Archive for February, 2011

A different tack

Today, I bring you two pieces of news.

This isn’t news of the “Holy shit!” variety. Instead, it probably falls into the “hmmm” category.

Besides, it’s the weekend — notoriously slow in the news biz — and I need something to write about.

Anyway, here’s what I want to tell you.

1) Yesterday, I contributed $2,000 to the Mike Burke for Mayor campaign, bringing my total Burke contributions to $5,000. (The maximum under city ordinance is $3,000 in each election cycle, that is, $3,000 in a primary election and $3,000 in a general election.)

2) Partly as a result of No. 1, I’ve decided not to try to “cover” the general election campaign between Burke and Sly James while doing everything I can to get Burke elected mayor.

I began thinking about this situation yesterday, after Tony Botello, the Baron of Bloggers, questioned on KC Confidential whether I had been sufficiently forthcoming about my dual roles of Burke contributor and campaign “reporter.” (For the record, I first reported that I was a contributor on Feb 8, two weeks before the election, and I disclosed on Feb. 14 that I had hit the $3,000 maximum.)

The first thing I did to try to resolve the issue — for myself — was go to the Blogger’s Code of Ethics (BCE) and see if it covered this situation. Unfortunately, the code is rather vague, and, as is often the case in life, it comes down to a matter of judgment.

What I have decided, then, is that I will write about how the mainstream press covers the race (that’s where my experience lies), but I won’t attempt to “cover” the campaign like I did in the primary election, reporting on debates and other developments.

Two reasons for the switch:

First, I am, indeed, heavily invested, financially and emotionally, in the Burke campaign. I attend staff meetings, offer suggestions and help write and edit campaign material.

Second, since Tuesday’s primary, this race has taken on a completely different tone and set of circumstances. In the primary, when there were seven candidates, many Kansas Citians were having difficulty sorting out the candidates — who they were; what they stood for; what their strategies were.

In the primary, I had three goals: Help educate readers about the race; help get Burke (whom I’ve known since 1985) through the primary; and help get Mayor Mark Funkhouser defeated.

I have no idea how much of a role, if any, my contributions played, but my two main desires were realized: Burke is in and Funkhouser is out.

At this point, the lights will shine more brightly on Burke and James — two extremely likable, positive-thinking candidates — and voters and readers will have an easier time deciphering their messages and analyzing their contrasting styles and personalities. The mainstream press will give readers plenty of material to help them decide whom to vote for.

As a practical matter, pushing Burke in my blogs is not going to help him at this point: The race has moved to a much higher plateau. Plus, Sly James, whom I did not know before this campaign, seems like a great guy, and if he wins, I want to be able to write about him and get my calls returned.

So, with that, I’m turning the campaign “reporting” over to the card-carrying reporters, camera-hauling photographers and uninvested bloggers.

One final thing: Tony wants to know if I expect anything in return for my $5,000 (could be six by the time it’s all over)…The answer is an emphatic “yes.” I want Mike Burke to be elected on March 22 and begin on, May 1, returning Kansas City to the ranks of the nation’s greatest cities.

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I like to think of myself as a thoughtful blogger, not some stream-o-consciousness blatherer who’s trying to fill some column inches.

And so, a couple of things I’ve seen recently — one in the “mainstream” media and one on a local blog — got me thinking about the issue of blogging and ethics.

The first thing was an Election-Day story (thanks for the nice photo, fellas) by Tony Botello on Hearne Christopher’s KC Confidential blog.

Tony — the baron of KC bloggers — raised the issue of blogging ethics as it related to my significant financial contributions ($3,000) to Mike Burke’s mayoral campaign while I was also writing about the race. (Shockingly, I wrote some very positive pieces about Mike.)

Tony wrote: And while Fitzpatrick repeatedly criticizes mainstream media like The Star for deviating from old-school journalistic standards, in the case of his support of Burke he’s gone native with his biases like an untrained blogger.

(Not sure I completely understand that sentence, but I guess I get the drift.)

The second thing that arrested my attention was a story in today’s Kansas City Star about a liberal blogger named Ian Murphy who was able to get Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the phone by pretending to be Kansas billionaire industrialist David Koch.

Now, that rankles me because this fellow Murphy is giving us bloggers a bad name…making us look like unethical lowlifes.

So, I started looking around to see if there was any code of ethics for bloggers. Shockingly, (am I overusing the word?), I couldn’t find one. No code of ethics…How can this be?

