Naming KC street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. could go up for vote

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The simmering debate over which Kansas City street, or other city property, to rename in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. could be headed for a city-wide vote in November.

A group of religious leaders in the city have been gathering petition signatures to rename the Paseo for King.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James and others have suggested potential alternatives, like 63rd Street or one of the terminal buildings at the new KCI airport.

But city pastors like Vernon Howard say there's no room for debate.

Howard is adamant that the Paseo should be renamed for King. He and the Kansas City Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said they’ve been working on the petition to rename the Paseo for the slain civil rights leader for three years. It has to be the Paseo, Howard stressed, not 63rd Street and not a terminal building at the new KCI.

“I don’t know how many other ways I can say it,” Howard told FOX4.

Which means the decision to rename the Paseo for MLK could go to the voters.

“To have a referendum on a choice like this is a very potentially disruptive thing,” KC Star columnist Dave Helling said. “Someone on the city council should take the lead on this.”

Black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) addresses crowds during the March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC, where he gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Helling fears a turbulent debate over how and where Kansas City should honor King could be unnecessarily divisive. Kansas City is one of the last major U.S. cities without a street honoring MLK.

“It could get very uncomfortable,” Helling said. “If there is an organized opposition to renaming anything after Dr. King, I mean, can you imagine the campaign? Kansas City don’t name this for Dr. King?”

Helling is hoping someone at KC City Hall will find a way to resolve the issue without a lengthy, public referendum on the importance of King’s legacy in the metro.

“If you get sort of an organized opposition that becomes visible, becomes vocal,” Helling said, “it’s just going to get pretty uncomfortable, pretty quickly.”

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