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Kansas City Missouri Women's Heritage Trail
Item 5 of 26

Kay Barnes was elected Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, in March 1999, becoming the first female mayor of the city. She served two consecutive terms as mayor, from 1999 until 2007. Throughout her mayoralty, she spearheaded the efforts to bring the H&R Block's World Headquarters to downtown Kansas City, Missouri, on 13th Street and Main Street. Her efforts throughout her mayor ship brought about infrastructure improvements and propelled maintenance work in the city forward, bringing new life to the downtown area and the city as a whole. She, along with the City Council of the time, gained citizens' votes to improve fire stations, ambulance services, and the police force throughout the city, additionally helping with safety and response times within the city. She received the Central Exchange Visionary of the Year award in 2007 and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Kansas Citian of the Year award in 2018 for both her accomplishments as the first female mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and her following accomplishments outside of office.

Portrait of Mayor Kay Barnes

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Kay Barnes, also referenced as Kay Cronkite Waldo or Kay Waldo Barnes, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, to Fritz Cronkite, a high school football and basketball, and her mother, a school teacher. Both her parents encouraged Kay to help others and make an impact on the community throughout her life. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education from the University of Kansas, starting her career as an educator after graduation. Later, she would re-enter Academia, receiving a Master's degree in secondary education in 1971, followed by a Master of Public Administration degree in 1978, both from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She would put her education to great use as a public servant for most of her career.

Kay attributes both her time spent with her cousin Walter Cronkite, the former CBS news anchor, and a summer spent in Washington, D.C. with her father to her interest in politics later in life. When she visited Washington, D.C., her father was the Chief of Staff to the Missouri Congressman, allowing her time in both the House and Senate galleries to see the nation's political process firsthand. Her visit aligned with the Civil Rights debates and the senator Joseph McCarthy hearings, thus opening her eyes to the many difficult issues that permeate the political and governmental theatre in the United States.

Prior to her mayoral terms, Kay participated in many political opportunities. She worked for Cross-Line Cooperative Council, positioned in the urban core, in the 1960s, and also founded her own business, Kay Waldo, Inc., dedicated to the development of human resources. In 1974, Kay became one of the first two women elected to the Jackson County legislature. Additionally, in 1979, Kay was elected to the Kansas City, Missouri City Council for the 4th District seat, holding the position for one full council term. From 1996 until 1998, she served as the chair of the Tax Increment Finance Commission, giving her extensive training in economic development and other economic issues that would be prevalent during her later terms as mayor. When Kay was elected the first woman mayor of Kansas City, Missouri in 1999, the urban core of the city was, as many described, simply surviving, not thriving. Kay made it her mission to improve the city throughout her terms, revitalizing downtown Kansas City, Missouri, and creating a blueprint for expansion and improvements throughout the first decades of the 21st century.

At the time that Mayor Barnes was in office, the mayor of Kansas City, Kansas was Carol Marinovich, the first female mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, and mayor/CEO of the unified Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS governments. Their mayor ships demonstrated a growing acceptance of women in higher political roles at the time, that would continue to grow throughout the coming decades. Mayor Barnes understood the growing need to revitalize Kansas City's downtown area, leading to multi-billion dollar investments, both public and private, to improve the urban core of the city. As a member of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission, Kay found that the construction of an arena in the downtown area would be economically beneficial to the city. Thus, she spearheaded a campaign for the development of the Sprint Center, which opened in October of 2007 and still serves the city today.

She additionally led the efforts to move the H&R Block World Headquarters to downtown Kansas City, where it is still located between 13th Street and Main Street. This development pushed further revitalization efforts along, and also brought many jobs and new residents to the area. She also led the charge for converting buildings in the downtown area into apartments and lofts, leading to a flood of over 7,000 residents entering the downtown area. Her leadership also led to the opening of the Power and Light District, which not only attracts Kansas Citians for entertainment, but also serves a tourist attraction within the city. Her accomplishments as mayor led to growth within the downtown area of Kansas City that extended well beyond her terms as mayor. By 2017, there were 26,000 residents in the downtown area, as compared to its 2,000 residents in 2002. Her blueprint for urban developments, infrastructure change, and economic improvements have continued to be recognized today.

Her accomplishments extend past her political career, including the co-founding of the Women's Central Exchange in Kansas City, a personal and professional development organization for women in the Greater Kansas City area. She also founded the Center for Leadership at Park University in 2007, where she also served as a distinguished professor for public leadership. She would later serve as Senior Director for University Engagement at Park University. She also helped establish the Women's Resource Service, or the Women's Center, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She has since received countless distinguished awards, including the Central Exchange Visionary of the Year award in 2007, the 2018 UMKC Alumna of the Year award, and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce 2018 Kansas Citian of the Year award. She was inducted into the Starr Women's Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2015.

Mayor Kay Barnes set the stage for improvements within the urban core of Kansas City, Missouri, that lasted long after her two terms as mayor. As the first woman mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, she represented the ever-evolving political landscape within the United States, serving as an example of the expansion of women's roles in government.

  1. A Champion for Downtown and Women, UMKC Today Archives. April 30th 2018. Accessed July 17th 2022.
  2. Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., Kansas City, MO, 64123 (accessed March 8, 2022). Wall Plaques: Wall text. Our Neighborhoods, Our Stories, Kansas City Museum, Kansas City, Missouri.
  3. Kay Barnes, The Pendergast Years. Accessed July 17th 2022.
  4. The Chamber's 2018 Kansas Citian of the Year: Mayor Kay Barnes, KC Chamber. November 27th 2018. Accessed July 17th 2022.