election. I wonder if Criqui and Soden will try to make the recreation center issue more prominent to give their campaigns a jolt of momentum with new voters. I have no clue what their strategies will be, but I’ll be watching to see if candidates start running ads and such around the issue.
Amyx told me last night that he’s confident the recreation center will be an issue, even though the City Commission is expected to issue bids for the project before the April 2 election. But here’s an important thing to remember about that: It will be the next City Commission that will be asked to approve those construction bids for the project.
“You can’t have something that has been all the talk for the last several months to suddenly just not be an issue,” Amyx said. “It needs to be an issue because the next commission will be involved with it a lot.”
UPDATE: Since I wrote this article this morning, Jeremy Farmer's campaign has provided me with a copy of his campaign finance report. It places him in second place in total amount of money raised during the Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 time period. I've added his totals to the list below.
The doctor has the prescription for fundraising.
The first deadline of the year for campaign finance reports for Lawrence City Commission candidates was Monday, and Terry Riordan — a longtime pediatrician — was the runaway leader.
Riordan raised $11,265 from about 84 donors, which was more than double the amount any other candidate raised during the reporting period. But Riordan didn’t stop there. The doctor also loaned his campaign $9,100, giving it $20,365 in contributions for the reporting period.
Riordan is a first-time candidate but he has an experienced team of volunteers running his campaign. Many of the same people who worked on the campaign for Mayor Bob Schumm — who was the top vote winner in the last City Commission election — are working on Riordan’s campaign.
The latest numbers show there's plenty of competitiveness in this year’s race — and a good deal of open wallets. Scott Criqui, an executive with Trinity Home Care, raised $4,550 from contributors during the period. Technically that amount is good for the third-highest amount of money raised during the reporting period, which covered donations made from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14.
But there is a sizable caveat to those numbers. Criqui got his campaign started so early that he did significant fundraising in 2012. A separate report for his 2012 activity shows he raised another $8,092. In addition, Criqui also is dipping into his own wallet for the race. He has donated $2,600 to his campaign.
Here’s a look at the numbers for the entire field. The contributions listed are just for the Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 reporting period:
• Riordan: $11,265 from 84 donors. (Plus $9,100 from Riordan)
• Farmer, executive director of Just Food: $7,785 from 54 named donors. (Plus $900 from Farmer. Also, of the $7,785 raised, $560 came from donors of $50 or less, which state law does not require to be itemized. So, in addition to the 54 named donors, Farmer had at least another 10 donors or more.)
• Mike Amyx, Lawrence city commissioners and barber shop owner: $4,610 from 49 donors.
• Criqui: $4,550 from 65 donors. (Plus $1,500 from Criqui)
• Rob Chestnut, chief financial officer for a Topeka publishing company and former city commissioner: $4,536 from 40 donors
• Judy Bellome, retired executive of Visiting Nurses Association: $3,690 from 43 donors.
• Leslie Soden, owner of a Lawrence pet care business: $2,695 from 15 named donors. (Of the $2,695 raised, $995 came from donors of $50 or less, which state law does not require to be itemized. So, in addition to the 15 named donors, Soden also had at least another 19 donors or more.)
• Reese Hays, an attorney for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts: $690 from six donors. (Plus $331 from Hays)
• William Olson, a Lawrence bar manager: $0
• Michael Rost, a Topeka insurance attorney: $0
The Douglas County Clerk’s office hadn’t received reports from two candidates — Jeremy Farmer and Nicholas Marlo — by this morning.
Marlo has not run an active campaign, but Farmer — the executive director for Just Food — has. It will be worth watching what his fundraising totals are.
I have covered a lot of Lawrence City Commission elections, and I generally pay close attention to the amount of money raised. I watch the numbers not because I think having a lot of money to spend in a local campaign makes a big difference. Instead, I watch them because donor numbers are a good indicator of the size and enthusiasm of a candidate’s base of support.
These numbers show we have an interesting primary shaping up. It appears there are at least seven candidates that are making a serious effort to raise funds. Only six of them will advance through the primary, which will be held next Tuesday, Feb. 26.
The more interesting numbers will be released in March, when candidates are required to file fundraising reports for the critical February and March time periods. Those will come just a few days before the April 2 election, and usually are a good gauge of how the race is shaping up.
At the moment, it is clear that three candidates — Riordan, Criqui and Farmer— have an early lead in fundraising. But the two candidates with perhaps the most natural name recognition because of their time on the commission — Chestnut and Amyx — are in that next group of candidates. It appears the coming weeks will be full of competitive campaigning.
Speculation that retired health care executive and Lawrence neighborhood leader both will enter race for Lawrence City Commission
We’re dismissing questions about the upcoming Lawrence City Commission election like my wife dismisses my request to have access to our ATM PIN number.
First was whether the Lawrence City Commission race would have enough candidates for a primary? Yep. As we reported last week, there are now seven candidates in the race, which triggers a Feb. 26 primary to cut the field to six.
Next is whether any female candidates will enter the race? I’ve been told the answer soon will be yep and yep. I’ve been told to expect two female candidates to file before tomorrow’s noon deadline.
Leslie Soden, a former president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and a founder of the Madre Lawrence group, confirmed to me that she will file her paperwork tomorrow morning.
Multiple sources also have told me that Judy Bellome, the recently retired chief executive officer of the Lawrence-based Visiting Nurses Association, plans to file for a seat on the commission.
Soden has contemplated making a run for the City Commission for the last several months, but a few weeks ago she told me she had decided against it. She said she was going to focus on her duties as a member of the newly created Joint Economic Development Council for Lawrence and Douglas County.
But she also told me at that time she was conflicted because she really does think there needs to be more diversity in the field of candidates.
Soden will bring a definite neighborhood perspective to the City Commission race. She has been deeply involved in neighborhood association issues over the last several years. She became more well-known in City Hall circles by serving as one of the main voices of opposition to the proposed multistory hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
I haven’t yet talked to Soden in enough detail to know her positions on several of the big issues, but the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, which Soden has been active in, has taken positions on a couple of the larger issues: the proposed $25 million recreation center and the expansion of the city’s rental registration and licensing program.
LAN took a position expressing concern about the proposed bidding procedures and other parts of the process related to the regional recreation center project. The association also came out in support of a major expansion of the city’s rental registration and licensing process for apartments. Don’t sleep on that issue. It will be a big one for apartment owners and real executives, who historically have been good at raising money for City Commission races.
As I noted last week, it will be interesting to see how large of an issue the recreation center project becomes in the race. It is very possible the current City Commission will make a commitment on the recreation center project in mid-February, a few days before the primary election.
But a couple of candidates — Mike Amyx and Reese Hays last week — both expressed concern about portions of the recreation center proposal during their campaign announcements. Will it be an issue for Soden? I don’t know. Perhaps the biggest question left in this race, other than who is going to win, is whether there are candidates who think this recreation center business is a political haymaker with voters. I’ve heard some people suggest this election could end up being an unofficial referendum on the recreation center project. I’ve heard others say that because the decision already will have been made that it is unlikely. We’ll see.
As for Bellome, I haven’t yet gotten in touch with her to confirm her plans. But she is well-known in the social service and health care arenas in the community, and has gotten to know many community leaders who have served on the board and volunteered for Visiting Nurses Association.
We’ll see if anybody else gets into the field before tomorrow’s filing deadline. The last election two years ago produced only five candidates, so already the interest level is quite a bit higher, for whatever reason. The general election is set for April 2.