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In One Kansas City Council Race, Experience Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

State Rep. Brandon Ellington and the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II are both seeking the 3rd District at-large seat for the Kansas City Council.

The two men vying to take over Quinton Lucas’ Kansas City Council seat agree there are challenges when it comes to tackling the 3rd District’s issues such as crime, affordable housing and access to jobs. Where they diverge is their career experiences. 

State Rep. Brandon Ellington is touting his record as a state legislator and community organizer as positives for the at-large seat, which is one of seven contested city council races in Tuesday’s election. The Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II cites his long experiences in activism for equity and civil rights.

The 3rd District encompasses a large area east of Troost Avenue and north of Swope Parkway, including the 18th and Vine District and the sports stadiums. It includes sections that have some of the highest poverty and crime rates in the city.

Ellington won re-election to his House seat in November and is the House Democratic Whip. Because he was first elected in 2011, it’s his final two-year term. He said he had planned to run for the Missouri Senate in 2020, but decided to focus on Kansas City instead.

“I think that coming home would put me in a better position to actually alleviate a lot of the social issues in our city, which correlates with the legislative agenda that I have here at the state,” Ellington said.

He pointed to his work on criminal justice reforms, education and promoting small businesses as examples. He also cited a failure of leadership “on the east side in creating viable plans and actually working with the community.”

“When you look at the east side, you see high crime and there’s little to no economic density and a housing stock that has not been invested in,” he said.

There is precedent for Ellington’s decision to run for city office. Kevin McManus resigned from his House seat in 2015 after being elected to the council’s 6th District seat. Melba Curls was elected to the 3rd District at-large seat in 2007 after serving eight years in the Missouri House. And current 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus (like Lucas, a mayoral candidate) served in the state Senate before running for council in 2015.

Hartsfield, on the other hand, doesn’t have experience in public office. He’s the pastor of the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church on Linwood Boulevard.

But, he said, he’s done a lot for the city when it comes to fighting against food deserts and predatory lending.

“I'm a local pastor. I'm a local professor, I'm a local community activist,” Hartsfield said. “My entire professional career has been around improving the wellbeing of people.”

Hartsfield took over the church from his father, a longtime civil rights activist.

“I appreciate being able to share that name because my father has been, in my opinion, a great man in my eyes and continues to be,” Hartsfield said. “While at the same time I recognize that I can't just live off what my father has done. I will have to prove myself as well.”

If Ellington wins, he would have to leave his seat in Jefferson City, forcing a special election. There are currently two vacancies in the Missouri House.

Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews

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