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Thursday, November 11, 2010

3rd District Leadership

Well, it's out there now. Durwin Rice is seriously considering running for the 3rd District At-Large city council seat currently held by Melba Curls. Melba is running for re-election. Also in the race is Brandon Ellington, who ran in the last election for the in-district seat against eventual winner, Sharon Saunders Brooks.

Durwin is an all-around nice person, committed to improving the urban core, active in local civic affairs, and the kind of ally you want to have supporting your cause. He has served the city on PIAC as the 4th district rep, founded Tulips on Troost and works tirelessly for that effort, and was one of the first businesses to glam up Troost before it had been done by anyone other than the long-time locals. He is a good steward of Kansas City. I consider him a friend.

As his friend, I have to say that he should not run for this seat.

He recently moved from the 4th district to the 3rd in order to be eligible to run. Other pols have done this. Sharon Brooks did it so she could run in the 3rd in the last election. Michael Fletcher did it so he can run in the 3rd this time. Moving is not the biggest issue, though, one is open to criticism of carpet-bagging by moving to a district just so you can run for office.

Durwin, unlike Sharon and Michael, is white. The question that will dominate the election is whether he should run as a leader in a predominantly black and hispanic district? Already the blog trolls are posting about who "ought" to represent the 3rd, whose district it is, and the quality of previous representation. The undercurrent is that the 3rd district is not capable of producing good leaders. This debate is fraught with errors, inconsistencies, double-standards, and just plain racism. Durwin, how will you mediate this?

I'm white and I have lived in the heart of the 3rd district. Doesn't mean I should run for city council and I wouldn't. I'm qualified. I think I could do a good job. I could represent the entire city in an at-large seat. But there is a reason the city has residency requirements for at-large seats. So that someone from that area may step up and represent the entire city through the lens of that district. Difficult to represent if you haven't lived there and if you are not "of" the community. I am not afraid to say that I am a good ally of the 3rd district. But I am not a leader of the 3rd. Neither is Durwin.

Before everyone starts quoting MLK and the character vs. color refrain, you have to bear witness to what it means to be a person of color. I am not, so I can only interpret. That is not good enough for a leader. I have white privilege. I can drive as I please, go where I please, and never think twice about anyone stopping me, questioning me, or hassling me for no good reason. I can go just about anywhere in the city and be in the majority. I can watch the news and see people just like me leading the city, making decisions, telling us what to do. I will never be seriously threatened in print or in public because of my skin color. I will not be judged by anyone who looks like me for being white. I never have to operate knowing there is a double standard because of my race (gender is another matter). I do not have to fear the police simply for being on the street, in a car, in a store, or just being.

I have seen my privilege in action as a resident of the 3rd. I have seen the discrimination that has been put upon my 3rd district neighbors by other whites. I am an ally, which means, I got your back. But I cannot be a 3rd district leader because I do not have the life experiences to represent the people of that district through the lens of their life experiences. I cannot adequately bring their point of reference to the decision table. I would only be a proxy.

Durwin Rice will only be a proxy leader if he is elected and there is a very good chance he will be. Melba Curls is being criticized as an ineffective leader for the 3rd. She is a wonderful person and very well intentioned. She comes from a long family history of public service to the community, the city, and the state. These qualities, however, do not necessarily make her the best leader for the district or the city. I believe, however, that at the end of the day, she is a better representative than Durwin could ever be for the 3rd district. But an at-large seat is voted on by everyone in the city, including north of the river and south side. Given a choice between Durwin and Melba, I fear that my people will vote through their own lens and Durwin will win.

As for Brandon Ellington...he is the type of 3rd district leader that is up and coming. I have supported him in the past and support him again this go round. He is dedicated, honest, and sincere. Doesn't mean he has the best qualities to lead the district. But at the end of the day, he is a better representative than Durwin could ever be for the 3rd district.

Some readers will surmise that you must be a person of color to run as a leader in the 3rd district and that as long as you have color, you can run. That's the leap of logic that will dominate this conversation and is in error. It is not color that is the issue, but rather, being "of the community" in order to accurately represent through the lens of that district. The 3rd district deserves excellent representation and exceptional leaders as does every district in the city. It also deserves someone who can effectively represent the people of the 3rd district and bring their point of reference to the larger table of city decision making.

