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Five candidates vie for KC’s 3rd District council seat

Five candidates are courting Kansas City’s 3rd District residents in hopes of representing them on the Kansas City Council.

Shaheer Akhtab, Bryan Dial Jr., Jamekia Kendrix, incumbent Jermaine Reed and Rachel Riley – will face off in the April 7 primary. The two with the most votes will advance to the general election on June 23.

The candidates talked with Kansas City Hispanic News about their views on the district’s problems, how they would try to solve them and why they think they’re well-suited for the job.

Shaheer Akhtab
Akhtab is a self-employed commu-nity organizer for Aim for Peace, an organization working to prevent violence in the community. He’s a Ward 2 committeeman in Jackson County, a position he has held for about 18 months.

“The (3rd District’s) key problem is individuals’ lack of empowerment in their lives to be successful,” he said. “I want to give people the rights, the representation in government that they don’t have. Right now, there’s no one in government representing … the interest of people. The proof of that is all the cuts that have been made. For people to grow and be successful, we need to unify and organize, block by block, so we can regulate our own neighborhoods, our own community. We have to solve our own problems. That’s why I’m in the race. I want to represent people’s share and interest in government. I would be a council person working the first two years to unify and connect African-Americans, Latinos, whites – everybody in the district.”

Akhtab said he thought Reed, who is seeking his second term, “is the problem.”

“He’s in the government to represent the moneyed people who finance the campaign,” Akhtab said.

Asked what he would say to persuade residents to vote for him, Akhtab said he “will come to your door, like I’m doing now, with my literature showing … that I’m working for you.”

“I’m a two-time elected (Ward 2) committeeman right now. These are the things I’m doing right now, working for you, and these are the things we’re going to work on to benefit you. Part of my literature is about unifying and working together, giving (residents) a voice they don’t have. This is what you call the people’s campaign for individual empowerment. Everybody else is just doing the political rhetoric; I am the real thing.”

The 3rd District’s strength, Akhtab said, “is the people, their potential and resources.”

“The problem is the people aren’t working together to advance themselves,” he said. “To make it stronger, someone has to unite all of this so that everyone will improve and advance. Under Reed, the 3rd district’s crime and unemployment have gotten worse. Every problem in the district in the past four years has gotten worse. We need a change that’s going to benefit the voters. My idea is this: the voter is the real boss. We should listen to the voter and serve the voter. In reality, they are the employer. That’s my frame of mind.”

Bryan Dial Jr.
Dial works in various ministries at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, including assistant director of apostolic ministries and programs, educational trainer for the associate ministers board, a C.O.R.E. commissioner of ministry programs and facilitator of Church Beyond the Walls. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history, and a master’s in public administration.

“I’m running because I feel as though the 3rd District has been underrepresented for a long time, and they need someone to speak up for them,” Dial said.

The district’s key issues, he said, are “of course, crime; housing; unemployment; and the food desert (the lack of full-service grocery stores).”

“With crime, I want to expand the outreach with Kansas City Mothers In Charge, which is an advocacy group of mothers who’ve lost relatives to violent crime,” he said. “We need expansion of ShotSpotter technology – it picks up on the sound of a gunshot and immediately notifies police – and added cameras; the KC NoVa (Kansas City No Violence Alliance) program has a network of video cameras posted in major crime areas. We can afford to do it; we can’t afford to not do it, is my view.”

To address the district’s housing needs, Dial said, residents “need a public-private mix of funding to rehab properties and try to get adults to live in the core of Kansas City.”

“There are three to four vacant houses on any given block in the city,” he said. “The plan is to work with nonprofits to employ youth and raise enough capital through the Land Bank and Urban Professionals. It’s a really economically feasible plan, and (the district’s) cost of living is great. And some people are coming back to areas in the 3rd district that have been renovated.”

To address unemployment, the district needs to work with the micro-loan program, he said, and reduce business rents at 18th and Vine and the Jazz District.

Dial takes a regional view on public transportation – “something from 39th Street to wherever jobs are.”

