Archive for January, 2011

Kansas City’s mayoral candidates went eastward Saturday, and not all received a warm reception.

In fact, two of the candidates, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and Councilwoman Deb Hermann, got a downright chilly response. The forum drew a crowd of about 100 people at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center on Blue Parkway.

The candidates on hand, besides Funkhouser and Hermann, were Mike Burke, Jim Rowland, Sly James and Charles B. Wheeler. Henry Klein was absent.

Funkhouser, Rowland, Burke, James (standing), Hermann and Wheeler

Under the rules of the forum, sponsored by The Call newspaper, people in the audience had a chance to question the candidates directly. When that part of the program arrived, about 10 people quickly lined up behind the microphone.

One questioner put this question to Funkhouser:

“Why is it we should give you a second term?”

Funkhouser said he had initiated several programs in the 3rd and 5th council districts, including his Schools First program, which aims to improve curbs and sidewalks around public schools. In addition, he said, “I’ve been in the community over and over.”

His explanation drew no applause or expressions of approval from the audience.

People queued up to ask questions of the mayoral candidates

Another person told Hermann he had never seen her in the inner city. “I’m sorry if that’s your perception,” she said. “But that’s not the case.”

Like Funkhouser, Hermann got very little, if any, positive response from the audience throughout the event.

Another candidate who got roughed up a bit was Rowland, who has secured the endorsement of Freedom Inc., the city’s major black political organization.

After Rowland bragged that $180 million of the $700 million Sports Complex improvement project had gone to women- and minority-owned businesses, Eric Wesson, an event moderator who is news editor of The Call, challenged him, saying he didn’t think the minority role was as significant as Rowland depicted it.

The audience’s lack of embrace for Funkhouser, Burke, Rowland and Hermann could indicate that each will have a problem getting a significant number of votes from black residents. Funkhouser has never been popular with black voters; Burke and Hermann hail from the Northland; and Rowland lives in the 4th District, in western Kansas City.

Burke got a spot of good news earlier in the day, however, when six black ministers, including Wallace S. Hartsfield and Wallace S. Hartsfield II, endorsed him. A Burke for Mayor press release quoted Hartsfield II as saying: “Mike Burke is the only mayoral candidate that backs up his words of inclusiveness with real actions. We feel that he is truly committed to working with our communities, fighting to have our voices heard and represented in city government.”

The only candidate who received anything close to a warm reception at the forum was Sly James, who is the only black mayoral candidate. He drew applause a few times, including once when he countered a moderator’s assertion that the City Council had no direct role in the quality of education in the Kansas City School District.

“The district is not under the direct jurisdiction of the city,” James said, “but we certainly have a moral obligation and citizen obligation to address education.”

Nevertheless, James, a lawyer, has his work cut out for him on the East Side, partly because he doesn’t live there and partly because he didn’t get Freedom’s endorsement. Also, this is his first run for public office, while all of the other candidates have run for or held public office before.

It appears at this point that the vote in the black wards could be very dispersed in the Feb. 22 primary. That would hurt Rowland and help Hermann, whose popularity in the Northland might give her the single largest voting block.

Burke expects to do well in all parts of the city, but he has no single area that he can count on for great numbers of votes.

And, so, with three weeks remaining in the campaign, here’s how it is shaping up:

Klein and Wheeler are out of it. No chance. Funkhouser is fading fast, as the other candidates have started to use him for the punching bag that he is. James sounds good but has no record to back up his words. Rowland comes off as knowledgeable but antiseptic, seldom connecting with his audience.

That leaves the two Northlanders — Hermann and Burke — as the favorites, at least in my book. Hermann comes across as genuine, unpretentious and level-headed. Burke, although hardly charismatic, is as solid as a rock and has built up a trove of goodwill citywide, partly through his service on just about every economic-development agency that operates in the city.

They are the best candidates, and, for the future of Kansas City, let’s hope they are the top two finishers on Feb. 22.

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Money and pain

One of my favorite movie lines comes from a 1971 classic, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” in which Warren Beatty plays an enterprising but bumbling whore-house owner in the Wild West. He falls in love with the madam, Julie Christie, but runs into all manner of problems. At one point, speaking of women, he mumbles to himself, “Money and pain. Pain and money…Money…Pain.”



Given the legal developments of the last week or so, that would be a suitable refrain for Mayor Mark Funkhouser and other City Council members, including mayoral candidate Deb Hermann.

Join me, then, in taking a closer look at that story and two others — one a local story that became national and one out of Chicago.

:: The tidal wave of money going out of City Hall because of legal setbacks. Translation: Bad news for incumbents.

