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Archive for March, 2011

I thought the Kansas City mayor’s race was the biggest story in town these days, but fellow blogger Tony Botello (Tony’s Kansas City) has pushed the powerhouse politicians to the curb.

First, Tony was the subject of a big, cover story in the March 3-9 issue of The Pitch. Then, yesterday, he was on KCUR’s Central Standard show with host Jabulani Leffall.

Congratulations to Tony, whom I call the Blogger Baron of Kansas City. Every blogger should have his or her 15 minutes of fame. Who knows? Maybe even JimmyC will get a nod from the mainstream someday. (Yes, I said mainstream: Even The Pitch has now moved into the mainstream, by default, because it publishes stories that the old mainstream media, like The Star, can’t do properly…See Tony Botello story, for example.)

However, Tony’s day in the sun wasn’t greeted with a warm embrace in all quarters. There’s this business of Tony’s “girls,” the busty babes that Tony sprinkles his blogs with.

Some people, I’m sure, enjoy the view. Others think it dampens his credibility. Some think it’s just plain sexist. Such a one is my friend, first name Stacy, who, upon hearing on KCUR that Tony might be involved in moderating a council-mayoral debate tomorrow, screeched loud and long.

Here are excerpts from two comments that Stacy posted yesterday, as well as Tony’s replies, one of which I posted yesterday. The other he sent this morning.

Stacy:

Okay – this has nothing to do with the post but I’m a little hot right now. What is this about Tony of Tony’s Kansas City hosting a debate for the candidates this weekend? WHY would this man be given this opportunity? Why would the candidates not demand a non-sexist host the debate? Seriously ticked right now…The type of photos on Tony’s blog supports objectification..You would think the candidates would try to get away from this type of person instead of giving him legitimacy by agreeing to this debate.

I responded that Mike Burke’s public calendar said that a TV news reporter would be the moderator but that I would try to find out if Tony would be playing any official role. I also wrote that while I believed a lot of women shared her feelings about the cheesecake photos on Tony’s blog, that he had established himself — through hard work and inspiration — as the top blogger in the area and could credibly argue that he would be a competent moderator of a mayoral forum.

I then e-mailed Tony to find out about his role in the upcoming forum. He replied quickly, saying…

Christina Medina is the Mayoral Moderator . . . KC Hispanic News publisher Joe Arce might help her.

I’ll be asking Council some questions just to get started . . .

But what I’m trying to do is get as many people there so there will be a crowd of people to ask their own questions.

Christina seemed very open to doing like an Oprah-type thing . . . Which is something a bit different than what we’ve seen.

But as far as the Mayoral Candidates go, I won’t be asking any questions.

My role . . . Promoting, trying to organize doing as much publicity as possible and I’ll be one of three panelists for the Council session.

Hope that helps.

However, I wonder . . . What question could I possibly ask that would screw things up?

Peace,

Tony

That prompted Stacy to respond directly (in the comments section) to Tony.

It’s not what questions you may or may not ask – you may ask wonderful, insightful questions. It’s what your web site represents that makes we wonder why any candidate would want your promotion. I know that I am not alone in my reaction to the type of photos you post on your web site. It is very difficult to continue reading what you have to say, or to hear what you may be asking, when the thoughts that are screaming in my head are, “This is the type of behavior that hurts women. This is the type of behavior that lets men (and women) think that objectification of women is okay.

…I can’t stop the thought process that occurs after I hear someone who supports the objectification of women open his/her mouth. It’s the Howard Stern effect. I just stop caring what the person has to say and I can’t hear what the responders have to say. And I do try, but it’s just lost. I am not the only woman I know who feels this way. So, the question boils down to: Will the candidates be seen in the same light as your blog if you are one of the promoters?

Not knowing if Tony had followed the entire give-and-take, I sent him the excerpts from Stacy’s comments and offered him the opportunity to respond to the substance of her charges, that is, that he is sexist and treats women as objects in his blog.

Early this morning (he doesn’t sleep much, you know), he sent me an e-mail, apologizing for not responding “in detail,” but what he did write gives me a new frame of reference for “in detail.”

First, he said that he was a dues-paying member of La Raza political club, which is a co-sponsor of tomorrow’s forum (9:30 a.m. to noon, Guadalupe Center, 1015 Avenida Cesar Chavez). The other sponsors are Dos Mundos And KC Hispanic News, newspapers for which Tony has worked in the past.

Then, he turned to the issue that so upsets Stacy.

Why are they allowing me to participate? Again, because I’ve had a business relationship with the organizers. Even through the jokes, alleged misogyny and typos, in all of my writing and work, I strongly advocate for Latinos. The forum is open to everybody, but some questions will be geared toward our community that is one of the fastest growing in Kansas City.

