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Moreno is first Latino elected to Lee’s Summit City Council

Chris Moreno has made history in the City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

Moreno is the first Hispanic ever to have been elected to the Lee’s Summit City Council. He was sworn in last week for his four-year term as the city’s 4th District councilman.

“What got me interested in the race was the city was talking about eliminating an ambulance next to our neighborhood, and that ambulance in 2014 had saved my daughter’s life, and to me (eliminating it) was unacceptable, because the city is the sixth-largest city in the state of Missouri,” Moreno told Kansas City Hispanic News the night he was sworn in. “And if we’re giving away tax breaks and other things to companies, we certainly should have $150,000 for an ambulance.

Moreno led the effort to publicize the elimination of the ambulance, which was the only one in the 4th District.

“(Then) there was a movement that got created and folks said ‘Hey, would you consider running?’ and I looked at the options on the table, and I felt that (some elected officials) didn’t represent our district the way I felt (they should), so I put my name in and the rest is history,” he said.

Moreno was raised in Lee’s Summit and graduated from schools in the city. His wife was born and raised in Lee’s Summit.

“We know a lot of folks in town, and I think that we needed to have a leader who was an independent thinker, who would ask tough questions, deliver measurable results and be a voice for the people and a voice for neighborhoods,” he said. “I didn’t see that on the table, so I decided I’m going to get in the race, and we’re going to get some things done. … In the end, (I) received the most votes of any candidate running for city council.”

Moreno had run twice for seats in the Missouri House of Representatives and lost both times, but he said that his life had changed significantly since then and that those changes had helped him in his run for the city council.

“My wife and I have kids, we have a business, and we’ve given our life to Christ,” he said. “Those values that we hold dear in life, including our politics, were all placed on the table. We just changed our life, quite honestly. We’ve seen our life transformed when we gave our life to Christ. I was a Democrat. This is a nonpartisan election. We needed a conservative leader in Lee’s Summit who can bring people together, (who doesn’t) tear people down but build bridges up. I think we bring a fresh voice and a new kind of leadership in Lee’s Summit that’s fantastic.”

Lee’s Summit is the sixth-largest city in Missouri and is on pace to become the fifth-largest in the next couple of years, Moreno said.

“To never have a Latino elected in Lee’s Summit is amazing,” he said. “I’m so blessed that the folks chose me to represent them. I’m breaking some historic doors down, and that’s a big deal.”

When Moreno knocked on the doors of residents in the 4th District, he focused more on listening than on telling them what he had in mind.

“I think there’s a growing passion in the public for people to have their voices heard by elected officials and politicians and government in general,” he said. “One of the things I heard over and over was they couldn’t remember the last time anybody had ever knocked on their door. My message to them was that I wanted to know what their concerns were, and I took notes on every single door that I knocked on. … I will be a voice for everyday folks in our neighborhood and for transparency in our city government, (and I will) make sure we have the best public safety and services in our city, and we will make sure we protect tax dollars and spend our money wisely. It seems like common sense, but folks need to be reassured of that more than ever now.”

Moreno talked “a lot about the need to have positive elected officials with strong Christian values who don’t tear people down (but) build people up.”

“I think politics is so negative now,” he said. “You see it on TV every day, on the national and state (levels) – back-and-forth nastiness. I wanted to be a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t easy. We had about $15,000 of negative ads attacking me.”

Constituents in the 4th District, were most concerned about public safety, followed by responsible spending of tax revenue – a function of elected officials “asking the hard questions,” he said – and adequate maintenance of infrastructure, including sidewalks, roads and the storm-water system.

Moreno succeeds Bob Johnson as the 4th District city councilman. Johnson had served for eight years in two consecutive four-year terms, the limit for consecutive city councilman terms allowed by the city charter.

Johnson spoke of the similarities between himself and Moreno.