The front page of today’s Kansas City Star — the lead story, in fact — tells most of the ugly story. In the last four days, courts have awarded more than $5 million to two former employees who were wrongfully terminated and to a judicial candidate who was on a panel that the City Council improperly rejected in 2006.

On Thursday, a Jackson County Circuit Court jury awarded more than $2.6 million to two former budget analysts — 63-year-old Jordan Griffin and 54-year-old Colleen Low — who claimed the city discriminated against them when it laid them off in 2009. Part of the problem for the city was that Griffin and Low were laid off by now-acting City Manager Troy Schulte after Schulte told them they wouldn’t be laid off.

That verdict came on the heels of a Tuesday decision by the Missouri Supreme Court upholding a damage award of nearly $3 million to former municipal judge candidate Melissa Howard. Howard contended that the City Council unfairly denied her consideration for a judgeship in 2006 because she was white. (Interestingly, the council, after twice throwing out the all-white panel of three candidates, ended up appointing a white woman to the post.)

City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley wrote in her story that the Supreme Court ruling “sent shock waves through City Hall,” partly because employees worried that the ruling might adversely affect their wages.

I mentioned that Horsley’s report told most of the story. For some reason — perhaps because she’s not the sort to pile on — she omitted the City Council’s approval last week of a $125,000 settlement with a former aide to Mayor Mark Funkhouser. Funkhouser fired the aide, Shawn Pierce, because Pierce sided with another mayoral employee, Ruth Bates, who also sued the city successfully.  The city had to shell out $550,000 to Bates, a black woman who alleged she was harassed and discriminated against by Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro. That’s $675,000 in city funds paid out because of Gloria’s totally unprofessional bearing.

How will all this play out in the current city elections? Hard to say, but today’s big, front-page headline certainly has to be more than a pinprick for incumbent council members seeking re-election. Two of seven candidates in the mayor’s race are incumbents — Funkhouser, who was elected in 2007 — before the Howard matter came up — and Hermann, who is completing her second term on the council.

In fairness to Hermann, she voted against the motion to reject the Howard panel. Her hands are clean on that matter, but the problem is that, to some degree, she’ll be seen by some city residents as having been painted with the same broad brush.

On balance, this is probably another major setback for Funkhouser, a medium to mild setback for Hermann and a bonus for the other three top mayoral candidates — Mike Burke, Jim Rowland and Sly James.

:: The uplifting story of Gil Meche. He made the front page of Thursday’s The New York Times.

NYT writer Tyler Kepner brought to the attention of readers nationwide the remarkable story of Meche, who decided to retire because of a lingering shoulder injury rather than hang on and collect $12 million for the last season of his contract.

Kepner quoted Meche as saying: “When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it. Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

Inspiring, isn’t it? Someone who values self-respect over cash? It’s a great lesson for young people.

On a personal note, when Meche made his last start last season (I don’t remember what month it was), I stood up in the stands and booed loudly at one point, as he got shelled by opposing batters. What I didn’t realize was that Meche was pitching in pain; he couldn’t perform up to his capabilities. I apologize, Gil.

:: Unflappable Rahm Emanuel: The force that will not be denied.

At the end of a topsy-turvy week, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama is securely on the ballot in the Chicago mayor’s race. Candidates for mayor are required to have resided in Chicago for at least a year before Election Day. Emanuel left the White House last fall, but Emanuel argued that he was still a Chicago resident because he owned a house, paid taxes and voted there.

On Monday, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Emanuel did not qualify, saying he had to physically live in the city. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling, putting Emanuel back on the ballot once and for all.

What was perhaps most amazing about this story was how Emanuel appeared to maintain total equanimity during the turbulent days.

“Throughout the challenges to Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy,” Monica Davey wrote in today’s New York Times,” he had confidently asserted that he would be allowed to run, and had proceeded with routine campaign events as if there was no crisis.”

Davey went on to report that “moments after the ruling was issued late thursday,” Mr. Emanuel was shaking hands with voters at a downtown “L” train stop, where many had yet to hear the outcome, and asked what had happened.”

I guess that after the pressure cooker of the White House, a little dust-up with the top Illinois courts is not something that will not easily rattle a guy.

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The issues of conventions (can Kansas City be competitive?) and development (where’s it gone?) took center stage tonight at a mayoral forum sponsored by the American Institute of Architects of Kansas City.

More than 100 people attended the forum at the AIA’s comfortable, cutting-edge space at 1801 McGee. Those in attendance sat in black, hard-back chairs under a wide, red, runway-type ceiling. The five mayoral candidates who participated sat at a table in the front of the room, against a red wall that presents as a vertical extension of the ceiling.

The candidates took turns answering questions put to them by Kevin Collison, The Star’s development writer.

Participating candidates were Jim Rowland, Henry Klein, Sly James, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and Mike Burke.

