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Archive for January, 2014

I see that MU Athletic Director Mike Alden has finally crawled out of his cave and made a statement about the way the athletic department handled the case of Sasha Menu Courey, the young swimmer who took her life in 2010, nearly two years after allegedly being raped by on or more MU football players.

The Star’s Vahe Gregorian reported today  that he got ahold of Alden by phone late last night.

Alden must have been napping and picked up the phone reflexively, because. had he known the press was calling, he surely would have let it go to voice mail.

Since this story broke last Friday, Alden has delegated MU’s response to his department’s inaction to two associate athletic directors, Chad Moller and Sarah Reesman.

Alden’s excuse for being AWOL during what was truly a crisis for his department is that he was in Florida, “performing his role,” as Gregorian put it, as president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

Well, you know what? Sometimes, even important meetings have to be put on hold. Or the meetings go on with somebody else holding the gavel.

What was more important: For Alden to be in Columbia dealing with the fallout from this national expose, or running some A.D. meetings in Florida? There is no comparison.

So, having returned with a tan, I presume, Alden took Gregorian’s late-night phone call and told him that Sasha’s death and what can be learned from the case need to be the focal points.

“It doesn’t need to be (us) turning around trying to defend what one person’s doing or another person’s doing or whatever,” Alden said.

In saying that, he was trying to turn the attention away from his own, and his department’s, failure to investigate the alleged rape, or rapes. (She could have been raped by as many as three players.)

ESPN reported last week that the athletic department learned about the alleged rape in 2011 but made a conscious decision not to investigate. Surely, Alden made the call not to investigate, even though the Title IX act — a federal law —  obligates schools to investigate any such allegations that come to the schools’ attention.

Athletic department officials said they didn’t investigate because Sasha never officially reported the rape. They said they had to take “her wishes” into consideration, implying that she did not want to pursue prosecution.

That is complete bullshit — a total cop-out and Pontius-Pilate hand washing.

Alden went on, in his interview with Gregorian, to say that if the school had come off as trying to rationalize its failure to investigate, “then I would apologize.”

“IF.”

“THEN.”

Holy crap! So, Alden issues a conditional apology to what some people might have viewed as MU’s attempt to rationalize its inaction.

**

I told you earlier this week that this guy is a chicken shit.

In 2006, he dispatched MU broadcaster Gary Link to tell then-basketball coach Quin Snyder that he either had to resign or be fired at the end of the basketball season. It’s the athletic director’s job to hire and fire coaches, not the broadcaster’s.

What’s clear is that Mike likes the sunny side of athletics — the hiring of new coaches, proudly presenting them at news conferences, talking about lofty expectations, celebrating big wins on the hardwood and gridiron.

But when things get difficult, when it’s down and dirty and the top dog needs to be out front, Alden heads for the kennel.

Well, this dog should be put down. Fired. That’s all there is to it.

What didn’t happen in the Sasha Menu Courey case is shameful. The big dog’s gotta go.

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The story about U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island threatening political reporter Michael Scotto after the State of the Union Address got me thinking about the times that I was involved in threats during my 36 years at The Kansas City Star.

Interestingly (I trust), only one of them involved a threat from someone who was unhappy about my coverage of him.

In one of the other incidents, an editor threatened me.

In the third incident, I indirectly threatened to give a guy some bad publicity if he double crossed me on a personal deal we had made. (That’s the oddest of the three, but it’s worth looking at because I’m sure that it wasn’t the first time a reporter has abused the power of a journalistic position.)

Let’s take them in order…

**

Threat No. 1:

In the early 70s, when I was covering Jackson County politics, a guy named Pat Hughes was a candidate for a county legislative post. Hughes, whom I don’t think I had met until the day of the threat, had been unhappy with a story that I had written.

I don’t remember anything about the story, and I don’t remember exactly what his beef was. But I clearly remember Pat getting in my face and yelling at me. This occurred at someone’s campaign headquarters, maybe his. Like Michael Scotto, I was taken completely off guard. Hughes had me cornered and he was reaming me out about my coverage and, as I recall, threatening to beat the crap out of me.

Like the Grimm/Scotto pairing, Pat was bigger than I, and it was pretty clear that had he gone violent, I would have come out at least bloodied and bruised.

