It’s a happy day for the Kansas City political organization Freedom Inc.
With Theresa Garza Ruiz’ announcement that she is dropping out of the race for Kansas City’s 5th District at-large City Council seat, it is very likely that a black candidate, Lee Barnes Jr., will win the seat.
This is a very significant development because blacks held that seat from the mid-1970s until 1999 but lost control of it when Becky Nace, a white woman, was elected in 1999.
Nace held the post until 2007, when another white woman, Cindy Circo, was elected from the 5th at-large. Circo is now finishing up her second term and cannot seek re-election under the City Charter’s two-term limit.
Losing control of the seat irked Freedom officials because blacks comprise the majority in the 5th District, which encompasses much of southeast Kansas City.
“I feel good about this,” said Clinton Adams Jr., Freedom Inc. attorney. “Finally, we can break the cycle of (candidates) with limited support in the 5th district being elected at-large to represent a predominantly black district.”
Blacks currently hold the 3rd District and 3rd District at-large seats, as well as the 5th District seat, which Michael Brooks recently vacated in the wake of a well-deserved torrent of bad press.
The council consists of 13 members — six elected from districts, six at-large and the mayor.
The city primary election is April 7. With Garza Ruiz’ defection, Barnes and Dennis Anthony, the other remaining 5th District at-large candidate, will automatically advance to the general election in June.
Anthony, a former city employee with no name recognition or political experience, is not expected to be a factor. That means Barnes, a former Kansas City School Board member, should have an easy go of it in June.
Until today, Garza Ruiz, a high-profile member of the Jackson County Legislature, was the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat. Barnes might have given her a good run, but she likely would have prevailed because of her name identity and political experience.
What brought Garza Ruiz down was a residency-related problem. The City Charter requires council members to have lived in their district boundaries for two years before the general election. In this case, the deadline was June 23, 2013.
Garza Ruiz produced records indicating she had moved, or was moving, from Blue Springs to Kansas City in March 2013. It wasn’t clear exactly when she moved, but the bigger problem was that Jackson County Election Board records show she voted in Blue Springs on April 2, 2013 — after she said she had moved to Kansas City.
An attorney for Barnes filed a lawsuit, challenging Garza Ruiz’ residency and also alleging that she was guilty of voter fraud for voting from the Blue Springs address. Had the judge found Garza Ruiz guilty of voter fraud, she would have forfeited her right to ever again vote in Missouri.
With rare exceptions, Jackson County Circuit Court judges have been reluctant to strike candidates from ballots on residency challenges. But strong precedent exists for voter fraud, and that apparently is what prompted Garza Ruiz to get out of the race.
Not surprisingly, Garza Ruiz did not acknowledge that the possibility of being stricken from the voter rolls prompted her abdication. Instead she cited “personal issues that require my full focus at this time.”
With her out of the race, Barnes is now the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat.
As some of you know, I worked with Freedom Inc. officials two years ago against Jackson County’s proposed half-cent translational medical research tax, which would have sent millions of dollars in public funds to two private, not-for-profit hospitals — Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s.
I greatly admired Freedom’s principled stance against that proposal — which went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent drubbing — and I have worked with Freedom on a variety of political matters and issues since then.
Today I share Freedom officials’ satisfaction that an African-American probably will be reclaiming Kansas City’s 5th District at-large seat.
I sympathize, to some extent, with the Hispanic community, which suffered a big setback today…But in Lee Barnes, the council will be getting a humble man who will not seek the limelight and who, I believe, will look out for the interests of his constituents and all of Kansas City.