An AIA official said Deb Hermann had informed the group that she would arrive late, but she failed to show. Later, she said she had attended a long-scheduled campaign event at a home in the Brookside area. “You can’t just hit everything,” Hermann said, referring to the many mayoral events.

The seventh mayoral candidate, Charles B. Wheeler, said later when reached at home that he didn’t know about the forum. The AIA official said she had either e-mailed or called the Wheeler campaign but had not heard back. “That’s possible,” Wheeler said, adding that he was enjoying a Laurel and Hardy movie on TV.

Wheeler and Hermann missed a good show. The discussion was energetic, for the most part, and sometimes intense.

Is the party over?

For example, on the issue of a proposed $300-million-plus convention hotel, Funkhouser essentially wrote Kansas City off as a major convention destination. “We do not need this hotel,” he said forcefully. “…This is a huge (financial) risk. We are probably not going to be a high-end, national convention city…This is a bad, bad idea.”

In surveys and elsewhere, he said, few city residents cite a convention hotel as a high priority.

Sitting to Funkhouser’s left and answering after Funkhouser, Burke, a former Convention & Visitors Bureau board member, took a sharply contrasting position. Convention business is critical to the city, he said, and the need for a downtown convention hotel is great.

At the same time, he said, “we cannot put the city’s general fund at risk.”

Klein said he was “very skeptical” about the feasibility of a convention hotel and pointed to the bankruptcy of a downtown hotel in St. Louis (apparently a Sheraton property that failed last September) as good reason to be skeptical.

Rowland urged patience, saying “a process is in place” that probably would determine whether the city should provide significant financial incentives and backing for such a project. He was referring to a steering committee that has been studying the issue and could make a recommendation to the City Council as soon as March.

Like Burke, James said the city needed a new convention hotel but that it should not come at the expense of a lower bond rating for the city or increased debt level. (As a practical matter, there’s virtually no way the city would be able to provide significant financial backing without taking on new debt.)

Earlier in the forum, Collison asked the candidates to rate, on an A-to-F scale, how the city was doing in recent years in terms of “development and investment activity.”

Starting off, Burke handed out a grade of “D,” citing the “collapse” of the Plaza’s West Edge project and the loss of the Wizards soccer team (going to KCK) as evidence of significant slippage. He offered optimism, however, saying “we’re coming out of this recession” and that the city needs to take advantage of the improved situation.

Funkhouser gave a grade of “C” and said the city had lost thousands and thousands of middle- and upper-income residents in recent years to the suburbs. A turnaround, he said, will hinge on “slow, organic growth.”

Like Burke, James issued a grade of “D,” and Klein, while he took his full quotient of time, didn’t give a specific grade. He said, among other things, that incentives the city handed out in earlier years (presumably for projects like the Power & Light District) might have created the illusion that things were significantly better back then.

Rowland gave the city the lowest grade — ”D-minus, at best” — charging that Funkhouser and the council had established “an environment that is toxic for development and business.”

“There are too many road blocks, too many barriers, too much red tape,” he said. Later, answering a related question, he said: “I would change fundamentally the tone at City Hall.”

The evening had its funny moments. At one point, for example, Rowland found himself agreeing with Funkhouser on an issue, after having agreed with him on another issue minutes earlier.

“This is twice,” he said, “and I’m not going to do it again.”

The last question of the evening — from an audience member named Tiffany Miller — made all of the candidates, except Burke, squirm. As a prelude to her question, which had to do with a HUD home-repair program, Miller said she had e-mailed her question to each of the candidates, using e-mail addresses on their web sites. Burke was the only candidate to respond, she said.

The candidates — except Burke, who was smiling contentedly — scrambled to come up with reasons why they had either missed the e-mail or failed to respond.

Funkhouser covered himself by saying he had spoken with Miller about the issue in the past. James said Miller’s e-mail was in a queue of 200 or 300 messages that he hadn’t read yet.

Then came Rowland with a real head-scratcher.

“I haven’t been home or slept the last 48 hours,” he said.

That was greeted with tittering from the audience.

Minutes later, after the forum had ended, I asked Miller what she thought about Rowland’s explanation.

“Yeah, my dog ate it,” she said.

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Over the next few weeks, the campaign for mayor will get increasingly interesting, and probably more pointed.

With the holidays in the rear view mirror and baseball season a long way off, the mayor’s race is about the only excitement on the immediate horizon. By default, if nothing else, people will begin taking a closer look at the seven candidates heading toward the Feb. 22 primary, when the field will be whittled to two.

Several mayoral forums are scheduled to be held this week. All are open to the public.

