Yael T. Abouhalkah

How blacks, Hispanics aim to gain more power at City Hall

Several politically involved black and Hispanic leaders have laid out their plan for gaining more power for their communities at City Hall.

The proposal would require a huge change in how Kansas Citians elect their City Council members.

Two problems: It might not even get past the current City Council or Kansas City voters, and it might not work as the minority leaders hope it will.

Gwen Grant — president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City — and Cris Medina — CEO of Guadalupe Centers — told the Charter Review Commission this week that they want to try to reduce the ability of white voters to elect six at-large council members in the current system, along with six in-district council members.

They and other minority leaders claim the current system allows the majority white population in the city to have too much control over what happens at City Hall.

Part of the offered proof is this: Two white women (Becky Nace, followed by Cindy Circo) have won an at-large seat in the black-majority 5th District for the last four elections, thanks to voters from outside that district helping to put the female candidate over the top.

The proposed “solution” is this: Split Kansas City into 12 districts, then pack at least four of them with black majorities and one of them with a close-to Hispanic majority.

Voila: Minority candidates should be able to win at least five of the 12 district seats. That would be 42 percent of the seats, close to the 45 percent or so total black/Hispanic population in the city.

A big problem is that this idea of 12 in-district seats likely won’t be accepted by the Charter Review Commission because it would be such as sea-change for Kansas City. Voters might not embrace it either.

Instead, everyone already is talking about Option B: Have nine in-district seats and three at-large seats.

There’s another problem.

Just because cities elect people in at-large seats doesn’t mean minorities can’t win those at-large seats.

Case in point: Cincinnati had the best representation of minorities on its council according to a review of nine cities supplied at the last Charter Review Commission meeting by Ken Bacchus. He is a longtime political and economic development leader in the black community. And Cincinnati had nine at-large seats and no in-district seats.

Also, just because a city has a lot of in-district representatives doesn’t mean it will be favorable to minorities.

Cleveland has 19 in-district seats and none at-large. Yet it was the sixth worst of the nine cities on Bacchus’ list when it came to electing minorities.

And Minneapolis had 13 in-district seats with none at-large, yet it had the lowest minority representation.

This fight is a long way from over. It will be interesting to see how far the Charter Review Commission and others will go with changing the current set-up in City Council seats to help minorities gain political power in Kansas City.