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.