Kansas Democrats earned their chance to retake the mayor’s office in Wichita, the state’s largest city, after state Rep. Brandon Whipple pulled off an upset and won a spot in the Nov. 5 general election. Republican incumbent Jeff Longwell took first place in the nonpartisan primary with 32% of the vote, while Whipple came out narrowly ahead of businessman Lyndy Wells for second by a 25.9-25.2 spread. The remainder of the vote was split between six other candidates. Democrats held this office until 2015, when Longwell won an all-GOP general election to succeed termed-out Mayor Carl Brewer.
Wells and Whipple shared views on key issues, such as transparency in city government, but Whipple’s second place finish was somewhat of a surprise. Wells is well-connected in the city, having served on the board of several local organizations, and he received the backing of local institutions such as the Wichita Eagle, the largest newspaper in the state. Wells also hauled in more than double Whipple’s fundraising total, which is partially why Longwell himself said he had expected Wells and not Whipple to be his opponent in the fall election.
Longwell has focused his record as mayor, emphasizing infrastructure, quality of life, and public safety as core tenets of his platform. He's also touted what he describes as the strong relationship between the city and other localities in Sedgwick County, where Wichita is located.
Whipple has also focused on issues of public safety, specifically the crime rate and funding of the city’s police force, but he's made education a priority as well. As a state legislator, he lobbied to restore funding that had been cut from higher education and has said improving Wichita schools is one of his top aims.
One issue that has been a major point of contention in the election is the city's new minor league baseball stadium. Under Longwell’s watch, the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins, agreed to move to Wichita in 2020.
Longwell has been a champion of the move, but the negotiating process for building a new stadium, for which the city has promised to spend up to $73 million, has been controversial. Critics have charged that the city's shown a lack of transparency and engagement with the public on the specifics on the deal. Whipple has said he's in favor of the stadium, but he's joined in those criticisms, attacking the "rushed and secretive way our city leadership decided to push this project forward."