The times, days, sponsoring agencies and locations are as follows:

— 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, City Stage Theatre, Union Station. Each candidate will have 30 minutes to answer questions on mass transit.

— 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, American Institute of Architects, Kansas City Chapter, 1801 McGee, Suite 100.

— 8 p.m. Thursday, UMKC’s Pierson Auditorium, 5000 Holmes. (A council candidates’ forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m.)

— 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, The Call, Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, 3700 Blue Parkway.

While waiting for the action to intensify, here are some observations on the candidates:

** Jim Rowland. The “corridor kid” made good points at the Central Presbyterian Church forum last week when he reminded the audience what a jerk Mayor Mark Funkhouser has been. He’s the first mayor in at least 40 years to banish a council member (Jan Marcason of the Fourth District) from all standing committees. But Rowland has a couple of major problems: Beady eyes and a sour personality.


** Mike Burke. Has the deepest, broadest background in civic matters and projects confidence. Needs to sharpen his message, however, and tell people clearly why he is the best candidate and paint a sharper picture of where he would lead the city. (He also needs to drop his “perfect storm” explanation for why things have gone so badly at City Hall the last four years. It wasn’t the jet stream that wreaked havoc at City Hall; it was the mayor and his spouse.) Burke hurt himself by initially refusing to publicly talk about the Port Authority scandal, citing attorney-client relationship. (He was general counsel at the time.) Documents unearthed by The Star, however, show that after learning about the $9.7-million contract between the company developing the Richards-Gebaur site and a company owned by another Port Authority attorney, Burke wrote a scolding letter to the attorney, William Session.

Hermann and James

:: Deb Hermann. Straight shooter. Easy to talk to. Has guts. (Stood up to Local 42’s demand that the city include the former MAST employees in the city pension system at an estimated cost of $30 million.) Her kindly grandma appearance and non-threatening manner stand as appealing contrasts to Funkhouser’s bashing, avenging ways. Leadership is a question, though. She’s led the Finance and Audit Committee, but is that enough?

:: Funkhouser. Speaks knowledgeably and authoritatively about the issues, as you would expect of an incumbent, and almost makes you forget what a disaster he’s been. That’s why Burke and Rowland have to keep reminding the voters. (Hermann probably would like to slide through without going negative, at least in the primary.)

:: Henry Klein and Sly James. Well-meaning and well-spoken individuals who add a lot to the discussion. However…these and similar pretenders from past elections (Stan Glazer, Gomer Moody, etc.) who wake up one day and think, “Hey, I could be mayor,” need to go back to investing, the law, show business, liquor sales and whatever else it is they do and stay there. The last 40 years of Kansas City history shows that you can’t get elected mayor unless you’ve held another major elective office (Charles B. Wheeler); served on the council (Richard Berkley, Emanuel Cleaver and Kay Barnes); or been hand-picked by The Star’s Yael Abouhalkah.

:: Charles Wheeler. The most candid, accessible and entertaining mayor we’ve had during the last 40 years. (Held the office from 1971 to 1979.) I’ll never forget when he wrestled a bear in the mayor’s office and then regaled the press with the details: “The bear sat right over there on that couch and drank a Pepsi.” That said, he might not even get on the ballot. It takes 1,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot, and, at this point, that translates into supporters willing to stand outside supermarkets, in the cold, approaching shoppers and saying, “Excuse me…are you registered to vote in Kansas City?”

Suggestion: If you really want on the ballot, Charlie, hire Clay Chastain to get your signatures. He needs something constructive to do to take his mind off himself.

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Ordinance No. 110056 popped up at the last minute Thursday, too late, as the clerk said, to be included in the printed docket.

It didn’t involve a lot of money, relatively speaking — $125,000 — and it generated virtually no discussion.

But it sure packed a political wallop.

Yes, it did. It could hardly have come at a worse time for Mayor Mark Funkhouser, who has spent the last year or so trying to put “the Gloria thing” behind him. The Gloria thing, of course, was the long-running flap over wife Gloria Squitiro’s presence at City Hall, when she worked there as a full-time volunteer in his office.

Worked, as in scorched the walls of the old Art Deco building with a blowtorch and breathed fire down the throats of  many regular, salary-earning employees.

A little background:

You’ll recall that Squitiro refused to leave City Hall and that her husband — uh, the mayor — didn’t have the good sense, or maybe the courage, to tell her to do so. The council had to pass an ordinance, later thrown out by a judge, forcing her to do so.

Of course, it goes a lot deeper than a domineering wife getting her way and a deferring husband nodding to the status quo.

The city had to pay out $550,000 to a former mayoral aide, Ruth Bates, who sued Funkhouser, Squitiro and the city for Squitiro’s alleged harassment of her and discrimination against her. The city paid the money after settling with Bates, while Squitiro’s insurance company paid Bates an additional $45,000.

