Big Time Elections in Small Town Topeka

Monday evening I chatted with most of the candidates for Topeka City Council and Mayor. I had a set of questions on issues that concern me in our once-fair city, and the experience confirmed (again) that the people are changing. Many candidates are progressive, or lean to the left, and Topeka is a small blue dot in a sea of red at the state level. Honestly, I’d like to see our fair State do an Opposite to its current Red status, and Go Green. Tuesday all the news was about Cyprus; and Naked Capitalism calls out the U.S. oligarchs. In Topeka we don’t really see much of our “elite” class, but rather we are many small groups and neighborhoods with an overburdened middle-class and struggling poor. Most of the assistance available to struggling families comes from ‘faith-based’ organizations, and the City usually refers citizens to the Church when they have needs. The secret one doesn’t share in this town: Atheism.

However, the BIG issue facing Topekans of all faiths is fresh water. Our water mains have reached the end of their life span, and it’s time to replace the out-of-sight-out-of-mind pipes. Terry Crowder and Richard Harmon support a bond issue to keep the rate increases low. Bonds would create a debt for city residents in 20-30 years. Of course there is the inevitable mill levy increase and rate increase, and Matt Bevens suggests the council stop moving monies into the general fund from utilities. Michelle De La Isla would like to seek grant solutions, and work closely with the City Manager and the Water Dept. She also suggested the City take advantage of the human capital available, instead of trusting Labor to contractors. Michael Ogle would like to streamline the entire City budget. I asked the candidates if they would support a five cent bag tax, and several agreed it could be a viable option for offsetting the project costs. Larry Wolgast said he’d consider it, but would like a public education component to the long-term benefit of this short-term tax. Elaine Schwartz suggested that a bag tax is one more penalty against people who are already struggling; some folks are opposed to any new taxes. Martin Munoz is new to local politics, but as the owner of downtown Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant, he said “I’m here, and I’m willing to step up” for Topeka Council. He would like to know more about franchise fees and continuing the ½ cent sales tax to raise revenue for water main replacement.

Learn about the true cost of plastic grocery bags HERE.

All of the candidates were supportive of community food gardens in weed & seed neighborhoods. The City is currently active with most Neighborhood Improvement Associations. A majority of public school children are living in ‘food poor’ households, and while most of the candidates referred to Harvesters, churches, and neighborhoods already utilizing a community garden, Michelle De La Isla would like small groups and church organizations to concentrate their efforts in targeted areas. Currently each group has a small and scattered impact, without improving the whole community. Matt Bevens suggested the city could issue resolutions in favor of community garden work, at the same time supporting the Topeka Youth Project with student volunteers in all neighborhoods. Topeka Common Ground is another successful resource for NA/NIA groups to start a community garden, and teach residents to create a sustainable food source. Sweat equity builds communities.

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation has ranked the public health of counties across the nation, and Shawnee County residents ranked 70th in Kansas. I find it amusing that the wealthiest counties are also the healthiest. It is one more real sign of class and income inequalities affecting our state and the Nation. I asked the candidates if they would be willing to lower speed limits and create pedestrian routes and bicycle lanes, which would reduce pollution and increase physical activity, both strong health initiatives. Most of the candidates agreed that Topeka needs to become a cycle-friendly city, and Matt Bevens would like to increase support for the Complete Streets Coalition.

Some politicians seem to use the term ‘Business’ as a panacea to inequality issues. We cannot expect Business to expand in Topeka without some major investments. Of course there is the infrastructure issue; but also Location. In the recent past, most new businesses have gone up on Wanamaker Rd. I understand Topeka is a test market for new restaurants, but we as a City need to spread out new business into all areas of our community, so that all neighborhoods may benefit from commerce. We must stop building up Wanamaker and other areas of affluence at the neglect and disrepair of older neighborhoods. Crime increases when people’s needs are not being met. Michelle De La Isla recognizes a real need for public education and financial literacy for our residents. Karen Hiller has a strong issue in District 1 with absentee landlords and residential properties falling into disrepair. It seems like a good idea to invest in small, locally owned businesses, but our young entrepreneurs may not possess the skills required to start a business. For example, I have 1001 ideas for a business, but each idea has 10,000 hoops to jump through in order to Start, and I don’t have any Capital. I do not know how to Create a Business Plan, nor do I have funds to attend college for an MBA. In-home childcare used to be a viable option for Mothers to earn income, but today the business of childcare is riddled with extreme and unnecessary regulation. There used to be grocery stores available to each neighborhood, but Wal-Mart and other Super Stores have put the IGA out of commission. Johnnie’s Café cannot keep its doors open if the People eat breakfast and lunch at Sonic or McDonald’s. Topeka recently lost several Big Businesses to the economic downturn; we cannot continue to be dependent on large scale corporate businesses (like Mars Candy) to support our city’s needs. We must find ways to increase the incomes of all working Topekans so that they may, in turn, afford to support locally owned stores. Large corporations do not benefit local workers, merely shareholder’s and CEO’s. Minimum wage is not a living wage, and workers need to support families. If the only options available to a young H.S. grad are factories, warehouses, or minimum wage retail/restaurants, those folks will either move away, or turn to the dark side (drug/crime culture).


District 1: Karen Hiller(I)  785-232-2917

Matt Bevens 785-213-4243

District 2: Martin Munoz (owner, Lupita’s Mexican Restaurant) 785-430-8161

John Campos can be found on twitter @John_M_Campos

District 3: Sylvia Ortiz -Incumbent unopposed 785-357-0717

District 5: Terry Crowder 785-273-7541

Michelle De La Isla is on facebook and twitter @Dasharyl  Exec. Director at Topeka Habitat for Humanity

District 7: Elaine Schwartz Elaine for Topeka 785-273-0688

Edward M. Collazo of Collazo Law Office

District 9: Richard Harmon 785-271-6962

Seth Brackman

Mayoral Candidates

Larry Wolgast

Michael Ogle

Betty Dunn, write-in candidate 785-266-5808


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