Topeka councilwoman pledges to better life
for underserved constituents



‘My priority is always going to be for the people to have a voice’





Christina Valdivia-Alcala was sword into office in early January to serve the people in the 2nd district of the City of Topeka, Kansas.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE


Christina Valdivia-Alcala had people telling her for years that she should run for office.

After all, they argued, her husband, John Alcala, had served as a councilman for the city of Topeka from 1999-2012 he had gone on to win election to the Kansas Statehouse, where he still serves as a representative. She had years of not only being a politician’s wife, they’d tell her, but her passion for helping the city’s most vulnerable residents made her a champion for the people. Why not take that fire to the city council chambers?

No thank you, Valdivia-Alcala would respond time and again. She knew too much about the inner workings of government, and it simply wasn’t for her.

“At the time, I was resolutely saying no,” Valdivia-Alcala recalls. “I was still working full time, I was very busy, and I just never saw myself as being in that type of political realm. I had been comfortable with being the wife of a politician.”

Well, that was then. As the calls for her to throw her proverbial hat into the ring grew louder, Valdivia-Alcala decided that the city council might benefit from her experience and her knowledge. She ran for an open council seat representing the city’s Second District, which includes the neighborhood of Oakland, and won the spot in the November 2019 election. It was the same seat held by her husband just a few years ago.

Valdivia-Alcala, who was seated just last week, says her unique perspective as a not-quite-outsider to Topeka’s city government will help her get quickly acclimated to the job.

“I have seen what most people don’t see in the political realm,” she notes.

Besides her intimate knowledge of the city government’s inner workings, Valdivia-Alcala says her cultural identity as a Chicana will surely shape her time at City Hall.

“My definition of ‘Chicana’ means, to me, my journey to having that internal and external freedom to refer to myself as a Chicana,” Valdivia-Alcala says. “I understand the history of our people and their journeys and their struggles, their displacement and their oppression.”

Already, both in person and on social media, Valdivia-Alcala has been vocal in her concern for the Oakland neighborhood, which boasts a sizable Hispanic immigrant population and has been hit hard by recent flooding. For someone passionate about environmental issues and the effects of climate change, Valdivia-Alcala says she has been active in communicating her concerns to her colleagues in city government.

“One of the platforms I ran on is that we are vulnerable in Kansas to our relationship to the river,” she says. “While water is a necessary, vital part of our existence, we must understand its power.”

The newly sworn-in councilwoman says one of her primary goals is to rescind a recent action taken by the mayor and other city council members to outsource the program through which the city provides grant funds to social service agencies. Especially close to her heart, Valdivia-Alcala says, are issues that affect the city’s senior citizens.

“One of my platforms had been taking care of our seniors,” she explains. “In our (Hispanic) culture, that is very important. John and I took care of his mom the last three years of her life. Learning so much from that, and as our elders pass, I understand that elders are not a throwaway commodity.”

Valdivia-Alcala says the outsourcing will harm those Topeka residents who are most vulnerable.

“Many of our seniors are on fixed income. (This) hurt them all greatly,” she says. “Since June I’ve worked with senior centers and tried to understand that outsourcing is not always the best issue. The issue is, policy and processes that need to be tweaked and changed. It’s not the tail wagging the dog. We are meant to serve. When you start outsourcing, is it really cost-saving?”

The outsourcing issue is only one issue that Valdivia-Alcala on which willing to disagree with her new colleagues. If the city’s leaders are expecting a rubber-stamp council member, she says, she has never fit the description of a ‘yes’ person.

“My personality has never been like that. I’ve always been a question asker, I’ve always been an outlier,” Valdivia-Alcala says. “That doesn’t mean the group doesn’t have good ideas. But we must always be able to question and challenge. There is a huge responsibility with determining how tax dollars are utilized.” She says that, though she embraces her independent spirit, she knows it is her responsibility to go into tackling each issue with an open mind and being willing to listen to others.

“I am a bridge builder and work well as part of a team,” Valdivia-Alcala says. “I understand the responsibility I have to the city of Topeka.”

That is why, she says, she will always be in the corner of her constituents, fighting for them in the council chambers and always acting in their best interests.

“The end result has to be for the people,” Valdivia-Alcala says. “You only have so many dollars for so many things to do as you soak people with taxes and fees. It continues to hurt them, to build and build upon them. It makes communities stressed out. My priority is always going to be for the people to have a voice.”