Kansas City’s new city council term is off to a rollicking start, with fireworks between upstart justice warrior Brandon Ellington and the well-seasoned Katheryn Shields, a master of procedure and pragmatism.
In October, a meeting of a committee that Shields chairs erupted when Ellington arrived with a cadre of activists and community members, asking that the public be heard in support of a measure he sponsored to decriminalize possession of up to one hundred grams of marijuana.
Shields informed her new colleague that the committee had taken the public’s testimony at a previous date and needed hear no more. She noted that the proposed ordinance would have zero effect on state law. As The Pitch reported, Ellington then marched his followers first to the mayor’s office, which was closed, then to another city office to file ethics complaints against the members of Shields’ committee.
So far, Ellington has been stymied, but the Kansas City Star cited his battle as a PR coup and the start of a new era of council.
Brandon Ellington, aka “Professor Chaos” VS Katheryn Shields, aka “The Valkyrie”
Ellington: From 2011 to 2019, Ellington served as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, where he was Democratic Minority Whip and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. Ellington won his seat in June by beating a Baptist pastor to succeed now-mayor Quinton Lucas.
Shields: Longtime Democratic pol whose first stint as councilwoman ran from 1987 to 1994. After that, she served three terms as Jackson County Executive until 2006. She ran for mayor in 2007, coming in tenth in a twelve-person field. That same year, a Republican-controlled U.S. Justice Department brought a politically motivated federal indictment against her and her husband. The couple beat the rap and were both acquitted of all charges.
In 2015, Shields staged a comeback, successfully campaigning for the same council seat that she held decades before. She now serves as chair of the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee.
Ellington: Criminal justice reform, police oversight, decriminalization of marijuana, the abolition of the grand jury system and the humane treatment of prisoners.
Shields: The arts, LGBTQ rights, historic buildings, environmentalism, keeping the Royals and Chiefs in Kansas City and clean government.
Ellington: Razor-sharp tongue. Ability to rally a small army of community activists at a moment’s notice. Capacity to garner earned media at the snap of his fingers.
Shields: Strong alliances with most fellow councilpersons. Enviable reputation and name recognition. Mastery of city rules and procedures. Shrewd judgement.
Ellington: Asymmetrical and unpredictable, borne of a long stint as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly GOP legislature, where he became an expert in guerrilla political warfare.
Shields: Brick wall defense that can withstand direct frontal assaults. Effective use of old-school power moves.
Ellington: “I’m not ghetto, I’m hood. Different mentality and different culture in which I come from.” —“What’s Up Kansas City,” March 24, 2019
“If I have to go to war for the people, I have no problem getting my boots bloody. I hope we can have a good council that works together. Or let’s blow it up.” —City Council session, October 17, 2019
Shields: “I’ve probably had the best background check of anybody running for city council.” —Kansas City Star, March 13, 2015
“We had public testimony, so we’re not having more public testimony today.” —Committee meeting, October 23, 2019