I’m pretty sure Pat was drunk, or at least had been drinking…I did the best I could to stay calm and try to bring him down to earth, just like Scotto did with Grimm. (By the way, I admired Scotto’s composure and attempt to reason with Grimm in the face of a guy gone lunatic.)

pat hughes

Pat Hughes

Nothing came of the Hughes-Fitzpatrick showdown, I’m happy to report. Pat quit drinking, and we became friends…Not close friends, but we lived fairly close together, and we would see each other periodically. He also apologized for the incident, saying something like, “I shit in my own mess kit.” For my part, I told him that if there had been a fight, I would have folded pretty fast.

Pat died of cancer in 2011, and, poor guy, by the time he bought the farm he was on an oxygen tank and down to about 160 pounds or less. He was a mere shadow of the big, burly guy who had scared the crap out of me that hot summer night when he was an aspiring politician and I was Jimmy Olsen.

Threat No. 2:

In the late 70s, I was working on a story involving a former Jackson County Sheriff named Kenny Carnes, who had been named Missouri public safety director by Gov. Joe Teasdale.

(Teasdale, a Kansas Citian, had gotten himself elected governor mostly by billing himself “Walkin’ Joe” in back-to-back gubernatorial bids in 1972 and 1976. Somehow, Teasdale beat then-Gov. Kit Bond in 1976, although Bond turned around and beat him in 1980).

Anyway, Carnes had done something to piss Teasdale off, and a good source named Aleck Bratt, a KC political kingmaker, told me that Teasdale was going to fire Carnes. I told my editor, Paul Haskins, what was up, and he wanted the story bad. But I wanted to get affirmation from a second source, which was and is standard procedure, before I wrote and submitted the story. Couldn’t get it anywhere, though. After a few days, Haskins called me over to his desk and, eyes narrowed, said, “Fitzpatrick, I want that story, or I’m going to hang you outside that window by your feet.”

That’s what he said. Exactly.

paul haskins

Paul Haskins

The newsroom was on the second floor of the Star building at 18th and Grand. The windows were very large — six or eight feet tall — and it was easy for me to envision what Paul was proposing…In addition, Paul was a high-school dropout, had yellow teeth, smoked about three packs a day, drank at night and twitched a leg continuously.

Despite the saw-toothed edges, he was an excellent editor and went on to become assistant national editor at The New York Times — before dying of smoking-related cancer in 2003.

In the face of Paul’s threat, I took the only course that a right-thinking reporter would take and that was to run with the single-source story. (I have to admit I cheated, however, and said something like, “Sources say that Gov. Teasdale is going to fire Carnes.”)

Luckily, Teasdale fired Carnes a week or so later, and I looked like a genius. (Thank you, Aleck, and God rest your soul.)

Threat No. 3:

This was in the early ’80s, during a period of a year or so when I was writing features. And remember I told you this threat did not spring from journalistic roots. Anyway, I had the bright idea to throw a sock hop at the church I was going to at the time — Visitation — and I got a commitment from an Oldies DJ — a guy named “Katfish” Kris Kelly — to provide the music.

A few days before the event, while I was at work, I called the radio station where he pulled some late-night shifts and got him on the phone, planning to finalize the details. To my shock, Kelly said he had to work at the station the night of the sock hop and wouldn’t be able to do the job.

Now, the notices had gone out for the event, and everything was set. No way we could cancel it. There was also no way I was going to let Katfish off the hook…After we talked for a couple of minutes, I asked him if his boss was around. He said he was, and I asked him to put the guy on the line. He did, and I proceeded to tell the boss how Kelly had committed to the job a month or so ago, that the event was coming up in a matter of days and that it would be almost impossible to arrange a suitable substitute.

Then, I took it up a notch…“I want you to know,” I said, “that not only am I the social chairman at Visitation, I’m also a reporter at The Star.”

There was a pause, and the boss said, “He’ll be there.”

So, Katfish worked the sock hop, and it was a huge success.

Now, what I did was not right. It was a clear abuse of my position at a powerful institution. Of course, I couldn’t and wouldn’t have written about a personal deal like that, but I surely led Kelly’s boss to believe that I would smear him in the paper.

I could have been fired for that. It was one of several things I did in my career that I could have been fired for. But I was always lucky, and, in addition, a lot of the stuff like that that happened in the 70s and 80s came before most newspapers started developing serious codes of ethics and putting the gunslinging days of journalism in the rearview mirror.

Ah, how I loved those days! 

