Kander, citing mental health concerns, drops out of KC race

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jason Kander, a rising star in Democratic politics who narrowly lost a 2016 Senate bid, dropped out of the race for mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, on Tuesday so he could get help for post-traumatic stress and depression that he said he has suffered from for more than a decade.

Kander, 37, said in an announcement Tuesday that he has tried since leaving the military to ignore his symptoms but finally decided it was time to step away from politics and concentrate on becoming healthy.

“So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me,” Kander said. “That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it.”

Kander, a former Army intelligence officer, said he contacted the Veterans Administration for help about four months ago but his condition worsened and he recently called the VA hospital to say he has had suicidal thoughts. He said he went to the VA Monday and began the process of getting treatment.

Kander was considered a likely favorite in the 2019 Kansas City mayoral race. He lost by 3 percentage points to incumbent Republican Roy Blunt in Missouri’s 2016 Senate race — a strong showing in a state Republican Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points.

Blunt said in a statement Tuesday that it is important to talk about mental health issues.

“When people like former Secretary of State Kander are willing to do so, it moves the entire discussion in the right direction,” Blunt said.

His decision to enter the mayoral race surprised many observers at the time because he was considered a strong candidate for national office. He said Tuesday he entered the mayoral race hoping it would help his mental health.

“I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me,” Kander wrote. “But it’s just getting worse.”

Kander’s 2016 campaign drew national attention both for his strong challenge to Blunt, a veteran politician with strong name recognition, and a TV ad that went viral. The ad showed a blindfolded Kander putting together a rifle while discussing his support for background checks for gun owners.

The 2016 campaign also gave Kander a national profile. Former President Barack Obama was asked on his last full day in office: “Who do you see out there in the Democratic Party today as a rising star?”

Obama replied: “My guy in Missouri. Kander.”

Kander said he decided to be public about his mental health battle in part because he felt honesty would help him persevere.

“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,” he said.

Since losing the election, Kander has written a book, “Outside the Wire: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned In Everyday Courage,” and founded the nonprofit Let America Vote that seeks to ease restrictions borne by voter ID laws. He announced his mayoral bid in Missouri’s largest city in June. He said Tuesday he will step away from day-to-day operation of Let America Vote while he focuses on his mental health.

Kander spent four years as Missouri’s secretary of state and four years as a state House representative before that.


Summer Ballentine contributed to this report from Jefferson City.