Despite the blogs, the TV ads and the candidate forums, most frequent voters still rely on The Kansas City Star to help them sort out the issues and gauge the candidates in the mayor’s race.
In recent days, The Star has, in some instances, yielded valuable insight. On the other hand, it fell face-down in the mud on a story last Friday about the legal cases that candidates Mike Burke and Sly James — both lawyers — have handled.
Let’s get the mud-splatter job out of the way first.
Political reporters Dave Helling and Steve Kraske set up their front-page story about Burke’s and James’ legal backgrounds by quoting Jim Bergfalk, a longtime political consultant who engineered the ill-fated campaign of Deb Hermann, who finished fifth in the Feb. 22 primary election.
On the front-page part of the story, before it “jumped” to an inside page, Helling and Kraske said that “because both men have thin experience in public office, some attention has turned to the pair’s legal careers for clues about their approaches to government.”
Then came the stage-setting quote from Bergfalk: “It (the legal perspective) is absolutely relevant. It’s the only real body of work that voters have” for the two contenders.
Never mind that Burke has served as chairman of three economic development agencies, headed the city’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee for five years, founded the July 4 Riverfest celebration and headed the committee that got Kansas City named an All-America City in 2006. And forget that James was co-chairman of the Save our Stadiums committee and served on the boards of Operation Breakthrough, the United Way and Genesis School.
First, shame on Bergfalk, who should and does know better. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking or doing when he said that. Maybe whichever of the two reporters who interviewed him led him in that direction. Maybe he was thinking about how, on his watch, Hermann plummeted from favorite a month before the primary to fifth on Election Day.
But the bigger shame goes to Helling and Kraske, who also know the quote is completely misleading and are guilty of using it to artificially pump up the importance of that day’s story. OK, the candidates’ legal backgrounds are relevant — no doubt about that — but is it…
“the only real body of work that voters have” ?????
Come on…In my view, those two reporters were trying to sell their story to both their editors and their readers. Once again, as is often the case at The Star, one or more editors failed to rein in the reporters. One of an editor’s main jobs is to make sure a story is balanced and in perspective. Sometimes, editors have to stand up to heavy-hitting reporters, blow the whistle and say, “No, that’s outta bounds.” Unfortunately, the editor who handled this story was a milquetoast.
Just that one quote blew the legal backgrounds of the two candidates out of perspective and, correspondingly, unfairly denigrated their respective civic-activist backgrounds.
…Guess I’ve gotta rein myself in here…Let’s move on to the next point.
On Thursday, Yael Abouhalkah, Op-Ed columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board had a column that, in part, addressed the two candidates’ leadership styles.
As a Burke contributor and supporter, I have to say, I loved that column. To my surprise, Abouhalkah said that James’ emphasis on being a mediator was “starting to wear thin.”
I say that surprised me because The Star recently endorsed James, although it was complimentary to Burke.
It sounds to me, just from that column, like Abouhalkah either didn’t cast his editorial vote for James or he’s had second thoughts.
Listen to what he went on to say…
“James recently hasn’t taken definitive stands on the Polsinelli law building/Country Club Plaza dispute, the future of Acting City Manger Troy Schulte and pension reform.
“His continued reservations won’t earn him points with voters who want leadership on issues that have been discussed for months, sometimes years (such as city pensions).”
Wow. Those are two powerful paragraphs that the Burke campaign could blow up into 60-point type and smack James in the head with. Whether the campaign will take advantage of that godsend remains to be seen.
That brings us to side-by-side stories in Sunday’s “A” section. Reporters Lynn Horsley and Michael Mansur interviewed both candidates on the most important issue in the race — Why should voters choose you? — and ran excerpts of the interviews.
Congratulations to Horsley and Mansur on stories that might prompt many voters to go for one candidate or the other.
I will leave you with the final questions and answers.
Question to James: Is there anything else we haven’t touched in terms of differences (between you and Burke)?
A: The key difference between Mike Burke and Sly James is we’re totally different people. Because I’m willing to accept that he has good ideas doesn’t mean we’re the same. … I believe I’m the leader that we need to go forward…I believe that the past is part of the problem for why we are where we are. I’m not saying that’s his fault. I don’t want that to be said at all. I’m just saying the time for politics as usual needs to cease and we need to do things a little differently in this town.
A: The main thing is who’s ready to walk in the mayor’s office and know how City Hall works, know who at City Hall are the good administrators, are the people you can trust for advice. That’s something I’m sure he can learn over time, but I don’t think we have a year or two of on-the-job training.