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I hope that many of you have read at least The Star’s accounts of the ESPN investigation into the case of Sasha Menu Courey, a former University of Missouri student-athlete, who committed suicide in June 2011, 16 months after allegedly having been raped by at least one MU football player.

It is a complex, tragic and disturbing case, and it casts a long, dark shadow over the university and its failure to investigate the alleged assault.

I will comment how The Star has handled the story so far and also on the university’s failure to investigate the case or even report it to campus or Columbia, Missouri, police. But first you need to know the basic facts…if you don’t already.

Several months after the incident, Menu Courey (she used both her mother’s and father’s last names) said that she was raped by an MU football player shortly after having had consensual sex with a football player she had been with on the day in question.

As time went by, it surfaced that she might have been raped by three football players that night, or early morning.

Menu Courey, a Canadian native who was attending MU on a swimming scholarship, acknowledged that she was intoxicated when the events took place. She told a rape crisis counselor and a campus therapist that she and the man she was with were falling asleep when another football player — who told her his name when she asked — entered the room, locked the door and raped her.

sasha1

Sasha Menu Courey

Menu Courey had experienced psychological problems before the rape, but they intensified afterward, and she ended up killing herself by getting ahold of and ingesting about 100 Tylenol pills while she was receiving treatment for her psychological problems at a hospital in Boston. She was 20 years old when she died.

She did not report the assault, or assaults, to campus police or to Columbia, Missouri, police. (As it turned out, Columbia police have jurisdiction because the alleged crime took place off campus.

Athletic department officials were aware of the incident at least by February 2012, when The Columbia Daily Tribune ran a long story about Menu Courey and the case. However, at least one athletic department official probably became aware of the rape nearly two years earlier, during a telephone conversation with Courey.

Nevertheless, the MU athletic department did not investigate or report the allegations to campus or Columbia police until this past weekend, when ESPN posted its story.

Chad Moller, associate athletic director in charge of communications, told ESPN that the school had not investigated or reported the allegations because Menu Courey “chose not to report this incident to anyone at MU other than mentioning it to health care providers who were bound to respect her privacy.”

Adding another layer of complexity to the case, Menu Courey’s parents did not respond to a university official’s letter written in February 2013, asking if they wanted the university to investigate. Lynn Courey, Menu Courey’s mother, told ESPN that she and her husband did not follow up partly because they had lost confidence in the athletic department after dealing with it, regarding their daughter, for several months.

Here’s the crux of the matter, however: Despite the fact that neither Menu Courey or her parents asked for an investigation, the university was obligated to report the matter to police. Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, told ESPN that the law requires schools to investigate such cases “based on the potential harm that the alleged rapists” pose.

(Title IX is a 1972 federal law that protects people from gender discrimination in education programs or other activities at schools that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education.)

ESPN said that another federal law, the Clery Act, “requires campus officials with responsibility for student or campus activities to report serious incidents of crime to police for investigation and possible inclusion in campus crime statistics.”

**

Here are my observations:

1) You would think that in the Penn State/Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky era, any school would understand the importance of quickly launching an investigation or alerting police to any sexual-assault allegation that it became aware of. 

So, why didn’t MU officials do that? In my opinion, the same reason that Penn State officials, all the way up to former university president Graham Spanier, tried to cover up Sandusky’s sexual assaults of dozens of boys:

Fear that an investigation would put the school in a bad light.

What Penn State didn’t realize and what MU should have realized is that a school can end up looking even worse by trying to cover up a crime, or at least avert its gaze.

In my opinion, MU comes off looking very bad in this, and it could well hurt the school in recruiting athletes and regular students.

I mean, won’t the parents of young people, especially women, think twice before sending their kids off to a school where school officials might turn their heads if the kids became crime victims, particularly if athletes were involved in the commission?

2) Where is MU Athletic Director Mike Alden in all this?

Apparently, he delegated the difficult job of dealing with the press to Moller and and another associate athletic director, Sarah Reesman, who is a lawyer.

Alden is only mentioned in ESPN story in a timeline of events and once, in passing, in the text. A Kansas City Star story in today’s sports section said the university had told the paper that Alden was out of town and not available for comment.

Two ESPN reporters, Nicole Noren and Tom Farrey, worked on this story for 16 months. I’ve got to assume they tried to get ahold of Alden. If they did, they should have said so, and they should have said that he referred them to others in the department.

