“Lily Wu, a former television news reporter, announced Sunday that she is running for mayor of Wichita. And Pete Meitzner, Sedgwick County Commission chairman, said he will back Wu instead of entering the race.
Wu, a political newcomer, has amassed a broad coalition of supporters. About 300 people showed up for her Sunday afternoon campaign kickoff event, representing a wide spectrum of civic leaders and personalities she has covered as a reporter at KAKE News and KWCH, from Wichita Public Schools Superintendent Alicia Thompson to former Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell.
“People are going to start noticing there’s something very unique about our campaign,” Wu said. “You can see it in this room. My support comes from a very diverse group of people from all walks of life and every corner of our city. We all have one thing in common. We all love Wichita.”
“The TV screen is too small to contain a woman like Lily Wu,” said local news veteran Larry Hatteberg, who worked with Wu at KAKE early in her career. “You could tell this woman was different,” Hatteberg recalled. “There was a quiet power that accompanied her wherever she went.”
The crowd of supporters at Brick & Mortar Venue on Sunday included several leaders of influential business groups, including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Wichita Partnership.
Wu said the city should be more collaborative with private businesses large and small.
“You’ll see city and business working together all for Wichita to compete regionally and to attract new industry, investment and people,” she said.
Wu said she wants to Wichita to be a more open and transparent government.
“All too often, our faith in local government has been weakened by scandals, concerns of corruption and immaturity,” Wu said. “We need a refreshing leader who promotes collaboration and protects our hard-earned tax dollars. As mayor, I’ll restore integrity and civility to City Hall.”
Wu, who changed her party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian in 2022, is running on increasing funding to public safety, including the police department, which has more officers than in the past but continues to struggle to hire enough officers to fill the budgeted positions.
“The Wichita Police Department has between 65 and 70 unfilled positions right now,” Wu said. “That is unacceptable, and one is too many. As mayor, I’ll prioritize staffing our public safety departments and empower them to serve more effectively.”
Wu supporter Todd Ramsey, founder of Apples & Arrows marketing company, said he thinks she would make an excellent mayor.
“I believe the role of mayor is one of spokesperson and bridge builder and champion for our city,” Ramsey said. “A mayor isn’t in the position to create policy or push a political agenda. They are one of seven votes on the city council. They are not an administrator. From what I understand of Lily’s background . . . I think that she would be a great champion for Wichita. She has the ability to attract people from all political spectrums, from all walks of life, and I think she would be a great representative for our city.”
Wu joins a crowded field of high-profile candidates challenging Mayor Brandon Whipple in the August primary.
Save Century II founder Celeste Racette, City Council member Bryan Frye and former City Council member Jared Cerullo have announced plans to enter the race.
Meitzner, a Republican who previously held a seat on the City Council with fellow Republican Frye, said he was weighing a run for mayor until about a month ago, when he had a sit-down conversation with Wu. She impressed him so much that it made his decision not to run an easy one. He said he is supporting Wu because she brings a fresh perspective to local government.
“Bryan’s a good guy,” Meitzner said. “I think Bryan or Lily would make a fine mayor. But the difference is just her youthfulness and the energy. But I like Bryan a lot. We’re friends, and if he wins, it’ll be great. I’ll work with him for sure.”
Guest speakers at Wu’s kickoff event included Meitzner; Junetta Everett, chairperson of the Kansas Health Foundation; and Jon Rolph, Kansas Board of Regents chairman, CEO of Thrive Restaurant Group and vice chairman of the Greater Wichita Partnership, an economic development group that receives city and county subsidies to attract businesses to the area. Rolph also backed the Lyndy Wells write-in campaign in 2019, which pulled in nearly 17% of votes in the mayoral race.
“This city has great momentum right now,” Rolph said. “I feel like we’ve started to make the turn away from a dying rust-belt manufacturing city and into the manufacturing community of the future. I feel like people are proud and beginning to feel more and more proud about calling Wichita their home. And having a fresh face and fresh energy coming as mayor, it’s the perfect time for Lily Wu to be running for mayor.”
It’s unclear if the Kansas Chamber of Commerce will pick sides in the race.
Wu’s campaign treasurer, Bill Pickert, is on the executive committee of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a managing partner at FORVIS, one of the state’s largest accounting firms. Frye works for the Kansas Chamber as the senior director of investor relations.
If elected, Wu would be the first Asian-American mayor in Wichita and the second woman to win a citywide race for mayor.
The primary election on Aug. 1 will narrow the field to two candidates, and Wichita will pick its next mayor on Nov. 7.