Students and community members gathered in a crowded town hall, Thursday in the Leadership Studies Building for the People’s Forum MHK, where candidates for the upcoming city commission election addressed questions posed by various local advocacy groups.
The goal of the forum was to take collective action to speak up about problems affecting Manhattan residents and establish a voter-candidate dynamic in which the issues are determined by voters.
Jessica Kerr, the community organizing and education chair for Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, began the forum by welcoming everyone to the event.
“Our audience this evening is made up of concerned citizens who care about making Manhattan a community that works for the vast majority of our residents,” Kerr said.
“The current scope of politics isn’t intended to capture the voices, concerns and priorities of regular constituents and our communities apart from say, our individual votes on election day,” Kerr said. “But the people’s forum is different … tonight we’re part of something that is quite unique. And yes, we are all participants in the people’s forum.”
New candidates included Aaron Estabrook, Kaleb James, Mauren Sheahan, Mary Renee Shirk, Sarah Siders and Vincent Tracey. Candidate Mark Hatesohl was not in attendance.
Unlike a traditional city commission candidate event, Kerr said, the issues being discussed are framed and curated by voters.
Questions posed by the citizen representatives concerned Manhattan’s biking/pedestrian infrastructure, support for the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance, livable wages, participatory budgeting, rental inspections, affordable housing and climate change.
“There was like a range of moderatism that you can expect … but I was glad to have one, and sometimes two or three, more progressive candidates per issue,” said Sam Harper, junior psychology and political science.
Harper said that climate change was the issue most important to him and found candidates answers to be largely lacking.
“I still felt like none of the candidates had an adequate answer to the climate change question,” Harper said. “I feel like the speaker should have been upstaged with goals of like 50 percent or 60 percent carbon cut emissions by 2030. Because that’s 11 years, and that’s definitely possible. The other answers that we didn’t get, or that we did get, were like ‘I don’t know’ and ‘maybe,’ two things we can’t say about our future.”
Another citizen present at the forum, Suzie Wright, has lived in Manhattan for the past two years and has been a participant in several of the Bike/Walk MHK events.
“While the infrastructure for biking is very important to me, I’d say that mostly the renters issues are probably the most relevant to me at this moment,” Wright said.
“I think it was a very easy way to get a better understanding of the candidates,” Wright said. “I was kind of surprised by some. Like, ‘oh I hadn’t necessarily thought I’d be more aligned with that person.’ And then after being able to just sit here for not even two hours, I’m like, ‘Okay, I want to see more, but I definitely know that that’s the person that I’m interested in.’”
The People’s Forum MHK is comprised of representatives from Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice, Renters Together MHK, Bike Walk MHK, Flint Hills Human Rights Project, Northview Rising and the Manhattan Eco Alliance.
For more information about the forum, and a recorded livestream of the event, visit its Facebook page.
The Nov. 5 general election will select three county commissioners of the eight in the running. Commissioner Linda Morse is the only member of the three seeking reelection, while Jerred McKee is forgoing reelection in lieu of acceptance to Officer Candidate School in the Army and Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi is stepping down to run for the US Senate.
The last day to register to vote for the city/school general election is October 15. Check your voter registration here.