The mayoral candidates took their road show to the Crossroads District Friday evening, and the setting — a part of Kansas City that has been thriving for a decade or more — energized the discussion.
It was interesting to see the approach that five main candidates — Mike Burke, Sly James, Deb Hermann, Mayor Mark Funkhouser and Jim Rowland — took with the crowd of about 75, who gathered on the second floor of a two-story building at 122 Southwest Blvd.
Hermann struck the right note immediately by saying: “First, I want to commend you; there’s no way anyone could have envisioned what you have created here.”
She was referring, of course, to the thriving district of restaurants, small and eclectic businesses, lofts and galleries.
Sly James picked up on the theme, saying, “The arts cut across all conceivable lines. It’s one of the things that can be used as a catalyst to bring people together.”
Oddly, Funkhouser didn’t say much about the arts or the Crossroads District in his opening statement, focusing, instead, on his oft-stated contention that city finances are in much better shape than they were when he took office four years ago.
Burke (whom I support and have contributed to) had a big advantage with this group, and he pressed it all night long. For months, a key part of his platform has been to create an Arts Office within the mayor’s office. The office, he said, would explore public funding for the arts and devise a plan to help sustain arts organizations for many years.
Rowland, while he didn’t say anything particularly interesting about the arts in his opening statement, hit on the issue during the course of the evening, saying, at one point, “The arts is a tool to drive economic development.”
Both Rowland and another candidate, Henry Klein, graciously acknowledged, however, that Burke was the front-runner on the arts issue.
Funkhouser, on the other hand, was considerably less deferential, saying: “We don’t need a mayor’s office of this, a mayor’s office of that…We need to integrate them.”
As usual, Funkhouser took more shots than he handed out. The challengers, particularly Herman, Rowland and Burke, have become adept at building themselves up by slapping him down.
Hermann, who is chairman of the council’s Finance and Audit Committee, said, “Of all the candidates up here, I’m the one who knows the budget.”
She said she had led the council to a consensus on the last three budgets “in a thoughtful, dignified manner, with no hair pulling and no gnashing of teeth.” She was alluding, of course, to the hair pulling (not literal) and gnashing of teeth (possibly literal) that Funkhouser’s wife, Gloria Squitiro, caused while working in Funkhouser’s office as a “volunteer.”
Before contrasting himself with Funkhouser, Burke talked about some of Kansas City’s great successes of the past, including Crown Center Redevelopment Corp.’s construction of the Crown Center Hotel and the Crown Center Shops.
“Hallmark built a hotel into a bluff, and it was a masterpiece,” Burke said.
Back then, he said, city leaders heralded Kansas City’s achievements throughout the country, and, partly as a result of that strong promotion, the city became one of the nation’s top convention destinations. (In recent years, it has fallen out of the top tier.)
Burke pledged to take “the Kansas City story” on the road again and concluded by saying, “I want you to be proud of your mayor. I want people to be proud of Kansas City.”
James, who seems to be finding a stronger voice with each passing day, also used Funkhouser’s long shadow to shine a light on himself and his vision of leadership.
“You have to set the example, and they (the council members and others) have to be willing to follow,” James said. “If you can’t bring people together to get something done, then you will get nothing done.”
The primary election is now 10 days away.