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Sly James defeats Mike Burke in Kansas City mayor's race

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 11:34 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — Attorney Sly James defeated fellow lawyer Mike Burke in the Kansas City mayor's race Tuesday, winning his first bid for elective office in a campaign marked by cordiality.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial results showed James with 54 percent of the vote to Burke's 46 percent in the nonpartisan race to succeed one-term mayor Mark Funkhouser.

Long active in civic affairs, James beat Burke last month by only 28 votes out of more than 50,800 cast in a seven-way primary. Funkhouser, a former city auditor, finished third in that election — the first incumbent Kansas City mayor since the 1920s to lose a primary.

James, 59, and Burke, 61, portrayed themselves to voters as friends and promised a general election campaign free of personal attacks. They had also pledged to respect the outcome and work together regardless of the outcome.

"Mike is an honorable man, a friend, a person who truly cares about Kansas City," James, in his victory speech, said of Burke, who served on the City Council in the 1980s.

"Don't look at this as a loss, buddy, because you're going to be involved up to your neck," James added. "We cannot afford to leave human talent of that type on the sidelines when we have so many issues to cover."

Burke, a development lawyer, said in his concession speech that he had called James to congratulate him.

"I told Sly I am at his service and the service of Kansas City for anything I can do for the greater good of Kansas City," Burke said.

Although holding the city's highest elective office, the mayor has limited authority in Kansas City's council-manager form of government. As in other so-called weak-mayor cities, the mayor serves on the City Council and makes some appointments to boards and commissions, but has limited influence over budgets, policy and personnel.

Burke has more than 30 years of experience dealing with the city government on a variety of economic development, infrastructure and civic projects. He had been endorsed by three former mayors — Richard Berkeley, Kay Barnes and Charles Wheeler — and by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce political action committee, among others.

James — given name Sylvester but known citywide as Sly — has been prominent in Kansas City's legal scene, including a stint as president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, has served on two city economic development boards and was co-chairman of the election campaign to increase the sales tax for renovations at Truman Sports Complex.

His endorsements include Freedom Inc., Taxpayers Unlimited and the Hispanic Business PAC.

The winner will be handed a city budget in turmoil and the prospect of losing an estimated $200 million per year if voters next month decide to phase out Kansas City's earnings tax. A high murder rate and the steady loss of business across the state line into Kansas also are issues that will confront the new administration.


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