Kansas City, Missouri Mayoral candidate Jason Kander officially withdrew from the 2019 race this afternoon, citing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression that has led to suicidal thoughts.
Kander’s shocking statement acknowledged recurring PTSD since he returned 11 years ago from Afghanistan, where he served as an Army Intelligence Officer. In the statement, Kander conceded that his time serving the military continues to impact him on a daily basis. The mayoral candidate described feeling unworthy of the harrowing symptoms that continued to shadow him.
“So many men and women who served our country did so much more than me and were in so much more danger than I was on my four-month tour,” Kander said. “I can’t have PTSD, I told myself, because I didn’t earn it.”
As his mayoral campaign kicked off, Kander reached out to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for help. Even that step, however, was a half-measure. Kander admitted leaving “boxes unchecked” on his forms, the result of being “too scared to acknowledge my true symptoms.”
“I knew I needed help and yet I still stopped short. I was afraid of the stigma,” Kander said. “I was thinking about what it could mean for my political future if someone found out.”
In retrospect, Kander now acknowledges the error of his thinking. His mental health continued to spiral even as he experienced multiple personal successes: a strong public reaction to his mayoral announcement; a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list with his first book, Outside the Wire; the ongoing effectiveness of Let America Vote, the Kander-founded voting rights organization; even the news last week that his campaign was set to raise more money than any mayoral campaign ever had in a single quarter.
“But instead of celebrating that accomplishment, I found myself on the phone with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, tearfully conceding that, yes, I have had suicidal thoughts,” Kander wrote. “And it wasn’t the first time.”
Kander also explained his thought process in running for mayor: his hope that he could outrun depression and PTSD by moving back to his hometown and throwing himself into public service. With his symptoms continuing to worsen, however, Kander went to the VA on Monday, October 1, to begin the process of finally getting help. As part of that process, he has officially withdrawn from the mayoral race, and will similarly step away from day-to-day work at Let America Vote.
“Having made the decision not to run for mayor, my next question was whether I would be public about the reason why,” Kander wrote. “I decided to be public for two reasons: First, I think being honest will help me through this. And second, I hope it helps veterans and everyone else across the country working through mental health issues realize that you don’t have to try to solve it on your own.”
Kander closed his open letter by sharing the VA Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255), and vowing that this isn’t goodbye.
“Once I work through my mental health challenges, I fully intend to be working shoulder to shoulder with all of you again,” Kander concluded. “But I’m passing my oar to you for a bit. I hope you’ll grab it and fight like hell to make this country the place we know it can be.”
Those from across the political spectrum quickly emerged to offer their support for Kander, including long-time friend and mentor, Mayor Sly James.
“I’m proud of Jason for having the courage to share his struggle, and for doing what he needs to do to take care of his health. This could not have been an easy decision, but I know Jason is doing what is right for him and his family, and I’ve never been more proud to call him my friend and colleague,” James wrote in a statement. “His track record of outstanding service and tireless work ethic have raised the bar for many who aspire to serve in elected office. I applaud his bravery, and will do all I can to help him through his healing process.”
Third District Councilman and mayoral candidate Jermaine Reed also issued a statement in support of Kander’s brave decision.
“Jason Kander is a true American hero whose service to this country goes beyond politics,” Reed wrote. “We will never truly understand the sacrifices that Jason and veterans across Missouri have made on behalf of our great nation. My prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”
Other 2019 mayoral candidates spoke with the Northeast News in the hours after Kander’s shocking announcement.
“I appreciated his courage to talk about his story, and frankly it reminded me of many of the veterans that we have been trying to help with the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness,” said 1st District Councilman Scott Wagner, referring to the nationwide challenge perpetuated by U.S. mayors, city officials and governors. “I think that what he is doing is obviously in the best interest of his family and him personally.”
Wagner also acknowledged that he and his family spent months grappling with the decision of whether to run for Mayor of Kansas City, and that he is committed to remaining in the race.
“The reasons he gave are perfectly legitimate. I respect him for it. I hope he is able to get what he needs,” Wagner said. “It just goes to show that one does not get into this haphazardly. You’ve really got to know why you’re doing it. I’ve answered that question for myself, and I’m prepared to go the distance.”
Alissia Canady, 5th District Councilwoman and fellow mayoral candidate, said that it “speaks volumes” that Kander was willing to sacrifice a promising political career to work on his own mental health.
“I’m happy to hear that he’s acknowledging that he needs help and is taking steps to accomplish that,” Canady said.
Canady added that Kander’s powerful admission reaffirms her own campaign goal of making mental health care more widely available to Kansas City residents who are suffering.
“There are many people in the community who have experienced trauma and violence that don’t even realize that they need help with this, let alone where to go to find it,” Canady said.
Fellow 2019 mayoral candidate Quinton Lucas, also a 3rd District Councilman, expressed surprise and support after reading Kander’s letter.
“I feel compassion for Jason and his situation,” Lucas said. “Frankly, I’m also proud of him. I think it takes real bravery to admit that this is an issue.”
Lucas acknowledged that the revelation of Kander’s ongoing battles with depression and PTSD have allowed him a moment of introspection, as well.
“You give your life to it, and you give your life to it sometimes to the detriment to your health,” Lucas said of political career. “It’s got me to think more about, ‘Are you taking care of yourself, are you doing the things that are necessary?’ I think the answer is often, ‘no.’”
According to Lucas, Kander’s withdrawal from the 2019 mayoral race is yet another reminder that there is still work to be done by the current City Council. He also criticized the breathless intrigue over the race that occurred throughout this past summer, nearly a year before the mayoral primary. In particular, he recalled the criticism he received for “taking too long” to get into the race.
“A lot of that conversation was regrettable. Hopefully this gets people to think,” Lucas said. “We should probably center ourselves around some darn issues.”
Fellow candidate Phil Glynn published his own statement on social media.
“My family sought and benefited from mental health care throughout my life,” Glynn said. “I’m glad to know he’s found the resources he needs. I hope the best for him and his entire family.”
The surprising announcement is likely to send shock waves through Kansas City’s political landscape, as rumors buzzed throughout the afternoon that at least one candidate who had previously withdrawn from the race – 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus – would be re-entering the fray in the wake of Kander’s withdrawal.
Justus could not be reached to confirm or deny those rumors, though she did release a statement of support for Kander, saying she was “proud to call Jason my friend.”
“It takes genuine courage to acknowledge, especially publicly, the challenges of mental health and to be assertive and proactive in dealing with those challenge,” Justus wrote. “Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Jason that he would choose this courageous path.”
Representatives from Kander’s KCMO mayoral campaign declined to provide a comment for this story. The upcoming KCMO mayoral primary will take place on April 2, 2019, and the subsequent mayoral election will be held on June 25, 2019.