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