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.