It was an emotional goodbye to Mayor Carl Brewer and a hopeful start for new Mayor Jeff Longwell at a packed City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Longwell thanked Brewer for leaving a solid foundation for the remaining council members – and one new one – to move forward.
“We will try to carry on your legacy,” he said.
In a ceremony, Longwell took his oath of office and became mayor. He jokingly outlined challenges he faced during months of campaigning, then seriously addressed issues the city faces in the coming months and years.
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“This was a tough process that we went through that required us to raise over $100,000 and spend it all while having our character attacked a little bit as we campaigned for a job that allows us to make several people angry with every vote,” Longwell said. “I say thank you and welcome to our version of ‘The Hunger Games.’”
“But I will tell you that,” Longwell paused with emotion, and regained his composure, “we’ll survive because of a great group of folks behind me as the collective action of the leaders that are more interested in bridges that unite, not walls that divide us.”
That collective action will help find solutions for transit, a new water supply and jobs, he said. Wichita lost more than 20,000 jobs in the last several years, mostly in the aviation sector.
“I’ve said this before that we need to fundamentally change the way that we grow jobs in our community,” Longwell said. “It’s my hope that we bring back the spirit of Wichita. And take what we’re doing from an innovative standpoint and reignite that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Longwell reiterated what he said on the campaign trail: Wichita State University’s plan for an innovation campus, combined with an export plan for the region and diversification of the local economy by studying possible job “clusters,” is the right approach for growing jobs.
“(Wichita is) so much more than a great place to raise a family. It’s a great place to build a business,” Longwell said. “I’m pretty sure that people like Charles Koch have enough money to live anywhere in the world – and maybe a couple of places outside of this planet – but they’ve chosen Wichita and they’ve chosen to invest in Wichita, and I’m one of those that’s very happy about that.”
The new mayor offered a pre-emptive olive branch to those who might have conflicting views with him in the future.
“We will have our differences and that’s OK. … But understand this: That difference in opinion will always come from the head, never from the heart,” he said.
Praise for Brewer
While saying goodbye to Brewer, a teary-eyed Lavonta Williams told him he had come a long way.
“When he talks about growing up, 67214 is a ZIP code area that many consider youth won’t make it. ‘They’re low income.’ ‘Socioeconomically they can’t succeed.’ ‘Educationally, they don’t graduate,’” said Williams, who represents northeast Wichita on the council.
“67214 elevated the mayor to the highest of his potential. 67214 has elevated myself and so many others to the potential that they can be. You do that so well. You made so many people in the ZIP code areas, in the northeast especially, so very proud. You made people in the southeast very proud. You made Wichita very proud that you were our mayor.”
In his comments, Brewer was most emotional when talking about the support of his wife and family during his tenure.
He said he can’t take credit for all of the accomplishments of the city in the last eight years, but that it has been teamwork among the council and city staff.
“As mayor, you’d like to take credit for those things, but you can’t,” he said.
“Thank you everyone for allowing me to serve you,” Brewer said.
The crowd then stood for an ovation.
New Council member
Bryan Frye was sworn in Tuesday to replace Jeff Longwell on the Wichita City Council. He will represent west Wichita’s District 5. Re-elected council members Jeff Blubaugh and Pete Meitzner were sworn in for their second terms.
The council also unanimously elected James Clendenin as its new vice mayor. Clendenin represents southeast Wichita’s District 3. He replaces Blubaugh, who has fulfilled his term in the position.