Runza closed for remodeling; Wicked Broadband co-owner files for seat on City Commission; local PAC has nearly $16K ahead of city elections
In 20-plus years of reporting in Douglas County, one thing I have learned about the public is they are very concerned about any threats to their cabbage-stuffed sandwiches. Over the last few days I started getting messages from people concerned that the Runza at 27th and Iowa streets — perhaps the largest purveyor of cabbage-stuffed sandwiches — had gone out of business. But fear not, the restaurant is closed, but only temporarily for a renovation.
I turned on my lights and sirens in the F150 and went to the scene for a firsthand investigation. Doug Nations, the local franchisee for Runza, said the restaurant is getting an interior makeover. When it reopens, the furnishings will be different, but the menu will be the same. That means the Original Runza, a stuffed sandwich “full of ground beef, onions, cabbage and secret spices” is not going anywhere.
Nations said he expected the restaurant to reopen sometime next week. (Which is good because you don’t want to see people have cabbage withdrawal. It involves people tipping over entire salad bars and yelling at the top of their lungs, “YOU CALL THIS A LEAFY VEGETABLE?”)
Nations said business has been good, and said redevelopment in the area has been drawing more customers to the intersection. In recent weeks, a Buffalo Wild Wings opened across the street, and last year a Dick’s Sporting Goods also opened at the intersection of 27th and Iowa.
“Right now, this is the intersection to be at in town,” Nations said.
Runza has been at the location since about 1986, Nations said, which makes it one of the older restaurants in the city.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is not as much fun as cabbage, but the race for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission is continuing to heat up. As expected, Lawrence school board member Kris Adair has filed for a spot on the City Commission.
Adair is a co-owner of Wicked Broadband, the business formerly known as Lawrence Freenet that is seeking some city incentives to start a high-speed fiber optic broadband network in the community. She also is the director of the Lawrence Center for Entrepreneurship, a startup operation that she has founded. It has space in the shopping center at Ninth and Iowa, and will provide office space, counseling and other assistance to entrepreneurs in the area.
When I had talked with Adair before, she had said she would resign her position as a school board member, if she won a seat on the City Commission. I’m assuming that is still the case, but haven’t yet got in touch with Adair. Look for a full report on her announcement when I get in touch with her.
• New details also are starting to emerge about PAC activity for the Lawrence City Commission race. Perhaps you remember Lawrence United, a political action committee that was new on the scene during the City Commission election two years ago. During that race, the PAC raised tens of thousands of dollars and sent out mailers on behalf of a trio of candidates it supported.
It looks like the group may be primed to be active again. The PAC has made its state-required financial report, and it shows that it had almost $16,000 in the bank at the end of 2014. There also were indications that the group was seeking new contributions. The PAC raised $1,500 between Dec. 19 and Dec. 22 from two donors: a $1,000 contribution from Emprise Bank and a $500 contribution from Lawrence builder Tim Stultz.
A Lawrence attorney by the name of Casey Meek is the chair of the organization. The better known organizer of the group, though, is Lawrence banker Doug Gaumer. Gaumer, who is a former chair of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, is the group’s treasurer.
I put a call in to Gaumer to get a better sense of how active the group plans to be during this upcoming campaign. I’ll report when I hear back.
The group lists its purpose as supporting local candidates who have an interest in growing jobs and the local economy.
New Lawrence PAC raises $14K as City Commission election draws near; Farmer top candidate fundraiser at $11K
The largest fundraiser during the heat of this year’s Lawrence City Commission race wasn’t a candidate. It was the newly formed political action committee Lawrence United.
According to new reports filed at the Douglas County clerk’s office, the Lawrence United group raised $14,400 during the key Feb. 15 through March 21 reporting period.
The group raised all of its money from just 10 donors. Lawrence builder Tim Stultz and Blue Jacket Ford LLC — a development company headed by construction owner Roger Johnson — both donated $5,000 apiece to the PAC.
Three companies that include Thomas Fritzel, the Lawrence businessman driving the public-private partnership for Rock Chalk Park, gave a total of $3,000 to the PAC. Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate also donated $1,000 to the PAC. All the other donations received by the group were at the $200 level or less.
The pro-business PAC has endorsed candidates Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.
Those three candidates also did well in their individual fundraising efforts. Farmer, the political newcomer who serves as the CEO of the Lawrence food bank Just Food, raised the most money of the six candidates in the race: $11,265. Farmer finished second in last month’s primary election.
Rob Chestnut, the CFO for a Topeka publishing company, raised $8,949 during the period. Chestnut was fourth in the primary election. Only the top three vote winners in the April 2 general election will receive a seat on the commission.
City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, raised $5,960. The downtown barbershop owner is seeking his fifth term on the commission. He was the top vote winner in the primary.
Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, raised $5,315 from supporters. Riordan also contributed $9,000 of his own money to the campaign. When combined with a similar loan Riordan made to his campaign during the primary season, Riordan has now invested more than $18,000 of his own money in the campaign. Riordan finished third in last month’s primary election.
Scott Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, raised $4,555. He was fifth in last month’s primary.
Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business, raised $2,718. Soden was sixth in the primary election.
The Lawrence United Group gave $500 each to Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan. (Note: In a previous article, Riordan had told me the group gave him $100. But Riordan called me this weekend to tell me he had misspoken then. He quoted that number off memory and realized the amount was $500 when he looked at his records.)
But the group’s bigger impact on the race is that it has sent out several mailings urging support of the three candidates it has endorsed. Businesses and individuals are limited to making contributions of no more than $500 to any candidate during any one reporting period. Individuals and businesses, however, can make unlimited contributions to PACs, and the PACs can spend as much money as they choose advocating for a candidate.
Lawrence has had other PACs in the past. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence campaigned for candidates who it thought would give the neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. Progressive Lawrence no longer exists, but there are other organizations that are in the political giving business. The plumbers and pipefitters union — it is based out of Wichita but has operations here — gave $200 each to Chestnut and Amyx, according to the latest reports. And the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, based out of Washington, D.C., gave $500 to Criqui. Criqui has been a frequent advocate for greater equality for the LGBT community.
But this year, Lawrence United sure appears to be the most active and best funded political organization operating in the City Commission race.
There is a question among campaign watchers, however, whether the PAC’s support will help more than it hurts. Thus far, the PAC largely has been supported by business interests in the community.
That has put some candidates at recent events emphasizing that they won’t be beholden to any special interests if elected.
“I have told people that if I have to choose a side to win an election, I would rather lose the election,” Farmer said during a forum hosted by Lawrence’s 6News last night.
Farmer went on to say that he clearly doesn’t equate taking a donation from any group as creating an expectation that he’ll vote in any particular manner, if on the commission.
“My integrity is not for sale,” Farmer said.
At the Monday night forum, Riordan said he thought some people had “overblown” the importance of the group’s endorsement. He said he consented to the endorsement because he and the group agree on the importance of creating sustainable jobs in Lawrence.
“They will have my attention in the future, but everybody else will too,” Riordan said.
Chestnut said he also supported the group’s main message on jobs, but he said he doesn’t “know that much about Lawrence United.”
It will be interesting to see what the final week of the campaign brings from the PAC in terms of advertising. At the end of the reporting period, March 21, Lawrence United still had about $20,000 in its coffers.
The complete reports for all the candidates are available for viewing and show the names and amounts of contributors. You can find them here:
• To see Amyx's report, click here.
• To see Chestnut's report, click here.
• To see Criqui's report, click here.
• To see Farmer's report, click here.
• To see Riordan's report, click here.
• To see Soden's report, click here.
• To see Lawrence United's report, click here.