As Wichita moves from one mayor to the next this week, it can look back in gratitude and look forward with great expectations.
Through his six years on the Wichita City Council and two terms as mayor, Carl Brewer has been a tireless promoter of his hometown. He has brought an infectious enthusiasm and pride to the job of leading Kansas’ largest city, as well as valuable firsthand appreciation of the roles of aerospace and the military in the community’s past and present.
He has been Wichita’s ambassador from China to Africa, spreading the news about the city’s workforce and exports. Brewer’s tenure also saw the building of the $200 million airport terminal and parking garage and the arrival of Southwest Airlines.
Because Brewer believed in the necessity of a downtown master plan, the city’s heart now has many more places to live and things to do, with more redevelopment coming. Downtown’s reinvention hasn’t been pain-free (Minnesota guys, the election defeat of the Ambassador Hotel tax incentive, Old Town violence, WaterWalk’s woes, etc.).
But the action underway owes much to Brewer’s advocacy, and his successor will need to push just as hard for progress block by block and project by project.
Brewer, the first African-American elected Wichita’s mayor, also has been influential on issues such as repairing police-community relations and improving blighted neighborhoods. He created the Mayor’s Youth Council and advocated for curbing homelessness and otherwise helping the vulnerable and needy.
Most notably, Brewer sustained not only his high hopes but those of his beloved community through historic difficulties – from what he called “this season of prosperity” in his 2008 State of the City address through a downturn that would cost the city 30,000 jobs and risk its stature as Air Capital of the World.
Many thanks are due Brewer for his long, faithful public service, and the tangible progress he oversaw amid tough times.
New mayor’s challenges
Wichita’s form of government invests the elected mayor with no more power than any of the other six City Council members and relies heavily on a professional city manager. Whoever is mayor represents the city publicly and can sketch out an agenda, but success depends on persuading others to join him.
That’s among the challenges for Jeff Longwell, who will move Tuesday from being the two-term City Council member representing northwest Wichita to the first-term mayor of all 386,000 Wichitans.
He and the new council, including re-elected members Pete Meitzner and Jeff Blubaugh and newcomer Bryan Frye, will be buffeted by decisions made at the Statehouse. If, say, Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers jack up the statewide sales tax, that would make it even harder politically for Wichita to take another run at a citywide sales tax at the ballot box.
That leaves the city with one main option for more revenue to fix crumbling infrastructure – the dreaded property tax. Maintaining a consistent mill levy rate for 21 consecutive years is good for speeches and press releases – not so good for maintaining streets and infrastructure.
The new mayor and council also will need to ensure Southwest Airlines keeps serving Wichita after state-funded subsidies go away next year. They must chart a future with a certain water supply, a better bus system and a new strategy for economic development – all priorities to have been addressed by the 1-cent citywide sales tax defeated by voters in November. They also must push forward on a new downtown library, a joint city-county law enforcement training center and a plan for either upgrading or replacing Century II.
The community stands ready to help Longwell turn his commanding election victory into a productive tenure as Wichita’s mayor.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman