Charles B. Wheeler, mayor, 1971 to 1979. Check.
Richard L. Berkley, mayor, 1979 to 1991. Check.
Kay Barnes, mayor, 1999 to 2007. Check.
At an 11 a.m. news conference today, Wheeler, Berkley and Barnes — three of Kansas City’s four former, living mayors — checked the box beside the name of mayoral candidate Mike Burke.
What a day for the 61-year-old Burke, one of seven candidates on the ballot for next Tuesday’s mayoral primary.
It was the trifecta. A winning bet that will likely put him on the ballot for the March 22 general election. The top two finishers on Tuesday will advance to the finals.
As in indication of the significance of today’s development, it marked the first time that Berkley has ever endorsed a mayoral candidate. Until now, he has demurred on mayoral endorsements, not wanting to take a chance of having the door slammed shut on him at City Hall.
Also significant is the fact that Wheeler has been one of the seven candidates for mayor. Now, however, he is dropping his campaign (although his name will still be on the ballot) and urging his supporters to vote for Burke.
(Kansas City’s fourth living, former mayor is U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. It would be the height of foolishness for Cleaver, as a sitting member of Congress, to endorse any of the mayoral candidates, and Cleaver has demonstrated over many years that he is no fool.)
Burke introduced the three former mayors at a morning news conference at campaign headquarters, Valentine Road and Broadway. A boisterous crowd of about 75 people attended.
Cheers and long applause greeted Burke, the former mayors and two other dignitaries — Parks Board President John Fierro and Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church — as they walked to the podium.
Burke led off by mentioning that he had received the endorsements (along with Sly James) of The Kansas City Star and The Call, and added, “Today is the crowing glory, for me to have these former mayors standing behind me.”
He talked about the roles that each of the three former mayors had played in his life, including Wheeler having been the first person to urge him, back in the 1970s, to run for City Council, and Barnes having appointed him to his first city commission — the Citizens Advisory Committee on Noise.
“Mayors don’t hatch out of an egg,” Burke said. “Sometimes they’re groomed; they learn a lot from mentors. These people behind me are the mentors that I trust.”
Up first was Berkley, who praised Burke’s “wide experience in leadership,” which includes two years on the City Council (1985-1987) and key roles with just about every major economic development agency in the city.
Then Berkley did something that he was loathe to do as mayor — go negative on a fellow politician…Well, he didn’t mention Mayor Mark Funkhouser by name, but he took dead aim.
He talked about the “absolutely unnecessary conflict between the mayor’s office and the City Council” the last four years, and his voice slowed and gained an edge when he said of Burke, “We need someone who knows how to work with his 12 colleagues on the City Council.”
Returning to a positive tone, Berkley commended Burke for his “professionalism and friendly voice.”
Barnes noted that Burke has “extensive experience in every segment of the community,” and she lauded him as “a good listener…a leader and a cheerleader.”
“It’s a pleasure for me to endorse him,” she said.
Wheeler, wearing his trademark black, English-style cap, was short and sweet, as usual.
“When I heard that they (Barnes and Berkley) were ready to endorse him, I was, too.”
He encouraged audience members to go to the polls Tuesday and “make sure he (Burke) will be in the top two…And I’m predicting he’ll be No. 1!”
Despite taking a back seat to the triumvirate of former mayors, the supporting cast of Hartsfield and Fierro were strong additions to the proceedings.
Hartsfield, for example said that Burke had become “truly a friend” and that he saw in Burke the ability to be a facilitator among diverse interest groups.
“It’s about people,” Hartsfield said. “Not about a certain group of people — about all people.”
Fierro, who has been parks board president the last three and a half years, said:
“I have been, like our city, ready for a positive change. I’m looking for an individual to be an ambassador for this city…someone who can be a facilitator with the council. I’m looking for somebody that can be a convener.”
And Burke, he said, was the person he was convinced is best suited to take on the roles of ambassador, facilitator, convener.
A final note: Talk about guts…
Fierro was first appointed to the parks board by Barnes. Funkhouser, who was elected in 2007 and is seeking re-election, not only reappointed Fierro but named him president of the board.
Yesterday, Tuesday, Fierro called Funkhouser and told him that he was turning his back on him; that he would endorse Burke today.
And what was Funkhouser’s reaction?
“Pretty much, ‘OK, thanks…We’ll see you around,’ ” Fierro told me after the news conference.
Now there’s a guy who not only has guts but well might serve on the parks board under three consecutive mayors.