Dave Helling, Kansas City Star, April 17, 2019
I’m not very good at predictions, but I feel safe making this one: After Kansas City’s June election, the new City Council will have no Latino or Latina members.
That’s because no candidates left in the field claim a Latino heritage.
A one-time quirk? No. Community leaders say disgraced former councilman Michael Hernandez was the last Latino to serve at 12th and Oak, back in the 1990s.
This seems surprising, and wrong. More than 10 percent of Kansas City’s residents claim Hispanic backgrounds, yet no Latino has served or will serve in elected city government in almost a generation.
Well, except in the Latino political community, where powerlessness is discussed with frustration and dismay. Latinos have found places on appointed boards and commissions and remain active in nonprofit community improvement work, yet elective political influence appears beyond the community’s grasp.
Part of the explanation lies in the way council districts were drawn after the last census. Two of the city’s six council districts were created to provide as much opportunity for African American candidates as possible.
The new mayor and council will craft district maps after the 2020 census. There will be an intense discussion about creating more opportunities for Latino candidates, including district lines that enhance voting power on the west side and along Independence Avenue. That might include a new plan establishing nine in-district seats, instead of six.
That diffusion has left the Latino community divided on candidates, issues and approach, I’m told. Fighting and disagreement. Problems with fundraising. A lack of consensus on strategy and message. A divided minority community almost always suffers at the polls.
But there has never been a Latino mayor in Kansas City, and there hasn’t been a Latino council member in a long time. After the June election, the community must begin work to change that in 2023.