However, I think the root of her question is: Why hasn’t this alleged sexism or misogyny caused people to steer away from me? I don’t know for a fact, but I’ll guess that it’s just plain old expediency, pragmatism and people with a better sense of humor than the old bag who is asking these questions.

JimmyC interrupts this soliloquy to state unequivocally: Stacy is not an old bag. Now, back to Tony…

Simply in terms of photographic content: The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is lot racier than my pictorial referencing on most days . . . But the editors aren’t branded with the “misogynist” label. Also, some of the nation’s best journalists have written for Playboy, amid straight-up beaver shots. Racy content in Rolling Stone hasn’t overshadowed groundbreaking reporting. And today some of the best alternative journalism comes from magazines like Vice that feature nudity and far more divisive (and funny content) than my daily ramblings. Really, the images I use from time to time are akin to Victoria’s Secret advertising, and that’s a multi-billion-dollar company propped up by a public that seems to consume their “content” at a rate where any objections are negligible.

But beyond that . . . I will acknowledge that I’ve written some very nasty things about women . . . in the context of a jokey blog with funny photos, typos, big red type and an overall spirit of cheeky news-ish (attempts) at humor.

Of course there are facts on TKC and even some breaking news . . . But I’ve never hidden my objective: More than anything else I consider my blog an exercise in entertainment.

When Andy Kauffman wrestled women, it was part of his act, and the charges of misogyny still didn’t stop a great many people from noting the genius of his performance art. Obviously, I’m not at the level of an Andy Kauffman, but that’s my gold standard and the best analogy I can offer for my rhetorical battles with the opposite sex.

Ask the politicos about why they “dare to associate” with me, but I think in the end it’s because I do have a rather deft touch when it comes to what to take seriously and when to simply do straight (dare I claim?) “reporting” rather than my bloggy shtick.

So, because I’m not getting in the ring and throwing around women, because the photos that I love are tame and boring by most late-night, cable-television standards and because I’m only one person among many working on a collaborative effort to inform the KC voting public . . . I don’t see a problem with my involvement and basically regard these complaints as overwrought and coming from a lady too wrapped up in her own political correctness, delicate sensibilities and with far too much spare time.

The lady is welcome to protest my involvement, but the fact is that city council and mayoral candidates already made their decision knowing full well my content offerings and weighing that against the more important concerns of KC voters in the urban core and the Latino community.

This lady is entering into a debate that has already been settled. If she’d like to go on a date, maybe we could trade numbers and I could ask her permission before I decided to pursue any other form of civic involvement.

In a world where porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry and working its way into mainstream culture every day, reality television has introduced drug abuse, intervention and therapy as prime-time entertainment, and Ben Affleck is trying to save the Congo despite his horrendous acting work in Gigli and Daredevil . . . the humor blogging and writing that I do has not precluded me from doing just a bit of local organizing in the context of a town where very few people vote.

Peace,

Tony

There you have it — the prosecution and the defense?

What do you think?

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I turned 65 on Friday, and we broke out the hats and hooters at our house last night, celebrating well into the night — past 11 o’clock.

The only thing that blemished the party — for me and a few of the guests, anyway — was news that The Star had endorsed Sly James for mayor. (The endorsement editorial that appeared in today’s paper went up online last night.)

I said in a Feb. 26 post that, partly because I had contributed heavily to Mike Burke, I would not attempt to “cover” the race in the traditional journalistic sense, but that I would write about mainstream press coverage of the race.

The Star’s endorsement of James is about as mainstream as it gets. So, what’s up with this endorsement?

First, it obviously hurts Burke and boosts James. The editorial, probably written by Yael Abouhalkah, who has written about City Hall for more than 20 years, casts James as the candidate of “fresh ideas” and Burke as the candidate more familiar with “City Hall’s inner workings.”

OK, there in a nutshell, is the justification. But what’s going on behind the scenes with the seven-member editorial board, which made the decision? Besides Abouhalkah, the board includes publisher Mark Zieman, editorial page editor Miriam Pepper, Matthew Schofield, and columnists E. Thomas McClanahan, Barbara Shelly and Lewis Diuguid.

While I certainly believe the editorial board members worked hard at their decision and tried to come to it based on the pluses and minuses of the two candidates, other factors had to be in play. (I worked at The Star for 36 years and know something about how editorial decisions are made.)

Specifically, I think two factors tilted the board toward James: political correctness and the desire to pick a winner.

Political correctness

Four years ago, the editorial board chose Mark Funkhouser in what turned out to be one of the most ignominious endorsements in Star history. Funkhouser has been a disaster, and Yael and the board were so embarrassed that, a year or so ago, they rescinded the endorsement, and Yael later personally apologized for his ill-fated selection.

Back in ’07, however, The Star didn’t just select Funkhouser. It also passed over a relatively strong black candidate, City Councilman and community icon Alvin Brooks. It was a close race, but Funkhouser won, and he won for one reason: The Kansas City Star.