Yet, it doesn’t surprise me a bit that Alden is playing hide and go seek…In 2006, he dispatched MU broadcaster Gary Link to tell then-basketball coach Quin Snyder that he either had to resign or be fired at the end of the basketball season.

Obviously, Alden is a cowardly lion.

3) I didn’t like the way The Star backed into the story.

ESPN posted its initial story about 12:45 p.m. last Friday. That gave The Star’s sports desk several hours to decide how to go about reporting it.

Instead of coming out on Saturday morning with a straightforward story crediting ESPN and laying out the basic facts, The Star ran a sports-section-front story under the headline “MU denies claim.”

The first paragraph of that story, written by sports reporter Tod Palmer, who covers MU said:

“The University of Missouri has rebutted a story published Friday by ESPN’s ‘Outside the Line,” denying that school officials acted improperly by failing to report an alleged sexual assault against a female swimmer who later committed suicide.”

That’s no way to report a story that was 16 months in the making and that had the stamp of ESPN’s credibility. The whole idea in journalism, after all, is to report the news before reporting the response to the news.

But I’ll give credit where it’s due: The Star came back with an excellent column by Vahe Gregorian on Page 1 today. Gregorian, who spent many years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before joining The Star’s sports department last year, showed his experience by writing a thoughtful and nuanced commentary on the case.

Gregorian set the right tone when he talked about “the depressing haze that lingers over Sasha’s death.”

If it had chosen to, the University of Missouri could have done a lot, starting two years ago, to clear the air about this case. But because it chose to sit on its hands and hope the story went away, we’re all left to wonder if MU is just another head-in-the-sand-to-protect-the-athletes kind of school.

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It’s been more than 30 years since I heard one of the best lines I ever came across in politics.

Then-City Councilman Bobby Hernandez had a stiff re-election challenge against someone whose name I don’t remember. Everybody was counting Hernandez out, so much so that a friend of Bobby’s, a county legislator named Virgil Troutwine, said, “Take his picture; he’s gone.”

As it turned out, Hernandez managed to pull through, and he stayed in office for another eight or 12 years. (It was before voters approved term limits.)

I still think of that line a lot…It can apply in many types of situations.

Like the case of Kansas City Aviation Director Mark VanLoh.

VanLoh — I don’t know how long he’s had the job — has been dead set on a new, single terminal at KCI. He’s made no secret of his wishes, and that’s fine, except that about 90 percent of area residents love the existing multi-terminal set-up and want to keep it.

About twice a week, a new letter to the editor pops up in favor of keeping KCI essentially as it is. The latest letter was in today. B. Parks Eubank of Lee’s Summit said, in part:

“Why trade our short security lines for lengthy lines and long waits? KCI updates and some perks would polish some rough edges. All said, an airport is not an entertainment destination but a source of transportation.”

At the other end of the spectrum is VanLoh, who not only wants a new terminal but initially proposed building a main terminal at a new location, south of the existing terminals. That was quickly exposed as way too costly, and VanLoh changed courses, saying a new terminal should be built at the site of the existing ones.

(For the record, I am in favor of a new terminal, or at least reconfiguring the ones we have so that all passengers go through a central security station before entering the trunk of the terminal, where they would be free to move about as they wished, amid a much wider array of shopping and eating options. That’s the way it is at most big-city, modern airports. And, as I told the KCI Terminal Advisory Committee recently, I want to live in a Kansas City where everything is up to date.)

But even though he might be right, VanLoh fouled the atmosphere by charging out of the gate with his plan for a new, relocated terminal. Obviously, he has no political instincts whatsoever; if he had been smart, he would have planned more carefully and then would have presented the plan as a mere possibility, not as a veritable fait accompli.

Now, even though he has been a low-profile bureaucrat, he finds himself at the center of a firestorm. He stuck his neck way, way out there, and today the man with the most credible political voice in Kansas City — The Star’s Yael Abouhalkah — called for VanLoh to be fired.

In his weekly Op-Ed column, Abouhalkah wrote:

“Mark VanLoh does not have the public credibility to lead on this extremely crucial project…A new aviation director would be a positive step because it could allow Kansas City to more or less start over with a different leader, at the top, guiding the process of improving KCI.”

I had not even considered the prospect of VanLoh stepping aside or being ousted, but the moment I read what Yael had to say, I realized that he was right on target. This whole situation has bogged down badly, and it’s because of the awkward way it came out of the starting gate, with VanLoh’s hastily put-together plan.