Let’s think about that again, as we approach the Feb. 22 primary election, in which Funkhouser is one of seven announced candidates...Five hundred fifty thousand dollars of taxpayer money was lost to the city because of Mrs. Funk’s tart tongue and poor judgment.

And she wasn’t even a full-fledged city employee. She was a squatter!

That brings us to Thursday and Ordinance No. 110056.

Bates’ lawsuit wasn’t the only one filed as a result of the Squitiro rodeo at City Hall. Shawn Pierce, a former aide to Funkhouser, filed a suit last January alleging that Funkhouser fired him because he had sided with Bates in that fracas.

There must have been something to Pierce’s claim because last month the city agreed to pay Pierce $125,000. “We have an agreement in principle,” Pierce’s attorney said at the time.

On Thursday, it was time for the council to approve the settlement.

And who introduced the ordinance? None other than Deb Hermann, a second-term council member who appears, on the basis of endorsements and momentum, to be the leading contender in the Feb. 22 primary.

Hermann, chairwoman of the council’s Finance and Audit Committee, was in a difficult position Thursday. I would think that, to some degree, she relished the prospect of sticking it to the mayor at this time, when the public is starting to pay attention to the mayor’s race.

On the other hand, Funkhouser, Mrs. Funk and all the bad stew that has been served up at City Hall the past few years have undoubtedly turned some members of the public against the council as a whole. As a result, Hermann — the only current council member running for mayor, besides Funkhouser — could suffer from association.

Earlier Thursday, I asked Hermann if she would vote “yes” for the Pierce payout through gritted teeth.

“I’m certainly not happy about this, but I would be much less happy if we had to pay more,” she said.

And, so, when it came time for a vote on Thursday, there was very little discussion: Just one question, directed to city staff, to confirm that the $125,000 would come specifically from money budgeted for the mayor’s office.

After the city attorney confirmed that was the case, the clerk proceeded with a roll-call vote. There were 11 “ayes,” one person absent (Councilman Bill Skaggs) and one abstention — the mayor.

Now, let’s do the math. Five hundred fifty thousand plus one hundred twenty-five thousand equals six hundred seventy-five thousand.

That’s $675,000 in taxpayer funds that has been paid out as a result of Mrs. Funk’s wonderful foray at City Hall.

Think about that when you go to the polls five weeks from Tuesday.

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Besides picking up some key endorsements in recent days, such as mortgage banker James B. Nutter Sr. and Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, another reason that Deb Hermann is coming on strong in the mayor’s race, in my opinion, is her creative use of signage.

I’m not referring to her yard signs, which are good, but to two mobile signs that are being rolled out for maximum exposure.

The billboard-type signs, essentially giant yard signs, cover the sides and backs of two U-Haul-type trucks, one of which has been parked along Southwest Trafficway and the other along Burlington Avenue in North Kansas City.

The one on Burlington, just past the the north end of the Heart of America Bridge, has been in a parking lot outside Bridge View Hall. Hermann’s campaign needed approval of the Bridge View Hall owner to park the truck outside his building.

The other truck has been parked on 36th Street, just off Southwest Trafficway.

I’ve been around politics a long time, but I’ve never seen truck advertising of this quality. I’ve seen a lot of second-rate truck advertising, including the use of homemade signs and irritating bull horns blaring the candidate’s message. But nothing this sophisticated…if you can call truck advertising sophisticated.

Hermann and her campaign staff are justifiably proud of the gimmick. “I think it’s certainly unique to get my name out there,” Hermann said. “I think it’s a good idea.”

But Hermann doesn’t take credit for it. She referred me to campaign coordinator Megan Tallman, whose roots are in Westport and who has been involved in many grassroots-type campaigns.

Tallman said she saw similar truck-side advertising used in a Northland campaign last year, and she said she mentioned it at a campaign staff meeting. From there, the idea took off. The person who implemented the plan is a sign-company owner who is a supporter of Hermann. The man ordered the signs and had them affixed to the trucks, which he owns, Tallman said.

As a result, it’s not costing the campaign much money. It’s a so-called “in-kind” service, where the sign-company owner donates his cost to the campaign. It would be nearly cost prohibitive, at least in a local campaign, to rent two trucks for a month or more.

So, congratulations to the Hermann campaign for its ingenuity and for adding a capricious touch to the mid-winter campaign. As Tallman said, even if you’re not for Hermann, the gimmick “still makes you smile.”

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A lot of topics came up for discussion at last night’s mayoral forum at Central Presbyterian Church, 35th and Campbell. Crime, education, the earnings tax, city services, the Plaza, urban blight, subsidized housing. And others.

