Mayor James: “The nation is listening to Kansas City jam again”

Mayor Sly James’ state of the city speech Tuesday followed jazz music, broke briefly when an enraged man charged the podium and built to a crescendo of city accomplishments.

“I know it’s easy to call this boosterism,” James said. “But face it, that’s my job.”

Early in the speech, a man who grabbed the mike started some kind of verbal attack before James’ security guards hauled the man offstage.

“Well that was unfortunate,” James said, adding that he had nothing against feelings the man wanted to express, but “I do have a small problem with the method.”

There was wide applause and he resumed the speech without missing a beat.

“The state of our city is proud and strong, we are leaning into the wind, and together we are making progress,” he said.

In his second such speech, he said his administration has focused on data driven government and stressed efficiency, employment, education and enforcement.

Among his points:

In the last year, voters have approved over $700 million in new funding for streets, sewers, parks and streetcars. “A feat not matched by any city in the nation. Period.”

Before that, the city repaved 30 miles of 6,500 miles in roadways a year. This year it will repave over 180 miles.

He has also worked with blue ribbon panels and citizen committees and on Tuesday appointed 30 people to the new Challenge Cabinet. They are to help the city innovate and become more vibrant.

He had them stand and told them, “I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy, zany things you come up with.”

He also recently appointed a blue ribbon panel to determine if the city should remain the only one nationwide with its police department – and 20 percent of the city budget – controlled by the governor.

In crime fighting, police last year started hot spot policing, concentrating on 13 square miles – five percent of the city – where 47 percent of the homicides happened.

They also started the Kansas City No Violence Alliance, where police, prosecutors and social workers target criminal networks.

“By mining and mapping data, we are finding that some members of these crime networks are more important than others – and we are putting their butts in jail.”

In terms of education, last year at this time the city started the Turn the Page KC initiative.

It began because only a third of all third graders were reading at grade level. The city used its seed money to raise $150,000 in private money and $175,000 worth of new books for children.

Over 3,700 volunteers contributed 9,700 hours of their time in a reading program and 81 percent of 2,443 students improved their reading scores about one-half grade level.

In development this year, the city will start over $50 million in housing east of Troost. Cordish breaks ground this year on the city’s first residential tower built Downtown in decades.

And the success of the basketball tournaments and other big events and the start of a Downtown streetcar system demonstrate the need for a new convention hotel Downtown.

“We are standing in creative space,” James said. “A space full of jazz – one of the city’s great exports to the world.”

Citizens are improvising, riffing off each other’s talents and jamming in areas outside music, he said.

“The nation is listening to Kansas City jam again.”






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