As soon as the shit hit the fan, Mayor Sly James, good politician that he is, appointed the Terminal Advisory Committee and installed Bob Berkebile, a widely respected architect, as co-chairman. Berkebile and the other co-chairman, Dave Fowler — retired managing partner of KPMG in Kansas City — now have the process moving methodically and carefully. The committee expects to make a public recommendation on KCI in April.

Still, as Yael suggested, the committee cannot repair all the damage that VanLoh wrought. He singlehandedly managed to polarize the issue, and it seems to me that it’s unlikely, at this point, to proceed with a radical overhaul at KCI. We’re now essentially stuck with our 40-year-old terminals for another generation or so.

Maybe bringing in a new aviation director will help turn the page, but it’s also going to further slow down the process. It will take a new director months to get up to speed and establish the profile and credibility that will be needed to move forward with anything significant at KCI.

Fortunately, somebody took VanLoh’s picture. Here it is…

mark van loh

Take a good look at it because in the immortal words of Virgil Troutwine…he’s gone.

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Perhaps the nastiest and most prominent blemish on the face of Kansas City is the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect.

That’s the site of what a pair of crooked developers envisioned years ago as an $80 million, 35-acre shopping center, featuring a grocery, homes, restaurants and other retail businesses.

It was nobly called Citadel Plaza.

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? If you hadn’t seen it and knew nothing about it, you might say, “What is this Citadel Plaza? Is it anything like the Country Club Plaza?” 

Well, no. It’s 35 acres of junk, including run-down houses, weed-covered fields and asbestos detritus.

The toll that this particular site has taken on the city, particularly East Side residents, is much worse than what most other sections of arid, city landscape have taken. The curse of that site goes back almost 20 years.

Consider this:

* In 1994, one of Jackson County’s most respected and talented Circuit Court judges, H. Michael Coburn, died after falling into an unsecured elevator shaft of a boarded up, abandoned building on the site. Carrying a flashlight and leading a group of people, Coburn was inspecting the building as part of a court case. I believe that the guy who owned the building, a dentist by the name of Thomas Wrenn, is still doing dental work in a partially boarded up building — not the same building — that is on the Citadel site and facing 63rd Street.

* In 2008, the City Council voted to provide $20.5 million to a development outfit called Community Development Corp. of Kansas City. The idea was to jump start the project. Turned out that the principals, William M. Threatt and Anthony Crompton, were crooks. They ended up pleading guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act by improperly removing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials while demolishing numerous homes on the Citadel site. Crompton was sentenced to three years probation and five months in a halfway house. The Kansas City Star’s electronic library does not show what Threatt’s sentence was, as far as I can tell.

*Despite their own legal problems, Threatt and Crompton sued the city for refusing to deliver the $20.5 million. In November 2011, the City Council approved a $15 million settlement to resolve lawsuits involving the development’s creditors and to give the city clear title to the land.

Fortunately for taxpayers, none of that money went to Crompton or Threatt. But that’s the only fortunate thing that has come out of the Citadel Plaza debacle.

The most pathetic part of the situation is that the site remains just as junky and just as asbestos ridden today as it was when Threatt and Crompton inflicted their damage on it.

p1010948

I took this photo of the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect in February 2012. The view is east, across Prospect, toward a BP station.

In Tuesday’s Star, City Hall reporter Lynn Horsley reported that “the long-awaited cleanup of the failed Citadel Plaza site…is finally set to begin, at least in a small way.” Horsley said that “test pit activity” will start today, Wednesday, on four to six lots out of the 68 vacant lots that have been identified for possible buried asbestos. If contamination is found, city officials told Horsley, it will be disposed of properly.

So, two years after the $15 million settlement was approved, the city is finally getting around to testing some sites for asbestos, not actually digging it up and getting rid of it.

That is pathetic.

At least the bureaucrat in charge of the project, Andrew Bracker, had the decency to acknowledge that the cleanup is taking longer than expected.

Horsley wrote: “The city has a $500,000 federal grant for cleanup and some bond funds available, but Bracker said the city wants to conserve as much money as possible for work needed before development begins.”

Now, just what the hell does that mean? It’s gobbledygook. Wouldn’t it make sense for the city to clean up the area as soon as possible precisely so that development can begin?

As I read Horsley’s story, I hesitated when I saw Bracker’s name. It sounded familiar. I went back to a blog post I wrote about the Citadel mess two years ago, and, yep, there was Bracker. I had run into him at the site while doing some reporting before writing the post. He had recently taken charge of the cleanup and was familiarizing himself with the site.