Most newspapers, including The Star, have extensive codes of ethics, but apparently the blogging version has slipped through the cracks. Upon reflection (like I said, that’s my deal), I thought I could leave a legacy to the medium by fashioning a “Blogger’s Code of Ethics.”

This morning, then (I move very fast), I appointed a 10-member, blue-ribbon Code of Ethics Blogging Panel (COEBP — pronounced co-eb), and gave them five hours to come up with a draft.

This afternoon, minutes before deadline, the draft landed on my desk with a resounding thud.

I took one look and was flabbergasted: The panel did such a good job that, without any editing, I accepted it Chapter and Verse. Extending profuse gratitude, I sent the panel off to Mike’s Tavern with a blank, JimmyCsays check.

And now, with no further ado, here is the Blogger’s Code of Ethics (BCE — pronounced bitchy), a Ten Commandments, of sorts, for bloggers.

1) Obey the law.

2) Never misrepresent thyself.

3) If thy skin is thin, find another passtime.

4) When writing ill of others, remember the backboard effect.

5) When contributing more than $1,000 to a political candidate, don’t tell thy spouse.

6) Disclose thy political contributions to thy readers. (I do!)

7) When writing about a former employer, remember they was thy meal ticket.

8) If someone calls the police because they don’t like what you’re doing or how you’re doing it, be sure to get the investigating officer’s name so you can put it in thy story.

9)  If you accept bribes, limit them to no more than you can eat or drink in a single, 24-hour cycle.

10) Have fun & express thyself.

Cheers, everyone!

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Mike Burke with (from left) Jo Marie Guastello, Melinda Burke, John Burke, Bishop Mark Tolbert, Klassie Alcine

February 22, 2011, Primary Election

1. Sly James — 26.1 %

2. Mike Burke — 26 %

The winner: KAN-SAS CITY!

Happy? Just a little...Councilwomen Jan Marcason and Cindy Circo

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I’m pumped, readers, and I hope you are, too!

After a long, snow-piled-high winter, Election Day (Part One) has arrived. Join me in a round of applause for the seven (six active) candidates for their perseverance, restraint (generally) and mostly high-level discussion of the daunting challenges facing our city.

It’s been an interesting, hotly contested mayoral primary campaign, with the usual mix of…

momentum swings: Deb Hermann surging and then ebbing; Sly James building slowly and methodically; Mike Burke coming on at the end

surprises: “Captain Taco” and three former mayors, including “live” candidate Charles B. Wheeler, endorsing Burke

snafus: a Burke flier depicting the silhouette of the Chicago skyline

The Magnificent Seven: Burke, Funkhouser, Klein, James, Hermann, Rowland, Wheeler

So, how’s it going to unfold tonight? Here’s my predicted order of finish:

1) Burke, 23 percent

2) James, 22 percent

3) Hermann, 18 percent

4) Funkhouser, 16 percent

5) Rowland, 14 percent

6) Wheeler, 5 percent

7) Klein, 2 percent

In the interests, again, of full disclosure, I have contributed $3,000 to Burke; have attended staff meetings; and helped secure Wheeler’s endorsement.

The first leg of this race is almost over. May the winner be…KANSAS CITY!

(I want to invite all you readers to Burke campaign headquarters for tonight’s vote-count watch. The headquarters is in the Broadway-Valentine Shopping Center, just north of the Uptown Theatre. Festivities start about 8 o’clock. See you there.)

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Mike Burke, Charles Wheeler, Richard Berkley and Wheeler advisers (back, from left) Tom Gorenc, Rick Murray and Polly Jones

Now that the primary campaign is just about over, the story can be told.

The story of how former mayor Charles B. Wheeler, one of the seven mayoral candidates in Tuesday’s primary, came to suspend his campaign and endorse Mike Burke last Wednesday, along with former mayors Richard L. Berkley and Kay Barnes.

It’s a story of intrigue, cajoling, wheeling and dealing and most of all…muffins.

Yes, muffins. This could be the first political campaign in history where muffins turned the tide in a candidacy.

Here’s the story.

As most of you know, I support and have contributed to Burke. What some of you probably don’t know is that I have a long and close relationship with Wheeler. I’ve known him since the early 1970s, when he was mayor and I was Jackson County Courthouse reporter for The Star.

