Mayor Jeff Longwell and state Rep. Brandon Whipple will square off in the November general election for Wichita mayor.
The pair survived a nine-candidate primary on Tuesday and immediately turned to strategy for what is now a two-man race.
Longwell, the No. 1 vote-getter, said he plans to focus on his four-year record in office.
He took some knocks during the primary season for lack of transparency in the way City Hall does business, especially on the new downtown baseball stadium. But he plans to pivot that discussion toward what has gotten done on his watch.
“No one’s talking about the good news in the outcomes,” he said. “The only negative criticism we’ve received has been the communications and the process.
“The reality is we’re going to continue to share all the good outcomes and the great work that the entire council has done, coming together and building a better Wichita.”
Whipple, who edged retired banker Lyndy Wells for the second spot, promised a scrappy campaign centered on public safety and reducing the city’s crime rate.
“He’s going to talk about baseball and how he’s the baseball mayor,” Whipple said. “I wish I could talk about baseball, but right now we have an underfunded police force. We have crime rising in our city.”
Wells ended Tuesday night 160 votes behind Whipple, still hoping for a miracle finish when the provisional votes and late absentee ballots are tallied.
The election office couldn’t say exactly how many votes remain to be counted, but estimated it will be more than 400.
“I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel,” Wells told supporters at his watch party Tuesday. “I’m hopeful that all the other ones out there voted for me. And when the result changes, we’ll have another party.”
Longwell said he was somewhat surprised that he’ll face Whipple in the general election.
“With as much money as Lyndy spent I’m probably a little surprised he came in third,” Longwell said. “Anything can happen in these races.”
When campaign finance reports were filed last week, Longwell stood at the top of the field, raising just shy of $89,000 since Jan. 1. Wells reported raising $56,600, twice Whipple’s $25,000 war chest.
Whipple, who had the support of popular local Democrat James Thompson and his “Thompson Army,” immediately sought to position himself as the candidate of the common folk.
“We beat a millionaire,” Whipple shouted to his supporters after the final results came in.
Later, he said “I think it says something that we went against someone as powerful and well-connected, with as much money and influence as Wells has . . . but we’re here for the rest of Wichita, not just the richest areas.”
Facing Longwell, Whipple said “We’re going against a powerful political machine. We’re probably going to get hit pretty hard. But we plan to hit back.”
Longwell said he went into Tuesday night “prepared to face whoever came through.”
In addition to running on his record, Longwell’s playbook also includes highlighting relationships between Wichita and other local governments, including the recent thawing of strained dealings with Sedgwick County.
“Regionally, we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been,” he said. “We have a great relationship with the county and we’ll continue to build on that.”
One major issue in the primary was the return to the city of Major League-affiliated Minor League baseball and the decision to build a new $75 million stadium to accommodate it.
Longwell championed those causes and succeeded in luring the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a Triple-A farm team of the Miami Marlins, to replace the unaffiliated Wichita Wingnuts.
But the negotiating process opened him to criticism that too many deals were made with too little input from the public, including essentially giving the team four acres to develop a commercial “baseball village” around the new stadium.
Longwell countered that the baseball leagues — major and minor — have very specific rules for negotiations to move teams and that disclosing too much too soon would have wrecked the city’s chances at landing a franchise.
Another issue that will loom large in the mayor race is the fate of the Century II Convention and Performing Arts Center.
A coalition of downtown business and development interests has embarked on a $700,000 study to plan the replacement of the aging municipal auditorium with new facilities.
City Hall and Sedgwick County have each kicked $100,000 into the funding with the rest coming from private and semi-public groups with an interest in downtown.
With 100 percent of precincts counted Tuesday night, Longwell finished with 7,136 votes, 32.3 percent of the votes cast.
Whipple had 5,729 votes, 25.9 percent; to Wells’ 5,569 votes, for 25.2 percent.
Navy veteran and tax compliance manager Amy Lyon was a distant fourth with 6.4 percent and anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen came in fifth with 5.9 percent.
Rounding out the field were Brock Booker, 2 percent; Ian Demory, 1 percent; Joshua Atkinson, .7 percent and Marty Mork, .6 percent.