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Behind the Headlines: What to make of Jason Kander's decision to drop out of mayoral race

St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jo Mannies (at left) and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Craig, director of UMSL's Veterans Studies program, joined Friday's talk show.
File photos | David Kovaluk and Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

When St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jo Mannies talked at length with Jason Kander earlier this year, the former Missouri secretary of state seemed upbeat about his next political move: running for mayor in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri.

“More so than some other statewide Democrats who lost in 2016, Kander has been the one who’s really tried to forge a new path for himself – and did so pretty quickly,” Mannies said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air.

So when the rising political star announced earlier this week that he was ending his mayoral campaign, citing a struggle with depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, it came as a surprise and “was shocking” to her.

“I finally went to the VA in Kansas City yesterday and have started the process to get help there regularly,” Kander, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, wrote in his announcement. “To allow me to concentrate on my mental health, I’ve decided that I will not be running for mayor of Kansas City.”

Mannies joined host Don Marsh for political analysis of Kander’s decision to leave the race, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jim Craig, who directs the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Veteran Studies program, also joined the conversation.

Craig said he views Kander’s decision as one more way in which the veteran is leading.

“He led at the secretary of state level, he led in the Army, he led as a candidate and he’s leading now – it’s kind of part of who he is,” the faculty member said. “He’s leading in a different way by being public about something that’s so painful and so difficult. But I think this statement actually helps … other veterans understand that it’s OK to struggle with your experiences.

“In fact, a guy like this who seems like he’s on top of his game, if you read what he’s writing about, he was pushing so hard to get away from something behind him. And he’s finally just decided he’s got to turn around and face it.”

Craig added that “PTSD and depression aren’t deal breakers for being a public servant.”

“There are public servants who do this all the time,” he said. “And in fact his service seems to have been driven by the demons inside him in some way, and now if he can get those under control then he’s going to come back even better. It’s going to be tough to criticize Jason Kander for working through issues. It seems like we’ve moved on from that in our world.”

Related resource
The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Veterans and servicemembers seeking help are encouraged to press 1 after dialing.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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