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Overland Park mayoral candidates highlight differences, including on COVID vaccines

Overland Park mayor candidates 2021.jpg
Posted at 10:30 AM, Nov 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-01 12:32:20-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Overland Park will elect a new mayor for the first time since 2005 this November. Mayor Carl Gerlach is not seeking another term in the office.

The two men who will face off for the post in the general election, City Councilman Curt Skoog and businessman Mike Czinege offer, as one might expect, very different opinions on a variety of topics.

During sit-down interviews with both men, we focused on four differences specifically - development in Overland Park, experience in office, party affiliation in a municipal election and COVID-19.

Overland Park Development

Overland Park is one of the largest suburbs in the Kansas City area, and the thousands of people who live there have lots of options for housing, entertainment and jobs.

Development is a major topic for any large city, especially a rapidly-growing city like Overland Park. Businessman Mike Czinege says he thinks there's too much development happening in the city and that voters agree with him.

"Most of the residents think there's too much development, and too much concrete and asphalt going in," Czinege said.

Czinege has lived in Overland Park for decades, and he says most of the recent growth in the city has been mismanaged.

"I'm all for development, I'm a capitalist. I want the city to continue to grow and develop," Czinege said. "I don't think we've done a good job with preparing our city for the development that's gone on. Whether it's road congestion, the number of traffic lights we have everywhere, or runoff, or overcrowding of schools."

Czinege's opponent, Curt Skoog, has been on the Overland Park City Council for 16 years. That tenure means he's been heavily involved in many of those development decisions.

"We have great single family neighborhoods, we're gonna build a lot more single family neighborhoods," Skoog said. "But we also need to build some more downtown Overland Parks, and we're working on that with Prairiefire at 135th Street, Bluhawk at 159th, and at College Boulevard. We're looking to reinvigorate parts of College Boulevard to make them more dynamic."

Czinege cites two of those same developments as things that were handled incorrectly by the city.

"We give away too much money in tax subsidies for development, and not just apartment development, like Prairiefire and Bluhawk," Czinege said. "Things that businesses should be investing their own capital in and not putting that on the burden of the taxpayers."

Experience in Office

Czinege and Skoog have very different histories when it comes to running for office.

Skoog has represented Ward Two, in the northern part of the city, since 2005.

"I have had to make a lot of decisions in 16 years," Skoog said. "Not everybody is happy with every decision that we made. But we...have built an incredible community, and it's based on all of us working together."

Czinege has never run for office. He tells KSHB 41 that he's only ever attended one Overland Park City Council meeting in person, but has watched several others online. But, he says the city is changing and not necessarily for the better.

"I want to preserve the neighborhood suburban quality of life, that all the residents who moved here, a year ago, a decade ago, multiple decades ago, when they invested in their homes, that they can continue to have that same quality of life," Czinege said. "And not be worried that the city's going to re-zone the open land next to them, and put up an apartment building."

"My finding is city council doesn't listen to the residents anymore," Czinege said. "That's one of the key things that I want to do, is restore the voice of the residents to city council."

COVID-19

The city of Overland Park does not have its own health department, so it relies on the guidance of Johnson County when it comes to COVID-19 protocols.

Skoog and Czinege offer very different opinions about not only the virus, but efforts taken to prevent its spread.

Skoog is vaccinated, and says he encourages everyone to do the same.

He says Overland Park's hotel and tourism industry has been hit hard during the pandemic, and he cites the vaccine as an important part of the city moving past Covid.

"The important thing is to keep kids in school, and keep businesses open," Skoog said. "And the only way we can do that is for people to get vaccinated, and people follow the guidance laid out by Johnson County Public Health. Listen to the experts so that we can stop this virus from spreading among us."

Czinege takes a different approach.

"My personal view, after a lot of research, is vaccines and masks should be individual choices," Czinege said. "They shouldn't be mandated."

Czinege said that he and his entire immediate family have had COVID-19. He has chosen not to be vaccinated and says he's done extensive research on his own to support that decision.

"There are lots of resources around the world outside of the CDC, and the NIH, and the WHO that you can look and see specific data on the strength of the vaccine, the strength of natural immunity, and it's clear," Czinege said. "Natural immunity is stronger and longer lasting."

Dr. Dana Hawkinson, medical director of infection prevention and control at the KU Health System, described the difference between natural immunity and vaccination on KU's morning media update on Oct. 26th:

"We see that natural infection does have some durable immunity," Hawkinson said. "But what we see is vaccination also has significantly durable immunity, but also probably the added benefit of the wider breadth of that immune response to identify and tackle variants that may be circulating, variants that we know about, but even other variants that we don't know about."

Partisan Politics in Municipal Elections

The issue of political party affiliation has been a major talking point in this race. One of the biggest factors in that change has been Czinege's willingness to be more open about his personal politics.

"People want to know what your political affiliation is," Czinege said.

Czinege's campaign signs feature an elephant, the traditional symbol for the Republican Party, in the logo, and he introduces himself as a conservative.

"Non-partisan means in a local election, the party doesn't appear on the ballot," Czinege said. "It doesn't mean people don't represent their political views when they're dealing on City Council, when they're dealing with residents. People want to know."

Czinege also questioned the way Skoog identifies politically.

"If it's not important in who you are, then why did Curt Skoog change his party affiliation in March or April of 2021, right before he filed? He's been a republican his entire political career until now," Czinege said.

"The mayor of Overland Park needs to be the leader of everybody in the city, and once you put a label on somebody, you discount the other people," Skoog said. "I'm about everybody, however far right, or however far left, or like most of us, right down the middle. It's about all of us coming together and building a consensus about what we want to do moving forward."

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2nd. In the August primary, Mike Czinege received approximately 3500 votes more than Curt Skoog, with two other candidates in the race.