Another year of COVID tops 2021 stories

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Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The top story of 2021 was another year in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID pandemic continued throughout the world, nation and local community during 2021, changing to different variants including Delta and Omicron, and challenging health experts and local leaders.

The local response to it was the top local story of 2021, as the effort to vaccinate the population continued here was a little slower than some nearby communities. Still, Wyandotte County was considered to be one of the leading communities in the area fighting the coronavirus, reaching out to underserved populations.

Nationally and locally, some efforts organized to fight mask mandates from a population weary of doing what the doctors ordered. It eventually became a very emotional and politicized issue.

Wyandotte County established vaccine and testing clinics during the year that continued to provide free health services to residents. During 2021, booster shots were authorized six months after initial shots, and kids’ vaccinations were approved.

Schools went back into in-person learning during 2021, by order of the state Legislature, with masks required.

The Unified Government received $87-plus million dollars from the federal government during 2021 to replace lost revenues from the pandemic. School districts also received federal funding.

The second most important story of the year was the election of Tyrone Garner as Unified Government mayor and CEO. Garner is the first black mayor of the city. Garner had pledged to be more responsive to commissioners and put items on the agenda when they requested it, and shortly after Garner was elected, the UG Commission voted to drop the mask mandate for indoor spaces in Kansas City, Kansas.

The Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools mourned the loss of several students to gun violence during 2021. The “Enough Is Enough” campaign against violence that started in 2020 continued in 2021.

There were 51 homicides reported in Kansas City, Kansas, during 2021, through Dec. 24.

Redistricting hearings were held across Kansas, including one in Kansas City, Kansas, and one in Bonner Springs, as the Kansas Legislature prepares to redraw lines following changes tabulated by the federal census. The Legislature is expected to act in 2022 on redistricting. The 3rd District, which includes Wyandotte, Johnson and parts of Miami counties, will need to lose some population, according to officials. Several residents turned out to ask the Legislature to keep Wyandotte County together with Johnson County in the 3rd District.

Economic development continued in Wyandotte County, with construction continuing on Turner Diagonal industrial buildings, plans were tweaked for the Homefield development, Amazon construction at the former Woodlands took place, and planning continued for the redevelopment of the 5th and Minnesota area. KCKCC discussed its plan for a new $70 million downtown KCK campus. The redevelopment project to turn the Rock Island bridge into an events center and trail crossing also moved forward. Hotel and restaurant projects also were announced in 2021.

Despite COVID, it was considered safe to hold outdoor events in 2021, with sports resuming in Kansas City, Kansas, including the Kansas City Monarchs, Sporting Kansas City, Kansas City Current women’s soccer, and racing at Kansas Speedway, all outdoor events.

Notable deaths during 2021 included actor Ed Asner, who grew up in Wyandotte County; as well as former Congressman Dennis Moore, from Johnson County; and former Sen. Bob Dole, from Russell, Kansas.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

Letter

Cold weather shelter need

Mayor Garner,

I was disheartened today to hear of the dismissal of plans for the Cold Weather Shelter here in KCK. As one of the coldest days of the year approaches us, that leaves one of our most vulnerable populations at risk.

From my understanding, you had an assumption that community groups were in the midst of conversation with these plans. I hope you’ve been made aware that on the contrary, multiple community organizations, community leaders, as well as members have been involved in the planning process for not only last years’ shelter, but this year as well. Many of these persons have signed letters of support for the initiative.

Through the efforts of the shelter during the coldest times of the year, this has not only saved countless lives, but also has proven to decrease hospitalizations, and arrests which can directly be correlated with houseless persons’ who are seeking shelter.

My question is, what is the premise behind the removal of the project? Since there is not a homeless shelter here in Wyandotte County, do you have other plans to help provide support during this time?

I hope you can see the benefit of not only saving lives during the coldest time of the year, but also the need for an established safe place for homeless individuals to rest.

Amber Adams
Kansas City, Kansas

This country loses two outstanding leaders

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Two outstanding political leaders died earlier this year. They were Bob Dole, a Republican, and Dennis Moore, a Democrat. Those serving in Congress today could take a lesson from these men when it comes to leadership and true public service.

I was privileged to know both of these men. Dennis Moore, who was U.S. representative from the 3rd District in Kansas, often said that 90 percent of what is done in Congress doesn’t have anything to do with partisan politics.

I recall the first time I met Moore; it was at a fund-raiser when he was running for Kansas attorney general; he was serving as Johnson County district attorney. He lost that race but went on to be elected to Congress, defeating the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vince Snowbarger, an ultra-conservative Republican. Moore would go on to serve six terms.

As Johnson County attorney, he was considered a “tough, but fair prosecutor”; he was elected three times serving 12 years.

While serving in Congress, he was a member of the U.S. House Budget and Financial Services and Small Business committees. He was also a member of the “Blue Dog Coalition,” a group of moderate and conservative Democrats who favored fiscal responsibility.

I met with Moore in the spring of 2004. I was part of a Kansas delegation that was calling on Congressional members in Washington on behalf of the National Newspaper Association. It was a Friday afternoon and Moore was preparing to catch a flight to Kansas City. He admitted that there was a serious strain he had to endure, because he wasn’t from a “safe district”” where re-election would be relatively easy.

Dennis Moore died Nov. 2, 2021, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75 years old.

I first met Bob Dole in the summer of 1968 when the Congressman from the First District of Kansas was running for the U.S. Senate, hoping to succeed U.S. Sen. Frank Carlson. The League of Women Voters was sponsoring a “Meet the Candidates” event at what was then Trinity United Methodist Church. Dole won in the primary and general elections that year.

The next time I met Dole was early one morning in the spring of 1986. I was a delegate to the Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. Dole spotted me when I was leaving the Washington Hilton hotel. We visited briefly and he said “Welcome to Washington.” An aide was with him, holding a long list of appointments for the day.

Later that year, Dole visited Republican headquarters in Wyandotte County, a sparse Minnesota Avenue storefront downtown. A young political science student from the University of Kansas at Lawrence was among a crowd that anxiously awaited the senator’s arrival. He asked me what to expect.

“Well, I’ll tell you what will happen,” I said.”Sen. Dole will arrive about five to ten minutes late with a sizable group of well-wishers. He will step into the room and all eyes will be on the Senator.”

That was exactly what happened. He cracked one of his signature jokes.
“Do you know what the difference between New York and North Dakota is,” the Senator asked. “In New York, 100,000 dollars will get you 20 TV spots,” he said. “In North Dakota, 100,000 dollars will buy you the TV station.” He also praised all those running for public office.

Bob Dole was a hero who nearly lost his life while serving in Italy during World War II. The support he received from his hometown of Russell, Kansas, was legendary. A cigar box at Dawson’s drugstore collected funds to help pay for his medical expenses during his long rehabilitation road. Later on, that same cigar box was used to collect $100,000 for Dole’s run for the presidency.

Although a conservative, Dole understood the art of the compromise when it was necessary to get legislation passed. One of the Washington legends tells of how Sen. Dole would promote partisan views during the day, but then would go to the White House to meet at night for dinner with President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Rep. Tip O’Neill (a Democrat) to get things done.

Bob Dole. 98, died Dec. 5, 2021. He suffered from lung cancer.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.