Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander dropped out of the Kansas City, Missouri, mayoral race on Tuesday, saying in a post on his campaign website that he needs to focus on his mental health due to PTSD.
“I finally went to the VA in Kansas City yesterday and have started the process to get help there regularly,” Kander wrote. “To allow me to concentrate on my mental health, I’ve decided that I will not be running for mayor of Kansas City.”
Kander, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, said he suffers from depression and has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including suicidal thoughts. Saying that he had to "stop running, turn around, and confront it," Kander noted that he went to the VA on Monday to start getting help.
He also thanked Kansas City residents for the outpouring of support since he announced his mayoral run in June.
“But I can’t work on myself and run a campaign the way I want to at the same time, so I’m choosing to work on my depression,” Kander said.
There are still eight other candidates vying to replace Mayor Sly James in the 2019 election.
Kander's entrance into the race came as a surprise, especially to the other candidates. It even prompted City Councilwoman Jolie Justus to drop out. She told KCUR on Tuesday that Kander's decision "changes the dynamics in the mayoral race in a way that we did not expect."
"So, I’m going to be having talks with Jason and my family and my supporters and continue to make decisions that I feel are in the best interest of the city," she said. "Until then I’m going to be standing with Jason and make sure he’s getting the help he needs.”
Mayoral candidate and city councilman Quinton Lucas said he knows this decision wasn’t easy for Kander.
“He's given his life to politics. He's given his life to public service and I think it's impressive to me today that he's saying he's going to make sure that he's giving some of his attention to his family and himself,” Lucas told KCUR.
Jason and I have been friends for years. He's always been a leader and he's shown that even more clearly now. Thank you for telling other veterans,and all of us really, that we don't need to suffer in silence. The impact he made today on so many is profound and I'm proud of him https://t.co/5eMuqBxQMH— Quinton Lucas (@QuintonLucasKC) October 2, 2018
Lucas acknowledged Kander was widely considered the front-runner, but said, "I imagine we will still have a competitive race.”
Kander served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan from October 2006 to the end of January 2007. He told the Kansas City Star in 2016 that he had not come under fire during that time. But on KCUR’s Up To Date in June, before announcing his candidacy and promoting his book “Outside the Wire,” Kander talked about a “high-stakes meeting” with an Afghan general “who was really not on the up and up.”
“It was a very frightening meeting, and I wasn't entirely sure I was going to get out of the room,” he said.
After his service, the Democrat served as a state representative starting in 2009, then was Missouri's secretary of state from 2013-2017 and lost the 2016 U.S. Senate race to GOP incumbent Roy Blunt in 2016.
In 2017, Kander started a nonprofit voting rights organization, Let America Vote, from which he said he's planning to to "step back." He also hosts a podcast.
Kander spoke with KCUR's Statehouse Blend earlier this year about his decision to run for mayor.
“Our city has seen tremendous progress, but it’s a question of whether that progress is going to felt and seen by everyone across town. That’s a change I want to see,” he said.
He said Tuesday that joining the race was a way to not have to deal with his depression and PTSD.
"Most recently, I thought that if I could come home and work for the city I love so much as its mayor, I could finally solve my problems. I thought if I focused exclusively on service to my neighbors in my hometown, that I could fill the hole inside of me," he said. "But it’s just getting worse.”
James said in a statement that Kander's "track record of outstanding service and tireless work ethic have raised the bar for many who aspire to serve in elected office."
Scott Wagner, another candidate and city councilman, said Kander's choice is "courageous."
“He is dealing with and going through what so many of those people who serve our country go through and so I appreciated him explaining it the way he did,” Wagner said, adding, “without doing that, his ability to be with his family and his ability to serve in a public capacity would have some issues.”
Jermaine Reed, another city councilmember in the race, called Kander a “hero” in a statement.
"Jason Kander is a true American hero whose service to this country goes beyond politics. We will never truly understand the sacrifices that Jason and veterans across Missouri have made on behalf of our great nation."
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who is also in the mayoral race, thanked Kander on Twitter.
My heart goes out to @JasonKander and his family as he addresses his personal #mentalhealth, an issue that many Americans face. Thank you for shedding spotlight on such an important issue & need for resources that I’ve repeatedly said is a Major concern we must address in KCMO. https://t.co/yuU00D8SQn— Alissia Canady (@canady4kc) October 2, 2018
Candidate Phil Glynn said that he's "had experiences in my family that have shown me that seeking mental health care is always the best decision when you need it," adding that he's glad Kander "found the resources that he needs."
Justus, who is friends with Kander, said that she was proud of him for opening up about his struggle.
“His courage to come forth and talk about the mental health challenge he has right now, especially publicly and in the arena we’re in, it makes me proud,” she said.
KCUR reporters Lisa Rodriguez, Sam Zeff and Andrea Tudhope and KCUR news intern Celisa Calacal contributed to this report.