Kansas City is a place of nice people and pleasantries. It also is a place of fierce politics. I think that is why I like the city so much. I will catch flack for speaking so plainly, I'm sure. But I am in a position to say these things because I have lived in the 3rd and I am white. I am urging Durwin Rice not to run.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Citizens Association Q/A of Mayoral Candidates

Update: Mike Burke gets the CA endorsement for Mayor

Four mayoral candidates were quizzed by the influential citizens group - Citizens Association - and TKC - Tony's Kansas City blogged it with live tweets - thank you TKC for giving people at least a glimpse of what was going on in an important forum. See his tweets here:!/TKCLiveTweets.

There was one question about the 3rd district and another about poverty that merit attention here. See one of my previous blog posts on the 5 questions I would ask any candidate about their vision for the 3rd district. Here are the tweets as Tony posted them - first on poverty, then on 3rd district.

Rowland on poverty: It will take a massive level of cooperation to address the complex issue of poverty.
Tony Bee
Deb Hermann and Sly talk education as an answer to poverty.
Tony Bee
KMBC'S Mahoney moderates and asks about poverty. Mike Burke: The best solution to poverty is to create jobs.


Tony Bee
Sly James touts grants and biz cooperation to foster 3rd district development.
Tony Bee
Deb Hermann on 3rd District Development: We need to focus on infrastructure.
Tony Bee
Another Looooooong question from Bonaye (sp?) about developing the 3rd.


It's difficult to judge the quality of answers since I wasn't there and I must rely on the quality of tweets. Hopefully, news reports will speak to this in greater detail. Here is Yael A.'s KC Star thought piece:

I will say, however, that Deb's focus on infrastructure for the 3rd is not a very enlightened answer - though there certainly are infrastructure needs in the 3rd. If you build it, no one will come. And Mike's response that jobs are the answer to poverty is about as lame as they come. Of course jobs are an antidote to poverty - but are you saying that KC does not have enough jobs or that 3rd district residents haven't gotten them - either way - there is a large underlying issue that the generic "jobs" won't fix. It is a matter of getting 3rd district residents into said jobs and that is an answer fraught with peril that most of these candidates won't touch. Sly's response about grants and biz cooperation sounds nice, but we have been there and done that - 18th and Vine.

None of these candidates have said - invest in residents. None of the candidates said - cooperate with people who live there to build their assets so the 3rd district can be competitive. None of these candidates will address white privilege - not as a mea culpa - but as an honest understanding of one of the reasons why the 3rd district languishes. What responsibility are each of these candidates willing to take in the making of our current situation? I would bet - none.

Here's another interesting contribution to understanding the Mayoral Election: A Great Mayor for a Great City at Billed as a citizen's site of 40 and 50 somethings who want to make a difference in improving KCMO via the mayoral election. You can read "In Their Own Words" from candidates and you can vote in a popularity poll for the candidate of your choice.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Moving Forward

I've just been letting the Tuesday election returns sit for a bit. I can't change them. I can only move forward. The election post-mortem is always filled with conciliatory statements which will be followed a few days later by finger pointing and sniping. Never our best moment as a collective society.

Mitch McConnell said today that his number one goal is to get Obama out of office in 2012 so that he can advance the Republican agenda. I get that politics is a contest and I get that we disagree. But winning has become everything and moving forward has left the equation. I get that the R's don't like the Health Care bill, but to suggest that they must repeal it is just folly. A great many people in this country want Health Care reform. Why can't we accept at least part of it and move forward. When George Bush said we had to go to war, many people protested, but when we went to war people acknowledged it and said lets find a way forward. The fact that politics in this country is becoming intractable is a scary thought. We rely on our political process and our constitutional system to work. I don't know that we would get through Watergate in 2010.

Now that the national elections are over we can turn our full attention to local KC elections in February. We should know who's running in another week or so and rumors are flying about who will be in and who will not run. While the elections are great sport, we have to look at how the city will be governed after the election. If we have district and city-wide bloodbath battles, what will be the way forward? The mayor said in his latest news release or newsletter that Jeff Roe was the best political consultant in the world. Was the mayor pandering to republican voters? Is he willing to write off democratic party loyalists? Do I care? NO. I want to know what the Mayor has to say about what he has done and how he is going to move the city forward. On that he seems to be less sure.

I hope that candidates will be pressed for their position on governance as much as their position on issues. Platitudes of cooperation ain't gonna cut it. I want to know where the rubber meets the road and what that looks like to them. Otherwise, it won't matter who is elected.