The four men vying to represent District 4 on the Wichita City Council don’t agree on a lot.
But the one thing Joshua Blick, Jeff Blubaugh, Craig Gabel and David Glover do share is a desire to bring aggressive representation at City Hall to a traditionally underserved district. They’ve also all sought office before.
The general election winner will fill the remaining two years of Michael O’Donnell’s term on the council. O’Donnell was elected to the Kansas Senate in November.
Blick, 35, a consultant, finished second to O’Donnell in 2011. He casts himself as a community activist.
“We’ve seen down south that there is a need,” he said. “The biggest thing is passion for my community. I am not a career politician. I don’t see myself going further than the city council. Instead of politics flowing from the president on down, I believe it needs to flow from the people on up. If we have stronger communities, stronger businesses, then we’ll have a stronger Wichita.”
Blick said he intends to be an advocate for his district, and the city in general, if elected.
“I believe at times we get too focused on pet projects when we need to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Downtown is amazing. I love Century II. I’ve called it the Big House ever since I was 5 years old. But you know, that doughnut hole downtown keeps getting bigger and bigger. We see it further south. We need to start focusing more on our people and the businesses of Wichita.”
Blick said his district has the most growth opportunities in the city, including available land south of the airport, near Haysville, Clearwater and Goddard.
“We need to start developing a game plan,” he said. “If we say we’re focusing on industry and jobs, then we need to be clear that we’re open for business.”
Jobs ranging from $30,000 to $50,000 and up in annual salaries should be the focus of recruiters, Blick said.
Blick had his driver’s license revoked in 1996 and 2002, for failure to pay traffic fines, he said, a mistake by an immature young man.
“The first time, you know, I was 18 years old, cruising Seneca,” he said. “I should have paid my fines, and I ended up paying them double.”
Blubaugh, 40, a real estate broker, said his primary focus is job creation, with 18,000 jobs lost in the district to the aviation downturn that began in 2008. Most estimates from the industry, including those reported in The Eagle, put the number of job losses at around 10,000.
“When you’ve got a third of our money going to debt service, and when interest rates start going up and we can’t refinance at 1 or 2 percent, we’ve got a major problem,” he said. “Our property values are going down, and government is trying to pay bills on reduced revenue. That’s why job creation and economic development are my No. 1 goals.”
Blubaugh describes himself as a fiscal conservative, but he declined to clearly align himself with conservative anti-spending groups in Wichita.
“I think you have to do a business case analysis,” he said. “If you put Band-Aids on problems, are we essentially costing our city more and more money without fixing it right the first time? A lot of the ideology out there is ‘no, no, no,’ and I consider myself a conservative, but I put business decisions based off of data first and I check it off an ideology instead of putting the ideology first, instead of saying we can’t spend a dime.”
Both men say they’re willing to weigh public incentives for private business on a case-by-case basis, but will urge the city to exercise caution in such deals and provide incentives only for public infrastructure.
“Is it best to say ‘no, no, no’ and send everybody down to Oklahoma City, or down to Texas, to do business?” Blubaugh asked. “I don’t think that’s the right answer.”
Blubaugh was noncommittal on specific projects, like the Southfork development in south Wichita.
Gabel, 52, a restaurateur, blasted that stance in an interview that veered into criticism of his opponents.
“I’ve seen him out,” he said. “That’s his answer: ‘I’m not familiar with that. I have to get back on that and study it.’ Come on, man. You’re running for a position. You should know what’s going on.”
Gabel, president of Kansans for Liberty and a spokesman for the local tea party movement, said his No. 1 priority is jobs. He maintains that the region has lost 40,000 residents in the last two years, although Kansas Census figures show slight growth in that time period.
“We need jobs,” he said. “The south end of town has been hit much harder than the other ends. A lot of the jobs we lost down here were blue-collar jobs that hit our town extra hard.”
He also wants to move District 4 onto the priority list for infrastructure improvements.
“There’s a lack of growth down here, and growth tends to use a lot of infrastructure,” he said. “We feel like we’re downright abused in this instance. We have a lot of older neighborhoods with unmaintained streets for so long that they have to be replaced.”
He also advocates “economic growth versus economic development.”
“Our council has tunnel vision for economic development. Maybe they believe if they put up enough pretty signs, build enough pretty hotels, put in bike paths and streetscaping, that will create economic growth,” he said.
Gabel’s latest business venture is the Wichita Post, which bills itself as south Wichita’s weekly newspaper.
In June, Gabel paid $126,687.32 in delinquent real and personal property taxes and penalties. The delinquent tax bill dated back to 2003, when Gabel said a divorce and resulting bankruptcy filing made it impossible for him to keep up with his taxes.
In December 2011, he paid off a $7,637.98 Kansas Department of Revenue warrant for income taxes for 2001 through 2006.
Glover, 37, a Wal-Mart clerk, describes himself as a fiscally conservative Democrat. He pledges to emphasize job creation, government transparency and good stewardship of tax dollars by ending what he calls the council’s “corporate welfare” policy.
“The city role in job creation is one, creating a climate that where new business wants to locate in Wichita and where current business can prosper,” he wrote in response to The Eagle’s voter guide questionnaire. “That might mean looking at reducing cumbersome regulations, maybe there are outdated regulations complicating business. If we want (to) attract new business and keep what we already have that means having an infrastructure that meets the needs of both the public and business.”
Glover advocates a “pay as you go” method of financing city projects, to eliminate as much city debt as possible. He endorsed City Manager Robert Layton’s plan to dedicate city funds annually to repair and replace the crumbling water and sewer systems.
“You just can’t be piling up a mountain of debt,” he said, “and you can’t just write a $2.1 billion check.”
He opposes public incentives for private business, saying many city projects don’t generate enough quality jobs.
“They should be rare and only be used to create good paying jobs,” he wrote. “Creating minimum wage jobs with public incentives like the recent eastside sports complex punishes the tax payer twice: Once for putting local tax dollars for subsidies to support the developer and using state and federal taxes to subsidize the workers.”