With all the hub-bub surrounding the ordinance that would effectively change the name on The Paseo, the News-dog is yielding her space to Councilman Quinton Lucas to offer his thoughts on the ordinance that is currently working its way through the council and headed for a vote this Thursday.
Since returning from school, I have lived on The Paseo so I took note when I heard of an effort to rename Paseo Boulevard for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I questioned the change and quickly had a list of “why not”—it’s too expensive, that one Chris Rock joke, why not go east-west, and the most common dismissal of any argument, why spend time and energy on this when we have “real” problems to solve?
I listened, however, to proponents explain, “why.” The group led by, but not exclusively, clergy provided reasons. The impact Dr. King’s lessons had on Kansas City in terms of justice, racial equity, and fairness should be recognized beyond a small park. A street offers youth in particular a reminder of Dr. King’s life and mission. Paseo is helpful because it links a number of churches with the strong history of our community—black and white—along the boulevard.
I heard the proponents’ reasons years ago. Since that time, the proponents have asked to present at a Parks Board meeting. Their efforts were rejected and they were told via letter their request was declined, without public comment. They’ve asked to present their idea to City Council, a majority of whom expressed support for the name change when running for office, but did not get a hearing until weeks ago. The mayor appointed a nine-person commission on the issue, which proceeded like too many city commissions with several secret, closed sessions to discuss an entirely public issue then recommended three choices, of which the Paseo was one of the options, out of a list that commission member Wesley Fields noted need not be “either or” propositions. The recommendations of the commission went back to the Mayor’s office, were placed in a resolution to Council with no direction, and then languished for months.
Now, after rallies, requests for meetings, commissions, ordinances, amended ordinances, and compromises, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Paseo Boulevard issue remains. The Northeast News has given me almost singlehanded credit in reviving the issue, although an ordinance sponsoring the name change passed out of a five-person committee unanimously and then a separate ordinance authorizing the name change was sponsored by four councilmembers. I’ll take it though.
I believe the hundreds of people who marched asking for a name change and the others who have spent years asking for a chance to share why they support a name change deserve a hearing, not the bureaucratic maze in which everyone claims to support some honor, but no one does anything. Many then tell proponents all the problems with their plan—the phantom 75 percent signature requirement the city has never used (and which would also apply with 63rd St.); the high cost of the MLK licensing fee (which would apply with other choices); the falsity that this is a behind-the-scenes deal hatched peculiarly by several political opponents; the compromise presented by Congressman Cleaver and the Parks Board now is too much compromise.
Here’s the deal. People deserve a hearing. Not a circus. With the delays, it’s hard for one not to think about Dr. King’s suggestion that issues like this “merely bring to the surface tension that is already alive.” Rather than burying it again or moving the debate to another neighborhood, another commission, or another City Council, Kansas City can and should decide, either through its Council or at the ballot, how to honor Dr. King. And we should do it now rather than kicking the can down the road again.
3rd District At-Large