At the site, I chatted with Bracker for a few minutes, and he gave me his business card.

An hour or so later, I sent him an e-mail, asking when the cleanup might begin and how much it might cost.

The plan, he responded, was to “clean up the site as soon as practicable.”

Since the city is not much farther along now than it was in February 2012, I think it’s safe to conclude that when Bracker says “as soon as practicable,” it has nothing to do with soon.

But I gotta hand it to Bracker for his use of the word “practicable.”

According to OnlineGrammar.com, an important distinction between practical (which means useful) and practicable (which means feasible) is that “practical can apply to people and skills, while practicable only applies to plans or actions.”

Or, in Bracker’s context, should we say lack of plans and action.

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Hey, let’s talk streetcars.

And I’m not talking “toy train,” “streetcar to nowhere” or any of the other sarcastic appellations I’ve heard it called.

I’m really looking forward to the addition of the two-mile route downtown, and I think it’s good that city officials are already laying plans to expand the system. Like the first phase, subsequent phases would be financed largely by one-cent-sales-tax increases in the streetcar districts — provided voters approve the increases. (And I think they will because almost everyone in the districts would stand to benefit directly or indirectly.)

I think the streetcar is going to be a big hit.

Here’s my reasoning:

First, the price is going to be right — absolutely free. Very smart move by the planners.

Second, Downtown is growing fast, both as an entertainment district and as a place to live. You think the Power & Light and Crossroads district partiers aren’t going to like this?

Third, this is nothing like a damn trolley car — the red and green motorized vehicles we have seen trolling around Westport and a few other places in the summertime. City officials are promising “sleek, modern” streetcars that should look something like the model that was parked outside Union Station a year or so ago. (Below.)

streetcar

**

Now, if you’re looking for a speedy way to get around downtown, this isn’t it. In the district under construction now — from the River Market to Union Station, the streetcar is going to stop every two or three blocks. A lot of people will be getting on and off.

But while it’s not a speed demon, the fact that it’s going to carry a lot of people — that much, I guarantee — is going to have at least one big, big plus: The more riders there are, the safer the streetcar will be. On the bus — the Area Transportation Authority — people are always worried, with good reason, if the person next to them is either wacko or carrying a weapon or both.

We all know this: The bus sucks. It’s loud and obnoxious (on the streetcar you’re going to feel like you’re in church during Lent) and has no redeeming, intrinsic value, other than that it beats walking. It’s essentially a cattle car. Plus, it costs a buck fifty to ride the damn thing, and if you don’t have the exact change, you’re screwed. Which is ridiculous.

Before we turn to expansion, I’d like you to take a look at the downtown route, which is slated to be completed in the summer of next year.

KCStreetcarmap

Using the core of downtown, it lays the foundation for following the “spine” of Kansas City out to the Plaza, Brookside and Waldo — all the way out to 85th Street, ideally.

This is not for the suburbanites, especially the Kansans. Actually, I don’t give a shit about the Kansans. The only thing they’ve ever helped us with, here in the city, is Union Station renovation.

So the Kansans — those whose eyes don’t bulge and hands don’t tremble at the prospect of coming “into downtown” — can keep driving their giant SUVs out to Blue Valley and back. They need to just stay off Main Street and Brookside, where the streetcars will be traveling on fixed rails, powered by overhead wires suspended between poles about 110 feet apart.

Another upside to an expanded streetcar system is that it will help spur the movement “back to the city.” The re-emergence of downtown and the evolution of the Crossroads are luring a lot of people to the heart of the city.

That said, I don’t think light rail (which involves building new rail lines away from existing streets) is viable in Kansas City. I don’t think we have the concentration of population that is needed to make that a success. Plus, as I mentioned before, we’re never going to get the Kansans out of their SUVs.

In addition, I’m skeptical about commuter rail, which would use existing rails owned by companies like Kansas City Southern and Kansas City Terminal Railway.

It appears we don’t have the political leadership and will power that it would take for that to happen…I mean, look at the political nightmare that enveloped us last year:

County Executive Mike Sanders was all for commuter rail, but, then, when Kansas City Southern and Kansas City Terminal Railway balked at the prospect of sharing their rails, even for a nice fee, Sanders back-flipped like a cheerleader. Instead of sticking with it and trying to get a deal, he allowed civic leaders to convince him to switch gears and champion a proposed a half-cent sales tax increase to give St. Luke’s, Children’s Mercy and the UMKC School of Medicine $1 billion for medical research over the next 20 years.