But the undercurrent of the night — the palpable feeling that wove around, under and through all the talk — was the burning desire of the six challengers to see the incumbent, Mayor Mark Funkhouser, turned out of office.


I think it’s fair to say that not only do the six challengers — Mike Burke, Deb Hermann, Sly James, Jim Rowland, Henry Klein and Charles B. Wheeler — want Funkhouser out because they want in, but because they think Funkhouser has poisoned the well at City Hall.

Not only was that the sense of the challengers; it carried over into at least one prominent audience member, Fourth District Councilwoman Jan Marcason.

Marcason sat in the second row of  the audience, listening closely, eyes studying the people on the stage.

It might seem odd that Marcason, a first-term council member, has become a flash point for the election, but that’s the way it is.

Through her dogged battle to boot Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro, out of City Hall — where Squitiro was a pesky and unwanted presence in the eyes of many residents and city employees — Marcason has become the face of the oust-Funkhouser movement.

For her perceived impertinence, Funkhouser reciprocated by tossing Marcason off the council Finance Committee (where she was vice chairman) and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

And, so, against that backdrop, a question arose last night about what was at the root of the “disdain” that some council members have exhibited toward each other, and about what it might take to get a semblance of “civility back to City Hall.”


Burke went first. A former councilman and a former chairman of the city’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee, he talked about the importance of team building — of the implied need for the next group of council members to build a rapport so they could work together effectively.

Then it was Funkhouser’s turn. “I’m not sure it’s a lot less civil than it ever has been.” As an example, he recounted an incident when a former councilman came close to physically attacking longtime City Hall baiter Clay Chastain.

When the stakes are high and the issues are large, Funkhouser said, “There’s going to be an argument; there’s going to be a fight. Some people call it drama.”


Using the word “drama” could well have been a jab at Rowland. Twice Tuesday night, Rowland, executive director of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, noted that he had overseen the $700-million renovation of the sports complex “on time, on budget and with no drama.”

As the candidates went down the line, answering the civility question, Klein turned the thermostat up several degrees. It’s time, he said, “to take some of the egos down.” One person, he said pointedly — without specifying who but leaving no doubt who it was — had “usurped all the attention.”

Then it was Rowland’s turn. He stood up, made a complimentary comment about Marcason’s service on the council and then asked her, “How many (council) committees are you on?”

“None,” she said.

To which Rowland rejoined, “There has been four years of distraction and dysfunction.”

It was a square shot to the Tall One’s teeth, and everyone got it: Because she dared to take on the mayor, Marcason is not on one, single committee.


A few minutes later, the forum ended, and I went over to get a word with Marcason.

“How strong is your desire to see the mayor turned out of office?” I said.

“I think we deserve new leadership,” she replied. “Positive leadership that can help move the city forward.”

I asked her if she had endorsed any of the other six candidates. No, she said, but added that, in her opinion, there were four strong candidates — Burke, Hermann, James and Rowland.

We returned to the subject of Funkhouser having denied her a spot on any council committee.

“It’s unprecedented,” she said. “He’s just a mean-spirited person.”

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In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, The New York Times has published several news stories, letters to the editor and Op-Ed columns on the subject of gun control.

I have read most of them and would like to pass on some quotes that grabbed my attention.

Here goes.


U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, who has proposed a bill that would outlaw taking a firearm within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress:

“This kind of legislation is very difficult…The fact is Congress has not done any gun legislation in years. Once you get out of the Northeast, guns are a part of daily life.”

U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, who has proposed a bill that would ban large-capacity ammunition magazines, like the one Jared Loughner used:

“This is not a gun control bill. I like to use the word ‘gun safety bills.’ And this one just addresses the narrow issue of these clips.”

McCarthy, again:

“Any kind of bill the N.R.A. is against is always a problem.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican:

“I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”

Erich Pratt, director of communications for Gun Owners of America:

“I think after the November election it’s going to be very tough for Carolyn McCarthy and even the Peter Kings (to get legislation passed). Why should the government be in the business of telling us how we can defend ourselves?

“These politicians need to remember that these rights aren’t given to us by them. They come from God. They are God-given rights. They can’t be infringed or limited in any way. What are they going to do: limit it two or three rounds. Having lots of ammunition is critical, especially if the police are not around and you need to be able to defend yourself against mobs.”

Carol Delaney, professor emerita of cultural and social anthropology at Stanford University, in a letter to the editor:


“Bills have been proposed to allow students and professors to take guns to school. What professor won’t worry about giving failing grades when an angry student can march into his office and shoot him? Is this a civilized society or a resurgence of the Wild West?”

Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist:

“The only country I’ve seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, an N.R.A. dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.”

