A 23-year-old Kansas mayor who re-installed himself in office last month in what some horrified observers said was “essentially a coup” is refusing to leave in the face of furious community opposition.
At a contentious city council meeting Monday night, Goddard Mayor Hunter Larkin invoked the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, suggesting that he—Larkin—was also a visionary attempting to “change the world.”
In a move that one Goddard resident likened to “Germany in 1935,” Larkin manipulated existing rules to reclaim a position he’d lost in May 2022 following a news report detailing questionable ties to a local real estate family. After his ouster in 2022, Larkin was arrested for DUI, then launched a bid for the statehouse, promising he would spend his time focusing on “voter integrity, the right to bear arms, protecting the unborn and keeping Critical Race Theory (CRT) out of schools.” He lost. However, as The Daily Beast reported last month, Larkin kept his seat on the Goddard City Council, eventually using his position to gain other members’ support behind the scenes before dispatching then-Mayor Larry Zimmerman along with a city administrator who had been critical of his business dealings.
The move by Larkin, a baby-faced Republican who last year promoted an appearance in Goddard by accused sex pest and conservative celeb Matt Schlapp, was enough to stun a local columnist who has witnessed just about everything.
“I have to hand it to Larkin,” wrote Dion Lefler of the Wichita Eagle. “I’ve covered cities for a long time and have seldom seen a political takeover that was this sleazy, and yet this well-orchestrated.”
On Monday, a longtime resident of the town, whose bid for his own seat on the council failed as part of Larkin’s astonishing takeover, got up to address the meeting.
“As I told The Daily Beast two weeks ago, if I can’t do it from up there,” referring to the council dais, “I’ll do it from out here,” hospice chaplain Jeffery Jones told Larkin and the others. “... I would like for you to resign, number one. Not just as mayor, but I need you to step down from the council. You have a hallway that stretches down to the lobby, of people who, for lack of a better word, are pissed, mayor.”
About 100 people showed up to the meeting, of which roughly 20 got up to address Larkin and the council. All said they were upset. Many said they were embarrassed.
“I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I think you ought to resign,” one resident said. “... This is a huge moment in our city’s history, and we’ve got your stink all over it. We’ve got a stain on this city, the corruption, sitting right there, It’s insane to me. Yes, it might be legal what you did. It might be within the bylaws or whatever. But it’s not right… We deserve so much better… We want you out of here… Because we cannot trust you.”
A woman who described herself as a lifelong Goddard resident also called for Larkin to resign, saying, “We’ve been on the national news one other time… It was when there was a shooting at the middle school… It was a very painful time for our town. This is worse.”
A high school student who got up to speak put it in simple terms: “If you have any honor at all, you would resign… You are not good for our community.”
Another woman stepped up to the lectern and demanded the entire city council step down. Her husband, who she described as a “very soft-spoken person,” became so upset by Larkin’s sneaky return that she said the two may move elsewhere.
One by one, the refrain was the same: Larkin does not have the trust of Goddard’s citizens.
“I want to know that everybody on this council, [that] you don't have any ties in with contractors, developers, your decisions are made for Goddard and not for your billfold,” said resident Bill Lynch. “What has changed with Hunter Larkin? I don’t have any faith that you’re going to make decisions in the best interests of Goddard.”
When the speakers were finished, Larkin decided to offer a rebuttal.
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything,” he began. “But I think I’m going to.”
He then claimed to quote Jobs, coming out from behind the dais and speaking to the assembled Goddardians as if he were giving a sermon.
“Here’s to the crazy ones,” Larkin declared, citing a famous soliloquy that was in fact written by an ad agency copywriter. “The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But, about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while others may see you as the crazy one, we see genius. Because the ones who think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
Larkin then vowed, without a hint of irony, that the council would be “more transparent than ever before,” promising to “work harder than ever before.”
“I know that what happened at the last meeting was tough. But it was done out of love,” he said, provoking scattered laughter. “Words don’t do much. But actions speak louder than words… And we will make you proud. And I promise that.”
One person applauded—a city councilman sitting on the dais. When no one else got up to speak, the council moved on to the presentation of the Goddard Gratitude Award to local residents Earl and Sherry Lauer.
Ex-Goddard councilman Michael Proctor, who relinquished his seat on Dec. 31, is leading a recall effort to force Larkin from office.
“For elected officials to hold themselves out as listening to the people, he really needs to listen to the calls for resignation,” Proctor told The Daily Beast on Tuesday, describing Larkin’s quoting of Jobs as “cringe.”
“His attitude is, ‘Gather ’round, children,’” Proctor said, noting that he and a bipartisan group of supporters have hired an attorney to get the recall process underway.
Jones, for his part, said in a text message, “If last night wasn't public enough, we can turn it up a notch.”
Lefler, the Wichita Eagle columnist, believes any potential recall “is probably doomed to fail.”
“State recall law is so politician-friendly that about the only way to get rid of one is if they murder somebody or are in a coma,” he wrote Tuesday morning. “There’s only one consolation for the Goddard citizens troubled by the strange turn their city has taken without their democratic consent. The council primary will be in August and the general election in November. Here’s hoping that not too much havoc gets wrought by then.”
In response to The Daily Beast’s repeated requests for comment, Larkin on Tuesday afternoon replied in a text message, “I have no desire to talk to the fake news media.”