Two years ago, I contributed to and volunteered for Wheeler when he ran for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer. As you might suspect, that campaign didn’t turn out in our favor. One day near the end of the campaign, when we were in Springfield, Burke called our campaign manager to say he was thinking about running for mayor. I got on the phone and told him then and there that I would support him, if he ran.

Fast forward to late last year. Burke got in the race, and Wheeler told people he intended to run, too. One day at the Westport Flea Market Bar and Grill, where Wheeler holds court at 10 a.m. every weekday, I told him that I had committed to Burke. I also urged him not to run, saying it would be another lost cause.

He said he’d think about it and decide later. Naturally, like a moth drawn to flames, he decided to run.

As the mayoral campaign intensified in recent weeks, the value of every prospective vote, particularly in the Ward Parkway corridor, came into sharp focus. Burke, a Northland resident, needs all the help he can get in the vote-laden corridor, which is also where Wheeler, who lives near Loose Park, has the bulk of his support.

So we began thinking about trying to get Wheeler out of the race and behind Burke. At that time, Burke already had the support of Barnes (although she had not endorsed him at a news conference), and he was starting to work on Berkley, who had never endorsed a mayoral candidate.

Less than two weeks ago, Burke asked me to set up a meeting among me, him and Wheeler at the Flea Market. We met there at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, the 11th. Wheeler has a table with a bronze plaque in the front room, but we sat farther back to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. Only a handful of people were in the restaurant.

Burke told Wheeler how much he admired him and that he would like to have him play some role in his administration, if he (Burke) was successful. He told Wheeler that Barnes was on board, that he was working on Berkley and that his goal was to hold a news conference on Wednesday (the 16th), where the three former mayors would endorse him.

Wheeler said he’d think about it, and they shook hands. After Burke had left, Wheeler and I talked a little more, and we agreed to meet for lunch the next day at Jack Gage American Tavern on Main.

On Saturday, Wheeler gave me the bad news: He had some fund-raisers scheduled; he had a couple of people working on his campaign whom he didn’t want to disappoint; and, well, he just wasn’t going to drop out.

I was disappointed, of course, but told him I understood. When I called Burke to tell him the news, his first reaction was, “Oh, bullshit!”

He told me to redouble the effort, saying Wheeler could cancel his fund-raisers. Meanwhile, Burke continued to work on Berkley and said he was hopeful that Berkley would come around. The next day, Sunday, Burke called and said joyfully, “We’ve got three mayors!”

I said, “You mean Berkley?” He said yes, that Berkley had committed and that it was more important than ever that we pin down Wheeler. He proposed that the three of us meet for breakfast at 9 a.m. the next day (last Monday) at First Watch at the Old Westport Shopping Center.

Burke got there early and was finishing breakfast when I arrived. I ordered breakfast and was eating when Wheeler arrived. He ordered a cranberry muffin.

Burke appealed to Wheeler by telling him he could have a strong voice in choosing the next mayor. Burke also got a little tougher, telling Wheeler that his endorsement had its greatest value before the primary; that after the primary its value plummeted.

They continued talking, and when I returned to the table from a trip to the restroom, they were finalizing plans for Wheeler’s attendance at the Wednesday news conference.

Again, Burke left before Wheeler and I. Wheeler said he would talk to his two campaign workers and would see what he could do about canceling a fund-raiser that was scheduled for Wednesday night. Before we left, Wheeler said, “Let’s have a muffin tomorrow.”

Knowing that we were now at an extremely delicate phase, I called Wheeler later that day to see how things had gone with his staff. “I’ve got a palace rebellion on my hands,” he said. “They’re not quitters.”

Instead of, “Oh, bullshit,” my thought was, “Oh, shit.”

I reported Wheeler’s equivocation to Burke, who urged me to keep the pressure on. He was convinced that Wheeler would stick, and he was also bound and determined to have the three former mayors at that Wednesday press conference.

On Tuesday, I arrived at First Watch at 9 a.m. sharp and took a booth that offered a view of the front door. Five minutes went by, and no Wheeler. Ten minutes, 15 minutes, still no Wheeler. At 9:20, I got out my cell phone to call him, and as I put the phone to my ear, he walked into the restaurant. He apologized; he had overslept.

The kitchen was out of cranberry muffins, so he ordered blueberry. (A Burke campaign staff member had suggested that I order him an Omega-3 bran muffin.)

