This election, KC Tenants Power gets its first shot at shifting the balance of power in Kansas City
After forming last year, KC Tenants’ political organizing arm hopes to get its slate of six candidates onto the City Council in the June 20 election.
On a rainy spring Saturday morning in April, Ron Clark wound up and down the hallways of a multi-story apartment building east of Troost methodically knocking on every door. Wearing a yellow KC Tenants shirt, clipboard and flyers in hand, Clark told each resident who answered the door about the upcoming city council elections and a certain crop of candidates — those endorsed by KC Tenants Power.
“What we're trying to do is get people elected who have more of a stake or more of an opinion on the way things are going — or the way things should be — in terms of keeping people in their houses and making sure that people are stably housed and not getting priced out,” he told resident Brenda Pearman.
It was the first time someone has knocked on her door to talk about the election. She was grateful for the visit.
“I really don't know nothing ‘cause I really ain't been catching it,” she said. “But with you guys coming, knocking on my door, I know who’s running and the best one to elect.”
KC Tenants Power is a newcomer to Kansas City politics, having only formed last year. The June 20 general election will be the first big test of the group’s efforts to put candidates in office who represent working-class residents. The April primary saw all six candidates endorsed by KC Tenants Power earn enough votes to move on to the general election.
KC Tenants Power’s candidates include three incumbents: Melissa Robinson for 3rd in-district, Eric Bunch for 4th in-district and Andrea Bough for 6th At-Large. Three candidates are political newcomers hoping to fill an open seat: Jenay Manley for 2nd At-Large, Michael Kelley for 5th At-Large and Johnathan Duncan for 6th In-District.
The candidates support the group’s vision and policy goals, like developing municipal social housing — housing that is off the private market — and collaborating with constituents on policy solutions.
If the candidates endorsed by KC Tenants Power win, it could represent a decisive shift to the left for the 12-member city council.
“I think this will likely be the most progressive city council that we have seen in Kansas City's history,” Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas said on the night of the April primaries.
What’s at stake
For KC Tenants Power organizers like Clark, the general election represents a turning point for Kansas City.
With flashy developments and events on the horizon — the 2026 World Cup, the completion of the streetcar extension, a new women’s soccer stadium, a potential downtown baseball stadium and the South Loop Link downtown — members of KC Tenants Power want to shape a city council that will not chase big-ticket projects at the expense of working-class people.
Members like Clark want a city council that prioritizes the needs of renters and historically marginalized groups, not developer profits.
“Now you're seeing a lot of movements, especially amongst young people and people in different parts of the city who are asking for change and asking for something new,” Clark said.
The next city council will tackle longstanding issues like housing, policing and crime, which are among voters' top issues. The city still has a shortage of affordable housing, particularly for low-income renters. And with 82 homicides so far, this year is on pace with 2020 to be the deadliest the city has seen.
A new city council could also fight for local control of the Kansas City Police Department or push back on how police funding is used.
The impact of KC Tenants
While KC Tenants Power is new, its sister group — citywide tenant union KC Tenants — has been challenging the political status quo and pushing for affordable housing and renter protections since 2019.
Members have chained themselves to courthouse doors to halt evictions. They’ve packed City Council chambers to call for renters’ protections. They’ve resisted tax incentive deals for out-of-state developers. They’ve formed tenant unions across several apartment buildings to keep people in their homes and demand better living conditions.
KC Tenants Power formed last year as a 501c(4) to get more involved in politics and put more tenants in office. In November, the group organized to pass a ballot measure allocating $50 million to the city’s Housing Trust Fund.
One of the core values of KC Tenants Power’s mission is practicing co-governance, which is when elected officials collaborate with community members to craft and pass policy.
This belief has been core to KC Tenants’ organizing: leaders often say “the people closest to the solution are closest to the problem.” KC Tenants leaders have worked with current council members on legislation protecting renters, like when the group collaborated with 6th At-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough to guarantee free legal representation to tenants in eviction court.
Duncan, the 6th district candidate endorsed by KC Tenants Power, says the group’s impact stretches beyond policy wins. He points to the group’s ability to organize with tenants citywide.
“There are many residents in our city who do not feel that their city government and the electoral process that elects the leaders into city government sees them,” Duncan said. “To unify those voices into collective action to hold our city council accountable has changed the narrative I think, of city politics and what city government in Kansas City is there to do.”
KC Tenants Power candidates
Duncan and Manley, the 2nd District at-large candidate, started as organizers with KC Tenants.
Manley hopes to be the first Black person to represent the Northland. She was the policy organizer for KC Tenants, and often watched council meetings while working overnight at QuikTrip during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not a priority of mine to make sure that people are making money,” Manley said. “It is a priority of mine to make sure that everybody in Kansas City is living in safe, stable housing, has access to public transportation, feels safe in the community that they live in.”
Duncan says the election of KC Tenants Power candidates would benefit Kansas City.
“If we had a City Council that was focused on ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our community were uplifted and that they were involved in every step of our governance, I believe that we would see better turnout in our municipal elections,” he said. “I think that we would see better turnout at our City Council committee meetings. I think we would see better turnout and better public involvement with our city budget process.”
Opponents to KC Tenants Power candidates differ on how they would tackle housing. Lindsay French, running against Manley for the 2nd At-Large seat, told KSHB that the city cannot make it difficult to build more affordable housing, and that the housing market should offer more choice. Dan Tarwater, running in the 6th district against Duncan, said on KCUR’s Up to Date that he doesn’t support social housing, and instead thinks the city should be “helping people help themselves.” Darrell Curls, running in the 5th At-Large race, said on KCUR’s Up to Date that he supports putting more money into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.
All three political newcomers endorsed by KC Tenants Power finished second to their opponents in the April primary.
French won about 5,200 more votes than Manley. Tarwater, a former Jackson County legislator, won nearly 2,500 more votes than Duncan.
The gap between Kelley and Curls, a former member of the Hickman Mills School Board, was narrower. Only 864 votes separated the two.
KC Tenants Power hopes its endorsements, combined with door knocking and phone banking, will entice enough people to close those margins. Beth Vonhame, politics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said door-knocking is still the most effective form of campaigning.
She also said endorsements are effective if voters trust the group.
“If they believe an organization is making decisions to benefit themselves, they're more likely to go along with that endorsement, even if they themselves aren't paying that much attention to the election,” Vonhame said.
French, Tarwater and Curls got their own endorsements from Freedom Inc, Northland Strong and the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter. Those more established political groups have already seen candidates they’ve endorsed land seats on the council.
Incumbents Bunch, Bough and Robinson handily beat their primary opponents in April. If they succeed, it won’t necessarily shift the balance of power on the City Council, and may not say much about KC Tenants Power’s effectiveness — incumbents are statistically more likely to win re-election.
If Manley, Duncan and Kelley win their races, it could establish KC Tenants Power as a serious contender in local politics.
Organizers like Clark hope KC Tenants Power will prevail on Election Day, and chart a path forward that includes more residents in the city’s decision-making.
“This is really a big measure of how many people are looking for that change,” he said.
The general election is Tuesday, June 20. Polls are open from 6 A.M. to 7 p.m. Voters need a valid, non-expired government ID to vote. You can check your voter registration information here.