Kristof, again:

Congress on Wednesday echoed with speeches honoring those shot in Tucson. That’s great — but hollow. The best memorial would be to regulate firearms every bit as seriously as we regulate automobiles or toys.”

Gail Collins, New York Times columnist:

“Different parts of the country have very different attitudes about when it is appropriate for citizens to carry guns. There is nothing that would make me feel less safe while shopping than the knowledge that my fellow bargain-hunters were packing heat.”

Collins, again:

“If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, (Gabrielle) Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was sane idea to put her congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet. But we might not have lost a federal judge, a 76-year-old church volunteer, two elderly women, Giffords’ 30-year-old constituent services director and a 9-year-old girl….”

Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist:


“More than 30,000 people die from gunfire every year. Another 66,000 or so are wounded, which means that nearly 100,000 men, women and children are shot in the United States annually. Have we really become so impotent as a society, so pathetically fearful in the face of the extremists, that we can’t even take the most modest of steps to begin curbing this horror?

“Where is the leadership? We know who’s on the side of the gun crazies. Where is the leadership on the side of sanity?

Herbert, again:

“If we were serious, if we really wanted to cut down on the killings, we’d have to do two things. We’d have to radically restrict the availability of guns while at the same time beginning the very hard work of trying to change a culture that glorifies and embraces violence as entertainment and views violence as an appropriate and effective response to the things that bother us.”

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Last Sunday, The Star’s reader representative, Derek Donovan, wrote a column about the number of corrections in the paper having dropped between 2009 and 2010.

He wasn’t bragging, just laying out the raw numbers. Deep in the column, he also put forward a weird idea: To create two tiers of errors — significant and insignificant.

Maybe they could be presented under the headings “mortal” and “venial.” (That’s my idea, mind you, not his.)

Seriously, I have a couple of thoughts on this. (Are you surprised?)

First, if Donovan is looking, in his low-key way, for a gold star for the decline in corrections, he’s not going to get it from this here blogger. In fact, in my book, The Star’s treatment of corrections has earned them a big, scarlet “C” that the paper should be forced to put on Page 2 every day for the next year.

Page 2 is where The Star used to run all the news-related corrections. Every day, you could go to Page 2 and see how the paper had screwed up. A few years ago, they changed it, though. Now, the corrections run somewhere, but the editors often make the reader guess which shell the pea is under.

There are two main reasons that the number of corrections is down at The Star.

:: The news hole has gotten smaller, and circulation continues to dwindle.

Donovan reported that the paper published an even 300 corrections in the print edition, out of about 41,000 separate stories. That compared with 383 corrections in 2009, when the paper ran about 46,000 stories.

So, that’s an 11 percent drop in stories and a 22 percent drop in corrections. Donovan rushed over the story-count dip like it was a beaten-down speed bump, but, frankly, that should be a much greater source of concern to the paper and the readers than the correction rate.

How often do you hear people say, “There’s nothing to The Star anymore?” It’s not an illusion; it’s simply not offering the readers as much for their money as it used to.

As the story count has dropped, so has the number of subscribers and readers. And when fewer people are seeing the paper, not as many corrections are caught. It’s the readers who report most of the corrections. The reporters tend not to self-report their own errors for fear of getting dinged in their annual performance evaluations — and maybe even their paychecks.

:: The Star has made corrections a lower priority.

By depriving the corrections of a permanent home (as Page 2 was), The Star has signaled that it does not place as high a value on the corrections as it once did. Believe me, the reporters get that message, and most of them probably aren’t complaining.

During my many years at The Star, I lived in constant fear of winding up on Page 2. And, unfortunately, I made it there quite a bit. Once, in fact, I made a reporting error that, naturally, required a correction. But then I made an error in the correction. And so we published a correction to a correction.

Talk about mortification!

As tough as the policy was, though — and as conspicuous as the corrections were — we knew that our feet were being held firmly to the fire. It was good for the paper and good for the readers: full disclosure; no slip-sliding around.

I’m not saying The Star wouldn’t run a correction to a correction now. I’m sure it would. But now that it’s under siege, financially and otherwise (like many other metropolitan dailies), I think the handling of corrections has been allowed to drift a couple of rungs down on the priority ladder.

And now Donovan is tossing out the possibility of dropping corrections to an even lower level. In his column, he proposed two tiers of corrections — one for “significant factual errors” and one for “mundane, often mechanical mistakes.” As examples of insignificant mistakes, he cited the misspelling of celebrities’ names and erroneous TV listings.

Now, Donovan is certainly right that some errors are more significant than others, but establish separate tiers? No way. The first and perhaps biggest problem would be who decided which category the errors fell into.