“We’re probably a generation apart in age,” Johnson told Hispanic News. “His family roots are in Northeast Kansas City, and so are mine. I went to Northeast High School. We went to the same college, Central Missouri State University, which is now called the University of Central Missouri.”
Johnson said he thought Moreno probably would find that 4th District residents “feel free to call their city council members if they have a perceived issue, whether there’s a light bulb out on their streetlight or other problems, like an ambulance being replaced.”

“People are not afraid to ask questions or seek some advice when they have a perceived issue with city hall,” he said.

Johnson took exception to the description of Lee’s Summit as a “conservative bedroom community.”

“No, I think that’s what some people in Kansas City may think, and probably what the (Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce) may think,” he said, “but we’re 93,000 people, the sixth-largest city in the state, and we are seeking economic-development projects, and we will compete with Kansas City. Those that aren’t so concerned with population will look at us and Kansas City at the same time. Yes, realistically, most of our employed people leave the city every morning and come back at 6 o’clock at night. My goal for eight years has been to have jobs created so people can afford to live and work in Lee’s Summit. … We are making progress with more of these family-supporting jobs that are being created, but we have a long way to go on that, realistically.”

Asked whether he had any encouraging words for Moreno in his term as a city councilman, Johnson said that Moreno “needs to make sure he’s available for the constituents.”

“There are 23,000 people in that district, and they don’t want to be ignored,” he said. “If they have an issue, you just have to treat them very fairly. And if you’re going to disagree, that’s fine, but make sure they know why you’re in disagreement, or (why) the city improvement they think they want that taxpayers should support might not be eligible for being a taxpayer-supported project, but certainly always give respect to the people, and communicate with them.”

Moreno’s twin brother, Nicholas, lives in Overland Park, so the risk of people confusing them for each other is slight, Moreno said.

“He’s stepped over to the dark side of the state line,” Moreno said of his brother.

Moreno’s father, David Moreno, who grew up in Kansas City’s East Bottoms, expressed pride in his son’s accomplishments.

“It’s unbelievable,” Moreno’s father told Hispanic News. “It touches my heart, especially out here in Lee’s Summit, to see a Latino get elected. It’s a blessing. He’s a fine young man. He’s got great roots. I’m just really speechless. I’m so proud of him.”

Moreno’s father said that, when his son ran for state office, “he was quite younger and he was running against a pretty well-known name.”

“Everybody went to bed at 10 o’clock at night and he was leading,” he said. “Next day, boom: He had lost by 500 votes the first time. The second time he ran, there was a lot of bad literature against him and against Latinos. But still he did tremendously. He lost by maybe 1,200 (votes) or something like that. It was very bad. In a way, it’s something like the (effects of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments and actions) that’s going on now. But at the city council race, it’s not really against Republicans or Democrats. It’s nonpartisan.”

Moreno’s father said his son never got discouraged during the process of seeking public office.

“He always had a positive attitude,” he said. “The people who voted for him kept pushing him. It wasn’t so much the family, (but) it was the neighborhood. It was the people outside that voted, the voters that count. Of course, you’ve got a lot of family, but they live in different areas of town. He’s a very brilliant young man. A lot of leaders in the area had pushed him and said ‘You know, you’ve got some brains; you’re smart. You know what’s going on.’ Obviously, working for Gov. (Jay) Nixon and other people, he knew what was going on in politics. So they kept pushing and pushing. And many guys who ran for office, they’re elected now. But you never heard the story about how many times they lost before.”

As for his son’s historic accomplishment of winning a seat on the Lee’s Summit City Council, his father talked about how the city had changed in the past 25 years or so.

“When we moved here in 1992, it was a different world,” he said. “(There is) very much diversity now. I retired from the UAW over on the General Motors side, and then I worked at Lowe’s and saw a lot of diversity there, a lot of cultures being married together.”

His son’s election to the city council will encourage other Hispanics, he said.

“(It brings) opportunities for those who live in the shadows, who are scared to voice their opinions,” he said. “It’s not on a big scale like when Obama won the race, but on a city scale you’d be surprised. This is where it starts. This is where the young guys or the older people who’ve lived in this neighborhood said ‘Hey, look here. We’ve got something going here in Lee’s Summit.”