Nine candidates running in nonpartisan primary for mayor of Wichita, Kansas

Nine candidates are running in the nonpartisan primary election for mayor of Wichita, Kansas, on Aug. 1. The top two vote-getters will advance to a Nov. 7 general election. Incumbent Brandon Whipple is running for re-election.

Dr. Russell Arben Fox, a political science professor at Friends University in Wichita, says that turnout in the primary will be important with so many candidates running: “The primary election is going to be a question of who is able to get their friends out into vote, who is able to get the people that are most closely associated with their social networks, their professional networks, their party networks, their political networks, out to vote.”

Jared Cerullo, Bryan Frye, Celeste Racette, Whipple, and Lily Wu lead in media mentions.

Whipple served in the state legislature as a Democrat from 2013 to 2020 and defeated then-incumbent Jeff Longwell in 2019 to become mayor. Whipple said he wanted Wichita to focus on large issues: “We need to aim big and solve big problems. We have more of a surplus in our rainy day fund than at any time in our city’s history. It isn’t the time to let our foot off the gas when it comes to growing more opportunities.”

Cerullo is a news anchor and reporter who served on the Wichita City Council from 2021 to 2022. The Wichita Eagle‘s Matthew Kelly wrote that “Cerullo has emerged as a vocal critic of Mayor Brandon Whipple, who he frequently sparred with on the City Council.”

Cerullo said he would avoid partisan politics if elected, saying, “We need to stop playing politics with City Hall and get back to the basics of serving our people. Making sure our roads are fixed, our bridges are fixed, our water is clean, our parks are kept up.”

Frye is the senior director of investor relations at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and previously worked in marketing in the broadcast television industry and founded an IT firm. At his campaign kick-off, Frye said the reason he ran for mayor was that “Wichita can be that next leading city, full of vibrancy and possibility. And we’ll do it with compassion, fairness, grit and forward thinking that has all neighborhoods represented.”

Racette is the founder and chairperson of Save Century II, an organization whose mission is to preserve Wichita’s Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center. She also is an accountant and auditor in the banking industry and worked for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Racette said she is running because “We want more of a voice in city government and how finances are handled. That’s why I’m running for mayor — to be the watchdog of our finances and to provide financial oversight to public over private interests, to enhance public safety and to save Century II.”

Wu was a reporter and news anchor for two Wichita-area television stations for 12 years and also served as a board member for three Wichita-area non-profit organizations. At her campaign announcement, she said why she was running: “Restoring trust in city hall really has to do with a change in leadership. I think what we need right now is a leader and an ambassador, like I mentioned, that helps bring back the trust (between residents and city representatives). We need to have that trust and a relationship is really based around trust, so we need to restore that critically.”

Shelia Davis, Anthony Gallardo, Tom Kane, and Julie Rose Stroud are also on the ballot. The filing deadline for this election was June 1.

Though the race is officially nonpartisan, Whipple is a Democrat who succeeded Longwell—a Republican—in 2019. The Wichita Eagle‘s Chance Swaim reported that “Frye and Cerullo are Republicans. Racette and Wu, both first-time candidates for city office, recently changed parties. Wu switched from Republican to Libertarian in 2022, and Racette changed from Democratic to unaffiliated in 2021.

As of June 2023, Democrats held 62 of the mayoral offices in the 100 largest cities in the United States, Republicans held 26, independents held three, and nonpartisan mayors held seven. Two mayors’ partisan affiliations were unknown.

Wichita has a council-manager system of government where the elected city council—which includes the mayor and serves as the city’s primary legislative body—appoints a chief executive called a city manager to oversee day-to-day municipal operations and implement the council’s policy and legislative initiatives.

Additional reading:

Mayoral election in Wichita, Kansas (2019)

Partisanship in United States municipal elections (2023)