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.”
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.”