We saw how that ended.

Nope, light rail and commuter rail aren’t going to happen. So, jump aboard, everybody…Long live the streetcar!

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Did I really say in this space, a few days ago, that I would consider voting for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for president?

Did I really call his Jan. 9, marathon press conference (where he painted himself as the victim, in the Bridgegate scandal, of run-amok staff members) “a bravura performance”?

And did I say that I believed him when he painted himself as the unknowing victim in the Bridgegate scandal…when he claimed that run-amok staff members orchestrated the September closing of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge into New York City?

Well, shiver me timbers I guess I did because there is convincing electronic evidence to prove it.

But, but…I’m wiser now, I swear to you. I’ve heard and read a lot more about Gov. Christie and the evolving Bridgegate situation, and I was wondering…would you let me take back those blusterous, ill-conceived words from last week?

…..Oh, come on, now! We all know this blogging isn’t real journalism. It’s not like this stuff appears in black and white in the KC Star, where hundreds of thousands of people (well, maybe tens of thousands) chew on it with breakfast, put it down and say:

“Yep, that’s the whole story…JimmyC just said it right here in The Kansas City Star!”

Under those circumstances it’s a lot harder to reel your errant commentary back in…You gotta get with the editors and clear the way to do a follow-up column, where you delicately try to shroud the stench from the steaming pile you’ve left in hundreds of thousands (seems like millions at that point) of front yards.

**

The blowback from my swoon over Christie’s news-conference performance started within minutes, when I got an email from a friend and former KC Star co-worker.

“C’mon!” wrote my friend, who declined to be quoted by name for personal reasons. “When did you hang up your skeptometer? There was no way he did not know. At the very least, he created a climate of petty vindictiveness that allowed his stooges..to assume it was OK to shut down those access lanes.”

A day later, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins weighed in with a funny and biting column castigating the manner in which Christie took “full responsibility” for the debacle, even while claiming he was completely in the dark.

Collins wrote:

“Here we have an echo of Harry Truman’s announcement that ‘the buck stops here.’ However, Christie took the more modern approach, which is to make it clear that while you’re responsible, you are totally not at fault. The buck that stopped at Christie’s desk was not his buck, just an errant piece of currency that wound up in the office because of treacherous fools over whom he had no actual control whatsoever.”

Then, yesterday, the news hit that Christie had hired a former assistant U.S. attorney in New York “to assist with the internal investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal.”

You’ve got to wonder, don’t you, if he’s hiring a former prosecutor to root out the facts or try to cover them up?

Then, this morning, the Associated Press reported that David Wildstein, a good friend of Christie and the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who apparently engineered the lane closings, is ready to tell what he knows if he is granted immunity from prosecution.

And how could you blame Wildstein after Christie dismissed and ended their friendship of 30-some years by saying: “David and I were not friends in high school…We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that time.”

Gail Collins’ reaction to that was, “Ouch!”

But it might well be Wildstein who delivers the last “Ouch!”

**

The nail that sealed the coffin on my “Christie is brilliant” post came from another New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Timothy Egan.

In a column posted today, Egan expounded on the notion, put forth by Fox News’ Brit Hume, that Christie is “an old-fashioned guy’s guy,” who constantly runs the risk, in Hume’s words, of “slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever.”

It’s that “guy’s guy,” thing — Christie’s seeming lack of political correctness and his willingness to speak candidly — that appeals to a lot of people…including me, I have to admit.

But Egan highlighted the inherent danger of the “guy’s guy” culture. What old-school political devotees might see as toughness and genuineness, he said, many others will see as being “insensitive to people in general.”

Unfortunately for Christie — but perhaps fortunately for the country — the national impression is now starting to tilt toward Christie simply being an insensitive person who is trying to bluff his way to the presidency with a refreshing personality and an affected sense of openness.

So, I guess he tricked me…And it’s probably going to cost me, because I accepted my former KC Star colleague’s bet of dinner and drinks that Christie eventually would be exposed as a liar on Bridgegate.

Luckily, my buddy’s a down to earth guy — kind of like Chris Christie in that sense — and I’ll probably be able to get off with hummus, pita and a “brew of the day” at 75th Street Brewery.

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