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Former Wichita Mayor, Gubernatorial Candidate Carl Brewer Dies

Stephan Bisaha
KMUW/File photo

Carl Brewer, the first African-American to be elected mayor of Wichita, has died.

A statement from his family said he passed away Friday morning. He was 63.

His family said there are no details yet for a memorial service.

"The family appreciates the support they have received from the community," the statement said. "They ask for privacy at this time."

Brewer was elected to the Wichita City Council in 2001 and 2005 before defeating incumbent Carlos Mayans in the 2007 race for mayor. Brewer easily won a second and final term in 2011.

His last run for elected office came in 2018, when he finished second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary to Laura Kelly. She would go on to win the general election and become governor.

"I was deeply saddened to hear of Carl's untimely passing this morning," Kelly said in a statement. "I'm … grateful for his service in my administration, both during our transition, and later when he played an integral role on the Governor’s Council on Tax Reform.

"Carl truly embodied all of the best qualities of what it means to be a Kansan, and he will be dearly missed."

Current Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple remembered Brewer as a well-liked and well respected leader who served as a mentor when Whipple was starting out in politics.

"Even his political opponents just showed him respect," Whipple said. "He was one of those people that'll be missed in public service because he set an example to people like me ... some of us younger folks who are kind of following in his footsteps."

A graduate of Wichita North, Brewer served 21 years in the Kansas Army National Guard, retiring in 1999 with the rank of captain. He also spent more than 30 years in the aviation industry, working for Cessna Aircraft and later Boeing and its successor, Spirit AeroSystems.

Late in life, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice from South University.

His passion away from work was cooking, which he said he learned from his grandmother. He said his grandfather taught him how barbecue, and he regularly competed in barbecue competitions.

He even formed his own company, Brewer’s Best Bar-B-Que sauce, to sell his homemade sauces.

"Mayor Brewer led Wichita through a recession, help secure a new airport, help secure a new library, and help spearhead the revitalization of downtown; he also gave me some tips on BBQ!” City Council member Brandon Johnson said on Twitter. "Brewer will be missed and I am appreciative of his advice and mentorship. Rest well Mayor!"

During his time in office, Brewer consistently pushed for more work to be done on Wichita’s infrastructure, particularly public transportation, street maintenance and projects dealing with the city’s water supply.

He helped outfit all Wichita police officers with body cameras shortly before he left office. He also pushed city officials to provide cultural awareness training for employees.

"We're a very diverse city,” Brewer said in 2015. “If you're going to be a city employee or city servant, then you need to make yourself aware of the various different cultural differences.”

In 2014, he led a series of “No Ferguson Here” meetings after the death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, led to protests and violence in that community and other cities.

Brewer also was a proponent of downtown development and an advocate of international trade as a way to help grow Wichita’s economy. He led trade missions to China and assisted in the opening of the Wichita-China Aviation Office there to expand trade opportunities for the Wichita aviation industry. During his time as mayor, the city built the new Eisenhower National Airport. And Brewer helped convince low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines to provide service from Wichita.

Brewer was Wichita’s second African-American mayor. A. Price Woodard, a member of the City Commission, served a one-year term from 1970-71. Commission members appointed another member to serve as mayor; Wichita didn’t begin direct election of mayors until the 1990s.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.