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Archive for May, 2014

The death Thursday of former Missouri Gov. Joe Teasdale saddened me but also brought back memories of days in the early 1970s, when Teasdale was an up-and-coming politician and I was an up-and-coming political reporter.

What I remember most about Teasdale is his showmanship and authentic personality when he was prosecutor. Even though he was elected governor — mostly on the strength of a nickname, Walkin’ Joe — his best days in politics were as prosecutor. I think he’d tell us that, too, if he was alive today.

Teasdale was first elected prosecutor in 1966, after a few years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City.

In the prosecutor’s office he oversaw a talented group of lawyers, some of whom were personal friends. Teasdale didn’t try many cases himself; he was content to let his assistants do the heavy lifting. And those assistants didn’t lose many cases, which really helped Teasdale politically.

teasdaleOur paths first intersected in 1971 when I got my first “beat” at The Kansas City Times (the morning Star at the time). I was named Jackson County Courthouse reporter, and, boy, was I excited. Before that I had been a “general assignment” reporter, which involved responding to wrecks, shootings and other mayhem and covering mostly mundane presentations and speeches. It was pretty unsatisfying work, but I was paying my dues. (I also got at least a couple of dates out of those speech-covering assignments.)

When I was named courthouse reporter, my shift changed from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. to noon to 8 p.m. That was much more conducive to an active social life, which revolved around the Westport bars.

Fortuitously for me, a shocking murder had taken place in November 1970, and I inherited coverage of the trial.

A low-ranking mobster named Johnny Frankoviglia, known as Johnny Franks, had undertaken — reportedly without authorization from mob bosses — the killing of a scrap-metal dealer named Sol Landie.

In August 1970, Landie had testified before a special grand jury investigating organized gambling in Kansas City, and he was scheduled to testify against several men who were subsequently charged. In November, four young men whom Franks had recruited invaded Landie’s south Kansas City home, shot and killed Landie and terrorized his wife. They tried to make it look like a burglary and robbery but — amateurs that they were — failed miserably. The hiring of rank amateurs was the main reason authorities believed Franks had acted on his own.

There was a lot of pre-trial publicity, and because of that, the trial was moved to St. Louis County. It was held in March 1972.

Teasdale took about half his staff over to Clayton, MO, for the trial, and he assigned an assistant named Dave Freeman — long since deceased — to be “first chair” prosecutor. Freeman, a dour, sloop-shouldered sort, had a deep and penetrating voice and steely eyes. He was a tiger in the courtroom, taking dead aim on each defendant, and he couldn’t stand losing.

The trial lasted a full week, and I was writing for the morning Kansas City Times and the afternoon Star. (The two papers collaborated at the time.)

I have never written so much copy and covered a story so intensely. I would sit in on testimony in the morning, leave the courtroom about 11, write and dictate my story for the afternoon paper. I would return to the courtroom after the lunch break, stay through the end of testimony and start the writing and dictating process all over again. Seldom did I get away before 7:30 or 8 p.m.

(In addition, I accepted an offer from the Associated Press to file stories for them at the end of each day’s testimony. Foolishly, I didn’t ask the assigning editor how much I would be paid, and, when it was all said and done, I got a $25 check for 12 to 15 hours of work.)

My stories were getting great play in The Times and Star, however — front page or on the page featuring local news, and I was “eating my bylines for breakfast,” as an assignment editor once described my ardor for stories.

As I recall, Teasdale, who had a commanding presence and powerful voice (this was before his notorious, chronic throat clearing set in), made the opening statement for the prosecution. I don’t remember it being particularly compelling, but, then, opening statements seldom are.

He also questioned one or more prosecution witnesses, sticking closely to an outline prepared by his assistants…It was clear that the boss was there to be seen and that he and his assistants didn’t want to jeopardize the case by having him do more than he was capable of.

At the close of the trial, however, a shocking thing happened — shocking to me, anyway. Teasdale delivered one of the most powerful and riveting closing arguments that I ever heard. Again, I don’t remember a lot of it, but I recall clearly how he zeroed in on Johnny Franks. At one point, Teasdale loomed over Franks, pointing at him menacingly and boomed, “He doesn’t represent the Italian community that I know!”

The jury returned its guilty verdict on a Saturday — the outcome was never in question — and Teasdale and his crew partied late into the night. I don’t remember what I did, but when I knocked on Teasdale’s hotel room door on Sunday morning, he answered bleary-eyed and groggy. Graciously, he ushered me in and gave me an interview.

The last of my week-long run of stories — the interview with Teasdale — ran on the front page of the Monday Kansas City Times. It put a nice bow on a great week for me, as well as for the prosecutor’s office and Teasdale personally.

A few months later he was traipsing around the state (actually riding in an RV most if the time) campaigning for governor. He lost that round, but four years, later — in 1976 — he ran again and pulled off one of the most memorable political upsets in Missouri history, defeating incumbent Gov. Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, a Republican.

Teasdale was a disaster as governor — totally ill suited for managing a large, multi-faceted organization. Bond came back and beat Teasdale in 1980, and Teasdale returned to Kansas City, where he attempted,  unsuccessfully, to adjust to life as an average citizen.

This didn’t come out in The Star’s obit, and you probably won’t read it anywhere else, but Teasdale suffered from depression and bipolar disorder most of the rest of his life.

On Thursday, he died from complications of pneumonia.