Once again, this year, The Star was faced with a difficult choice between a black man and a white man. I’ve got to think that The Star — a bastion of liberal thinking (which suits me just fine, by the way) — couldn’t bring itself to oppose another good, black candidate for the second consecutive four-year cycle.

Picking a winner

James started running more than two years ago and spent hundreds of hours developing connections and wooing support from people in various fields of interest. In addition, he proved to be an articulate, engaging candidate. In the primary, he cast himself as an eye- and ear-pleasing anti-Funk — a refreshing contrast to the glowering, sloop-shouldered mayor.

Burke has portrayed himself, justifiably, as the straight-and-steady candidate, the one with the most city-related experience and better prepared to start turning the city around the day he takes office. He says, convincingly, that his learning curve would be much less sharp than James’.

As is often the case, though, charisma is hard to beat. As I have sought out people’s opinions on the contest, a majority of the people I have talked to (those who have an opinion, anyway) say they favor James. Take a look at the yard signs, too, which is usually a good barometer. Again, James has the edge.

James’ populist appeal has not escaped Yael and his fellow board members. They sense that James is the candidate who is playing best on the streets.

Shamed by its selection of Funkhouser, The Star badly needs a winner to get back on track. Collectively, the editorial board members have their finger in the air, and they feel a breeze, propelled by a rush of east-side votes.

Does this mean Burke can’t win? Absolutely not. The race probably will be decided in the Ward Parkway Corridor, which has the highest proportion of registered and frequent voters.

In the corridor, never underestimate a Rockhurst High grad.

That’s Burke.

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One of the most infuriating moments that I ever experienced took place about 25 years ago in the bar of an Italian restaurant on “The Hill” in St. Louis.

We were in town visiting our good friends, Mary and Gus Buttice (a faithful blog reader), and talking with some of their friends while waiting for a table. A fellow in his 20s — an upbeat, lippy sort — was recounting that he had been living in Kansas City for a while but was delighted to have moved back to St. Louis recently. Kansas City didn’t hold a candle to St. Louis, he said. Then, he gestured at me and said, “Ask him; he knows.”

Flustered and on foreign soil, I didn’t know what to say or whether to say anything, so I kept my mouth shut. Inside, I fumed.

That was when St. Louis still led Kansas City (according to the 1980 Census) by about 5,000 residents — 453,000 to 448,000.

The worm turned in 1990, though, when Kansas City passed St. Louis (well, took the lead by losing far fewer people than St. Louis in the 1980s), and the margin has widened considerably since.

According to Census Bureau figures released last week, Kansas City gained 18,000 residents between 2000 and 2009 for a population of nearly 460,000. St. Louis’ population, meanwhile, fell 8.3 percent, to about 319,000. Perhaps even more startling, the population in St. Louis County, where St. Louis City residents have been fleeing for decades, also fell — by 1.7 percent, to less than a million people.

The Census story caused barely a ripple in Kansas City, but from my reading of articles in The New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the story had people in St. Louis grabbing the left sides of their chests.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said: “This is absolutely bad news. We had thought, given many of the other positive trends, that 50 years of population losses had finally reversed direction. Instead, by the measure of Census to Census, they continue…Combined with the news from St. Louis County, I believe that this will require an urgent and thorough rethinking of how we do almost everything.

“If this doesn’t jump-start regional thinking, nothing will.”

When I told my wife Patty about the St. Louis population figures, she paused for a moment and said, “That could happen to us, if we don’t fix the schools.”

I think she’s right. Unlike St. Louis, which is hemmed in on all sides, we have a Northland, where there is plenty of elbow room for growth. I couldn’t come up with specific figures, but I feel sure that the losses have continued south of the river, due mainly to people moving to the Kansas side for better schools.

We can’t count on the Northland to offset south-of-the-river losses forever. At some point, the Northland will cap out. What will south of the river look like at that point? I almost hate to think about it.

So, the stakes are as high as the hopes in this situation with hard-charging Superintendent John Covington and the “new and improved” Kansas City school board, headed by the young, dynamic and seemingly driven Airick Leonard West.

More specifically, regardless of what happens at a majority of the schools, if Covington and the board can’t put a stop to the fights and fires at Southwest High School, many of the young families banking on better days ahead (and trying to tough it out until it gets to that point), will bail.

Southwest is the crab that will not release its grip on the image of Kansas City schools.

Frankly, I don’t care for Kansas; its residents freeload off Kansas City but don’t want to pay its earnings tax, which fuels the core, which makes this a great area.

There are things I like about St. Louis, but I would never trade it for Kansas City. I wonder if that guy I talked to in the bar that night so many years ago would make such a harsh comparison to Kansas City now? Probably not.

I’m really glad and proud to call myself a Kansas Citian. But I’m worried.

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