He began talking about the race and said in his inimitable, nasally tone, “There might be some benefit in letting the votes get counted on Tuesday.” My heart started to sink, but as he continued talking, it was clear he had resigned himself to folding his campaign (although it was too late to get his name off the ballot). We decided that his scheduled, Wednesday-evening fund-raiser could be converted to an endorsement celebration of sorts.

At 8:30 on Wednesday morning, I accompanied Wheeler to an appearance at the Kansas City Board of Trade, where he had been scheduled to talk to board members about his campaign and also about the April 5, earnings-tax election. About five board members showed up, and Wheeler told them right off the bat that in a couple of hours he would be announcing that he was suspending his campaign and supporting Burke.

A couple of people nodded; no one protested.

Slightly more than two hours later, Wheeler, Barnes and Berkley followed Burke to a podium at Burke campaign headquarters in the Broadway Valentine Shopping Center. A crowd of about 100 people erupted into long, loud applause and cheering. My legs shook with excitement, and my hands trembled slightly as I scratched furiously in my reporter’s notebook.

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It’s been a tough week for Deb Hermann, no doubt about it.

First, it was the “Captain Taco” story. Then came a mailer — financed by the firefighters’ union — calling her “the Queen of TIF’s.”

“I was told it was going to get real bad for me, and I guess it did,” Hermann said in a telephone interview this morning.

And how is she holding up under the added pressure?

“Just fine,” she said. “I’m an old neighborhood leader. We’re tougher than we look.”

Hermann and Sly James

It was from her days as a neighborhood leader that the “Captain Taco” allegation sprang.

In a Kansas City Star story, political writer Steve Kraske reported that “former officers” alleged that 15 years ago, while helping run a Northland community policing center, Hermann referred to an Hispanic officer as “Captain Taco.”

A chief accuser is former Deputy Chief Vince Ortega, who said officers secretly recorded Hermann’s remarks and that the recordings were then played for him and other police commanders.

Hermann, who has been endorsed by the Hispanic Organization for Justice and Equality, has strongly denied the allegation.

“That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of,” she said today. “I never called anybody that.”

She also pointed out that no one has produced the tape. At the same time, she acknowledged that the story “probably hurt” her.

The firefighter-funded mailer hit the homes of registered voters the same day that Kraske’s story was published — Wednesday.

Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which  is supporting Mayor Mark Funkhouser for re-election, did its best to shroud its involvement in the piece, most notably by routing the money through St. Charles. But with disclosure requirements being what they are, the union had to show its cards.

The group that takes credit for the mailer — on the flier itself — is the Voters for Good Government, a campaign committee with an address in St. Charles, Mo.

But the giveaway, the telltale information, is on a single page — “24-hour notice of late contributions” — filed this week with the Missouri Ethics Commission, which receives and maintains campaign finance reports.

The “late contributions” page shows that Local 42 — address, 6320 Manchester Ave., Kansas City, Mo. — contributed $15,000 to Voters for Good Government on Wednesday.

The mailer — a two-sided, color piece — attempts to pin responsibility on Hermann for the city’s annual $10 million subsidy of the Power & Light District project, which was funded partly through Tax Increment Financing. With TIF projects, some of the tax revenue generated by the projects goes to pay off the projects.

Hermann was on the council that approved the Power & Light project during Mayor Kay Barnes’ second term. Funkhouser ran for mayor in 2007 partly on a crusade to rein in TIF projects. (Ironically, after Funkhouser became mayor, he named Hermann chairwoman of the council’s Finance and Audit Committee.)

The firefighter-funded mailer says, “Deb Hermann has handed out hundreds of millions in dollars in free tax giveaways to wealthy, politically connected developers. At the same time, she took tens of thousands of dollars of their money in campaign contributions…Put an end to waste. Vote against Deb, the queen of TIF’s.”

Hermann said today: “I don’t know that people will buy it.”

What earned her Local 42’s enmity, she said, was her strong opposition to absorbing the former MAST ambulance system employees into the city pension system and giving those employees retroactive benefits for time served as MAST employees.

That’s what Local 42 wants and has been angling for ever since the council approved the folding of MAST in 2009. Acting City Manager Troy Schulte has estimated the cost of the MAST employees’ pension benefits at $30 million.

So far, a council majority has held its ground against the union’s demand. Funkhouser is the only mayoral candidate who favors giving the MAST employees the retroactive benefits.