“We’ve got to expand our ATA, but the streetcar is not going to do it, and I hate to see another regressive tax put on the backs of residents of the 3rd district.”

The district’s lack of full-service grocery stores is caused, he said, by “the business model of some of the suppliers: They don’t want to supply grocery stores in the core but instead have residents in the core to go where the merchants do have stores.”

The Hispanic community in the district needs “proper representation on the council, being valued and (having) their voices being heard,” Dial said.

“I don’t think they have a voice right now in the Latino community, and I think they should,” he said. “There’s a growing population of Hispanics in the district.”

Dial said he’d try to persuade residents to vote for him by emphasizing that he’s “an experienced leader in the nonprofit and for profit sector.”

“I’m humble and used to working for the people and not having the people work for me,” he said. “I’ve lived and worked in the district all my life, and I want to return it to the vibrancy it had when I was a child.”

Jamekia Kendrix
Kendrix works in youth program development for Campfire Heartland. She also is the founder and executive director of The Full Potential Project, aimed at underserved youngsters in the KCPS. She has a master’s degree in social work.

“My priorities are increasing neighborhood membership in associations, increasing capacity of neighborhood associations to effect change, and increasing voter participation,” she said. “We have 55 neighborhood associations in the district; of those, a little more than 40 are registered with the city, 24 are active and seven are creating positive change.”

Kendrix said she wasn’t “knocking on people’s doors to persuade them to vote for me.”

“I’m knocking on doors to persuade them to become engaged,” she said. “I’m asking them what prompted them to move there, what they’d like to see changed. I want them to feel comfortable contacting me. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I want to know what’s important to them so that, if I do get elected, I can help address the district’s problems. ... Once they see that they can have a positive effect, they’ll think they can continue to affect other issues.”

Voter apathy is the district’s biggest challenge, Kendrix said.

“If you look nationally, the cities that are most successful in addressing education, crime, jobs and blight ... figured out how to engage residents,” she said. “… I have the passion for neighborhoods but also an understanding of policy. … I worked with school district parents starting end of 2009 to bring them together to discuss what’s most important to them.”

Jermaine Reed
Reed was elected to the city council in 2011 at age 26, which made him the youngest person ever elected to the council. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is working on a master’s in public administration.

The district’s key problems, he said, are the food desert, neighborhood decay, especially abandoned buildings and crime.

“A lot of progress has been made on all fronts by the city, and I think it’s important that I as the incumbent continue that,” Reed said. “I’ve been working with private developers to have two full-service grocery stores within the next two years. And we have an aggressive plan that’s ongoing to demolish abandoned and dangerous buildings. There’s not enough funding to do all of them. Typically it costs nearly $10,000 to tear down a blighted building. In the Manheim Park and Santa Fe neighborhoods, we’ve been able to work with them on a block-by-block approach to repurpose a number of homes and get people moving back into the neighborhood. We also repurposed Bancroft Elementary.”

The district has had more than $300 million of public and private investment since he took office, Reed said.

“There’s a lot more progress that needs to be made, he said. “As a person who was born and raised in my community, I need to be a strong voice and advocate for them. The folks who do vote, who are engaged, they’re the ones who know what’s going on and what they want. We vote on the greater interests of our communities and our city. That’s why it’s important to have a good working relationship with your colleagues. We were able to make reinvesting in the urban core one of our priorities.”

Reed said that, though the city council has no direct effect on the public schools, he has good working relationships with KCPS and its board members.

“Stronger schools make for stronger communities,” he said. “It’s important for us to have strong communities and infrastructure, which also helps the schools.”

Reed follows what residents say is important to them, he said.

“The work that I do is with their vision,” he said. “I ask residents for their vote and ask them what their concerns are and am a voice for them. I’m the only proven leader in the race to continue making things happen.”

Rachel Riley
Riley couldn’t be reached for comment by press time for Hispanic News. According to her LinkedIn profile, she is business manager for The East 23rd St. Pack, a nonprofit whose mission is to help provide a variety of services. She is a community leader and activist with the 24th St. Non-Violent Marchers, and she’s the business manager for Riley’s Properties.