Well, I guess that would be our helpful readers’ rep. But that’s an awful lot of discretion to give to one person, or even a committee, and I could foresee constant battles with readers and “error victims” over whether a certain error qualified as significant or insignificant.

Can you envision a correction that said: “Yesterday’s correction on the misspelling of Harry Truman’s name was improperly placed in the insignificant error category. We regret both errors.”

So, what’s the answer: Treat all corrections the same. And, please, go back to putting them in the same place every day.

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The seminal photograph of Jared Loughner is one that will be seared in the minds of many Americans for years to come.

You know the one I’m talking about: The police mug shot, in which his head is shaved, he’s wearing a quirky smile, and his eyes are aglow with madness and vacuousness.

That picture is one of several things that have stood out for me in the newspaper and online coverage that I have seen about the Loughner case.

Here are some other highlights of the coverage I have seen:

:: The New York Times’ very focused, wall-to-wall coverage.

:: A David Gergen, CNN column urging Americans not to jump to conclusions about political forces that might have factored into Loughner’s mindset.

:: A Kansas City Star story about the political “roar” surrounding the case.

First, regarding The Times’ coverage, which starts with that memorable photo.

When I first saw that picture on CNN’s home page Monday, I caught my breath. The photo depicted perfectly, for me, the separation from reality that I expected in Loughner from having read about him. It was one of those instances where a photo went far beyond anything that could be put into words. Even though CNN used it just as a mug shot in the upper-left corner of its page, it was arresting.

It took the editors at The New York Times to understand the photo’s impact and to take full advantage. On Tuesday, The Times put that photo at the top of its front page. The photo was three columns wide (half the width of the paper), below a four-column headline that read, “In Arizona Court, Suspect Waives Bail.”

What The Times has done so well in its coverage is to focus relentlessly on Loughner — his background, his family and his movements before the attack outside the Tucson Safeway. Unlike other papers, The Times can throw a fantastic amount of firepower at the epicenter of its coverage — Loughner — and still not short shrift any of the other story facets, such as fleshing out portraits of the victims.

The Times started boring in on Loughner on Monday with a front-page story about the disturbing behavior — “hysterical laughter, bizarre non sequiturs and aggressive outbursts “– that got him kicked out of Pima County Community College. Another photo, a mug shot, of a loopy-eyed Loughner accompanied that story.

Although no other news agency has the wherewithal to handle a story of this magnitude like The Times, some other outlets are doing good work.

I mentioned Gergen’s CNN article. An adviser to four presidents and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School, Gergen is a person whose political observations should be heeded.

Addressing the conservative-liberal foment that mushroomed immediately after the shootings, Gergen said: “The country would be well served now if we cooled the accusations until we learn more about…Jared Loughner. He appears to be mentally unhinged, someone who has threatened others. Why he targeted one of the most admired and popular political leaders in Arizon is unclear.”

He went on to say, however, that the “climate of hatred” has grown worse in recent years “during the George W. Bush years, when the left was intensely alienated, and now during the Obama years, when the right has become vitriolic.”

I agree with Gergen that it’s far too early to know how, or even if, the political atmosphere might have spurred Loughner, but I agree with a point that my friend and former K.C. Star colleague Dan Margolies made at lunch the other day. He said that regardless of how nutty some people are, in most cases they are influenced by “the Zeitgeist.” I had to look up “Zeitgeist” just to make sure I understood. Wikipedia defines it as the “general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual and/or political climate within a nation or even specific groups.”

In this case, that would be within Arizona, which, to me, has found its way to the bottom of the well among these United States.

I also want to credit The Star, which, to its credit, has originated at least one front-page story about the case.

The Star wisely put Dave Helling, one of its most experienced political reporters on the story, and he came up with a compelling report for Tuesday’s edition. The headline was “Silence, Then a Roar.” His lead — the first sentence — was attention grabbing: “The farther you traveled from U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ hospital room, the louder it got across America.” That sentence captured both the heartache of the story and the furor surrounding it.

Helling went on to quote the plainspoken, gutsy sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, who suggested that “vitriolic rhetoric” might have been a factor in the violence. Helling went on to talk about efforts and suggestions to tamper the political rhetoric, but he tempered that with an insightful comment from UMKC law school professor Doug Linder. “The natural instinct is to try and figure out some way to prevent these things from happening,” Linder said. “There isn’t any simple solution that involves restricting free speech.”

The only weak part of The Star’s Tuesday package was its centerpiece photo, which showed Cleaver and other Congress members and congressional staff members observing a moment of silence in Washington.

Underneath that amorphous, four-column photo was the mug shot of the crazy-eyed Loughner. But at an inch deep and less than an inch wide, the mug shot came nowhere close to delivering the punch that it did spread high and wide across the top of The Times the same morning.

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