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In West Wichita, Two 'Distinct' Candidates In Race For City Council Seat

Nadya Faulx
Mike Magness, left, and Bryan Frye are on the ballot in the City Council District 5 race.

On June 3, the last day for candidates to file, Mike Magness entered the race for Wichita City Council.

"I watched. It was about spring break, so this would be, what, middle of March,” says Magness, a longtime teacher. "I would start looking to see who would put up their name for District 5. Nobody, nobody, nobody.

"And then late May, after Memorial Day, Mr. Frye put his name in, and then nobody else, and I thought, 'Somebody needs to run against him.'"

Mr. Frye is council member Bryan Frye, who has represented District 5 on the council since 2015 and is seeking a second term. He served eight years on the District 5 Advisory Board and eight years on the Wichita Board of Park Commissioners before running for City Council.

This is Magness' first run for public office, but he’s promoting his newcomer status as an asset.

"If you're up for business as usual, you have an option," he says. "If you want to see something different, you have an option as well."

District 5 covers much of west Wichita, beginning at I-235. It borders Maple to the south and butts up against the city of Maize to the north. It’s middle-class, largely residential, and, as Frye explains, rapidly growing.

"You can live in Wichita and go to Maize schools, and you can go to Wichita schools, and you can go to Goddard schools. It’s a very large footprint," he says.

"But that's creating a lot of opportunities for homes and apartments and families to live, and so having the infrastructure with the good roads and police and libraries, are the priorities."

He says with so many families moving into the district, a major focus needs to be on the neighborhoods.

"Open space, park and recreation opportunities, making sure that we've got free, easy activity for families to get out and do," Frye says.

He says some of his accomplishments during his first term include the opening of the Pracht Wetlands Park and the installation of a splash pad at Buffalo Park. The coming years will see the district’s police substation move farther west to improve call response time and the expansion of the high-traffic Westlink Library near Central and Tyler.

"I believe in the four years that I've been serving I have put the time and the effort in," Frye says. "There's still a lot of work to get done and because I'm knowledgeable about it and have put the time in, in order to complete these the right way I think I deserve another four years."

If reelected, Frye says his main priority will be on infrastructure. He campaigned in 2015 on getting a handle on the city’s water system. This time around, it’s no different.

"We have to stay on top of the water issue," he says. "That’s infrastructure that should have been addressed decades ago.

"In a few years in the future, we've got a wastewater treatment plant down south that will need to be rebuilt as well. That's a several hundred million dollar project, so infrastructure-wise those are the top two projects, probably the two largest projects that have ever been undertaken at one time."

Magness is similarly concerned about the looming water treatment plant rebuild and about a recent Wichita Eagle article detailing the process on how the multi-million dollar contract was awarded. Despite the controversy, the city says it’s still on track to submit an application for a federal loan by the end of October, with Frye serving on the steering committee overseeing the project.

But the two candidates differ on what they see as the city’s greatest needs over the next four years: While Frye is focused on infrastructure, Magness says city leaders should pay more attention to social issues. He wants the city to partner with schools, the police department and nonprofits to tackle problems like domestic violence and rising crime rates.

"I'm not saying the city government should be coming in and telling you how to live your life or anything like that," he says. "Sometimes we just forget about families and their everyday struggles and what can be done to help.

"Economic development's great and jobs are great; people certainly need jobs and economic development, certainly. But we can't forget the family. We can't forget the everyday struggles that people have."

Magness says his decision to run for the District 5 seat wasn’t necessarily about challenging Frye. He likes to talk about the "3 Ps" of why he’s running: a promise he made to his students, the possibilities ahead in Wichita’s future — "I think that we need to make a decision as a city: Are we going to compete with Omaha, Tulsa, OKC, Kansas City, Des Moines, or aren't we?" — and as a personal challenge.

Magness was hospitalized with chest pains in December 2016 and had to get a pacemaker. The week he spent in the hospital gave him time to consider his life, he says.

"Frankly, I'd kind of lived my life being scared, and I thought, from now on, I'm not going to be scared about what people think and what they thought I could do and couldn't do and all that," he says. "So I thought from now on I'm just going to go for it, and I guess this is me going for it."

His grassroots campaign lags Frye's in terms of both visibility and fundraising. But Magness says he's glad he decided to run.

“We’re very distinct, very different candidates,” he says, “and I think for District 5, that's a good thing.”

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.