KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With the Kansas City mayoral primary election weeks away candidates are ramping up efforts to connect with voters.
On Saturday, eight of the candidates attended a forum focused on the Kansas City Latino community to discuss the issues most important to them. The open event, Kansas City Forum for All, was held at the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center.
Their goal is to ensure the voices of immigrant, refugee, and Latino communities are heard. The candidates discussed a wide range of issues over the two hour event. Mayor Sly James' Pre-K initiative was a hot topic along with growth of local jobs, Latino representation in positions of power, and illegal immigration enforcement in Kansas City. Many of the candidates at the event expressed the decisions made within the city about Latino issues may set a precedent to surrounding communities.
Moderators asked the candidates questions along with attendees being able to ask their own near the end of the event. Celia Ruiz and Edgar Palacios are two voters who say they are making sure to be educated through the election process, and are attending several forums to hear the stances of each candidate.
Ruiz asked the candidates about how, as mayor, they would hold a seat on the Board of Police Commissioners, and how they would influence the relationship between ICE officials and the Kansas City Police Department. Ruiz said all of the candidates who attended said they were open to immigration and the acceptance of refugees, but for most candidates she wasn't sure she heard what she was looking for. She believes by asking them these questions in an open forum they can be held accountable later.
"If at some point those who are present today one of them become our mayor I know that I can hold that person even more accountable because one, maybe they remember my question," Ruiz said. "Two, maybe this will pop up somewhere. It is empowering for any one of us citizens."
Palacios' question was focused on job growth and diverse representation in city government. He says he would like to see a candidate that would appoint latino leaders to positions to make a difference in his community.
"I was excited to see a forum dedicated specifically for the Latino community," Palacios said. "I really wanted to understand where there positions were in terms of increasing representation within our own community, and their commitments, and seeing where they stood on that."
Palacios said the Latino community in Kansas City is seeing growth in becoming ten percent of the city's population. He believes forums like this are a strong reminder to power players that the Latino community is a group candidates should be taking notice of, and their needs.
"It is a good acknowledgement that our community is growing in Kansas City at the ten percent level of our population, and the fact that they are recognizing that we are a force to be reckoned with - I’m excited about that," Palacios said. "Being able to hold them accountable for their policies, and their decisions that they’re going to be making in the future is exciting."
"These forums have been amazing," Ruiz said. "Knowing that we as citizens we are welcome in any one of these communities. Any one of these forums. It feels very good to be a part of this."
The KC Forum for All was organized by a group of Latino community leaders. Among them, Manny Abarca IV, current Committeeman of Kansas City’s 12th ward and Board of Education candidate; Assistant Kansas City Prosecutor and former School Board member Crispin Rea; former U.S. State Department diplomat and Missouri State Treasurer candidate Pat Contreras; and former City Planner David Valdiviezo.