Spring elections already active

The political season never really ends.

As congressional, statewide and county commission campaigns enter a dead sprint to the primaries, the field of people running for Wichita City Council next spring is growing.

Mayor Carl Brewer plans to run for re-election.

So far, his only visible challenger is 18-year-old Clinton Coen, who launched a Facebook page announcing his candidacy in March.

Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell hopes to represent northwest Wichita's District 5 for another four years.

Kansans for Liberty leader Lynda Tyler announced she'd run in District 5 during a rally at City Hall in April.

Former mayor Bob Knight is considering moving back into the city limits to run for the seat in northeast Wichita's District 2, which is being vacated by Sue Schlapp because of term limits.

Stephen J. Harris, CEO of Galichia Heart Hospital, announced he's running for District 2 a few weeks ago.

And Schlapp said she's heard of about five other people who are considering running for the seat — though she wouldn't say who.

Jason Dilts, the former executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, announced that he would run for the District 4 seat that Paul Gray will have to leave because of term limits.

Gray said at least two more people plan to run in the southwest district, but he didn't want to name them.

Meanwhile, District 3 council member Jim Skelton is running for county commission, and, if he is elected, that would open a fifth seat, in the southeast district.

Gray, Brewer, Knight and Longwell said they feel it's too early to start a visible campaign. Wait until after the Nov. 2 general election, they say.

"When you start early, you get mixed in with all that other stuff, and it's just chaotic," Brewer said. "Most people aren't focused on local elections."

Longwell said that the 24/7 news cycle has helped create an environment where the political season never really ends. But he worries that too much too soon won't help.

"I think people will get burnt out," he said.

Knight acknowledged that newcomers have a little steeper climb.

"It's nine months away," he said. "But everybody has their own rhythm on things like this."

Dilts has been the most active thus far.

He appointed former KSN news anchor Anita Cochran as his treasurer in early March and has been hosting fundraiser events and promoting his campaign via online social networks.

"In my experience, the ones who start early are the ones who are more likely to win," he said.

Coen launched his effort in March as well, though he hasn't been as active in fundraising.

"I got interested because I wanted to change things and get involved and do something besides sit around and complain," he said.

Some may say 18 years old (though he'll be 19 come election time) is too young.

Coen disagrees.

"Age shouldn't matter," he said. "Our current government isn't doing too well and they're clearly old enough."

Tyler has built a website that lists John Stevens as her treasurer — though she hasn't filed paperwork with the Sedgwick County Elections Office yet.

She said she wants to focus on her role with Kansans for Liberty, a nonprofit group that has organized tea party events, until the November election is over.

Then she plans to find new leadership for Kansans for Liberty and begin actively campaigning.

At almost the same time she announced she'd run, she sent Longwell an e-mail encouraging him to run for mayor.

"Maybe she just really likes my leadership," Longwell said. "But it's a little confusing now that she's going to run against me."

Tyler said it's more about thinning the field.

"If he ran for mayor, then he and I wouldn't be in a fight against each other," she said.

Longwell said that he has been encouraged by others to run for mayor, and he plans to entertain the idea after focusing on District 5 for another four years.

"Who knows what the political future holds," he said.

If he does run in 2015, he might face Gray, who said he's also been encouraged to run for mayor and plans to follow through after taking four years off to focus on his family and business.

"I won't go away for very long," Gray said.

Schlapp said it may be early to talk about the April 2011 local election, but it's encouraging.

"Here's the good news," she said. "A lot of people are really interested in getting involved in government."