On the campaign trail, including at many forums, Hermann has touted her strong stand against the MAST pensions as a test of fearless leadership. She said today she realized that after most of the other mayoral candidates did not make such a big issue of the pensions, “it left me hanging way out there.”

She said she has no regrets about her strategy on that issue, however, and that she believes she will finish first of second on Tuesday and advance to the March 22 general election.

“I still feel real confident,” she said. “I’ve run a good race.”

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Before the eruption. From left, Mike Burke, Mark Funkhouser, Deb Hermann, Sly James, Henry Klein and Jim Rowland

Perhaps Mayor Mark Funkhouser had had it with playing the role of punching bag for some of the other mayoral candidates.

Or maybe his dog Maria the Poodle nipped him.

In any event, the man who has shown for four years that he’s very capable of being testy lit into Mike Burke tonight like no candidate has lit into another during the primary campaign.

The trigger point — at a League of Women Voters forum at Central United Methodist Church, 52nd and Oak streets — was a question about “the strong influence of the police and firefighter unions.”

Burke, whom I support and whose campaign gained a significant boost yesterday with the endorsements of three former mayors — Barnes, Berkley and Wheeler — took the opportunity to jab Funkhouser and a City Council majority for the manner in which they approved the folding of the MAST ambulance system into the Fire Department, at the urging of the department and Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

A controversial offshoot of that move is that Local 42 has been trying desperately to convince a council majority to retroactively install the former MAST employees in the city’s defined pension plan, at a cost that Acting City Manager Troy Schulte has estimated at $30 million.

So far, the council has stood its ground against the union’s crusade.

Burke told the crowd of 130 to 150 people that he believed the current council’s “most embarrassing moment” occurred in 2009 when a council majority voted to dismantle MAST and roll it into the fire department. The worst part of that episode, Burke said, was that the vote occurred without the benefit of a public hearing on the issue.

Burke pushed the needle in a bit deeper when he proceeded to say that the changeover, which Funkhouser supported, “got you a beautiful ad (a campaign mail piece) from the firefighters.” Before Burke finished the sentence, however, Funkhouser loudly interrupted him, saying, “It’s also not true!”

(He apparently was referring to the fact that the council held a public hearing on the issue the following week before voting, once again, to fold MAST into the fire department.)

After the interjection, Burke took one more shot: “As long as you cave in to them (the firefighters), you’re OK” in the eyes of the union.

(A group called Taxpayers Unlimited, the political arm of the firefighters’ union, has endorsed Funkhouser. Burke has the support of the Citizens Association, which has, at times, found itself taking candidates or positions in opposition to the firefighters’ union.)

After Burke had finished speaking, another candidate took the microphone. Funkhouser, sitting to Burke’s left, frowned, fidgeted and rubbed his jaw.

It was clear that he was not going to let Burke have the last word.

When it was Funkhouser’s turn to answer the next question, regarding transportation, Funkhouser said, “I’m going to use most of my time to respond to the frontal assault from Mr. Burke.”

When they worked for MAST, Funkhouser said, ambulance-system employees were “abused” and taken for granted.

“Finally, they joined Local 42,” he continued, “and, suddenly, they weren’t worth a pension system any more, even if they’d been driving an ambulance for 30 years.”

Burke sat quietly, looking straight ahead.

That was the end of the questions, and the candidates finished up with closing remarks. Neither Burke nor Funkhouser directly pursued the MAST/firefighter issue, but Funkhouser wasn’t through talking about what how he sees himself — as a populist change agent, a leader who is converting City Hall from a place where special interests held sway to a place where the interests of average citizens are paramount.

I will tell you that the most fundamental element of leadership is courage,” Funkhouser said. “The courage to withstand ridicule, the courage to withstand loss of reputation…When you demand change, there’s going to be conflict.”

Minutes later, after the forum had ended, I went up to Funkhouser to make sure that I would quote him correctly.

As he retraced his words about “the courage to withstand ridicule and loss of reputation,” he said, “I’ve witnessed that.”

Minutes later, I approached the forum moderator, Margie Richcreek of the League of Women Voters, and asked her to clarify the question about the firefighters.

As written, on a 3×5-inch card, the question was: “How would you negotiate the strong influence of the police and firefighter unions?”

It seemed clear to me that what the writer meant to say was, “How would you negate the strong influence of the police and firefighter unions?”

And that’s how the candidates interpreted it. And that’s how fights break out.

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