We never know how the arcs of our lives are going to travel. All we can hope for is more good days than bad along the way. Joe Teasdale had a lot of good, memorable days on the ride up; it’s just that for him, the ascent and time at the apex were way too short.

But this former reporter will never forget the wild, seven-day ride he enjoyed on that ambitious prosecutor’s coattails.

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I popped over to Salina tonight (this will post in early morning) for the Martina McBride concert — the first of 21 dates McBride will play on a tour that continues until Nov. 1.

I first heard her in concert about two years ago, when she opened for George Strait at Sprint Center. She was every bit as professional as Strait and much more energetic than the cowboy who this year is riding away as a concert performer.

McBride delivered the goods again last night, giving a stirring hour and a half performance that had the sellout crowd of about 1,300 standing, cheering and whooping at various points.

The concert was at the Stiefel (pronounced stee-ful) Theatre, a former Art-Deco-style movie theater that closed in the late 1980s and reopened in 2003 after an extensive restoration. It is a beautiful place, with great sight lines, comfortable seats and a slope that affords a good view, even if you’re unlucky enough to be seated behind someone wearing a baseball cap or, worse, a cowboy hat. In fact, a guy down the row from me never removed his cowboy hat…I guess he’s either mighty proud of it or feared a head chill.

martinaFor McBride, the concert was a homecoming. She was born in Sharon, KS, a small town west of Wichita, where a park is named for her. In her late teens, she performed in a local rock band in Wichita, and she moved to Nashville in 1989, when she was 22 or 23.

She has recorded 12 albums, including “Everlasting,” which was released last month.

“Everlasting” is a very unusual album for a country western singer because it consists primarily of cover songs made famous by great pop artists. The cuts on the album include “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes; “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” by Jimmy Ruffin; “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” by Aretha Franklin; “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley; “Bring it on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke; and “Wild Night” by Van Morrison.

But McBride is nothing if not an experimenter. She continually stretches her musical reach and embraces risk. She has a tremendous sense of song arrangement and what goes over well with audiences. Also, while she puts out a big sound, it is never overwhelming. With her last night were three back-up singers and a band that included piano, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums, and a horn section consisting of trombone, baritone sax, tenor sax and trumpet.

The pianist, guitar players and drummer were dressed in iridescent blue sport coats, with black pants, white shirts and skinny black ties. The brass players wore vests, also iridescent, instead of the sport coats. Bending and blowing behind low, musical podiums with stylized “M” logos, the brass players looked like hyped-up escapees from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra.

McBride, a lissome beauty, wore a wine-colored, form-fitting jacket; black blouse; skin-tight leather pants; and heels that were about 10 inches high. (I guess it could be five, but I sure would like to have measured.)

In style, McBride seems to me like Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt and Dusty Springfield all wrapped up in one. She combines Joplin’s sheer energy with Ronstadt’s pure tonality and Springfield’s soulfulness. In fact, her four-song encore included a low-down rendition of Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” which just about launched me out of my chair.

In addition to several songs from “Everlasting,” McBride did some of her old standbys, including the powerful “Wild Angels” and her hallmark song, “Independence Day.”

McBride was clearly having fun. She pointed and waved to individuals in the audience, and at one point she crouched down and got into a “selfie” photo that a young woman was taking of herself with her back to the stage. The woman cheerily gave McBride a high five.

Toward the end of the concert, McBride talked convincingly about the power of live performance. The dynamics and thrill of live performance cannot be downloaded, she noted, and only live performance leaves the artist and audience with distinctive memories.

It certainly was a memorable night for me…If you would have asked me in January what the chances were of me having a memorable night in Salina in 2014, I would have said, “Slim to none.”

But there you go, that’s one of the joys of life — unexpected pleasures popping up in unlikely places.

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From your comments, it is clear that you are interested in the make-up of Mayor Sly James’ KCI advisory committee and how the 24 members voted yesterday.

Each member was asked to fill out a voting sheet, and the votes were all public under the Missouri Open Meetings Law.

The members were presented with options. They are listed below, just as they appeared on the voting sheet:

Alternative 1: Expand and repurpose existing separate terminals with each terminal converted to a secure space with centralized processing and security checkpoints. (Each terminal remains separate from any other terminal requiring bus transportation between terminals and security re-entry from one terminal to the next.)

Alternative 2: Construct a new centralizing structure connecting the separate terminals and repurpose existing terminals such that the entire terminal complex is connected secure space. (Each of two or three terminals are connected for security purposes with some type of people mover to expedite moving within the terminals.)

Alternative 3: Construct a new terminal replacing and eliminating the three separate terminals.

Nineteen members voted for alternative 3; two voted for alternative 2; and one put down both 2 and 3. Two members abstained, saying they didn’t have enough information on costs and other factors.

Here, then, are the members and how they voted:

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Berkebile, committee co-chairman

Bob Berkebile, architect and principal at BNIM — 3.

David Fowler, retired from KPMG — 3.

Jesse Barnes, executive director of the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center — 2.

Zulema Bassham, philanthropist — 3.

Forestine Beasley, commercial real estate broker with Greg Patterson and Associates — 2.

David Byers, c.e.o. of CARSTAR — 3.

 

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Dave Fowler, co-chairman

Chuck Caisley, vice president of marketing, KCP&L — 3.

Dan Cranshaw, an attorney with Polsinelli — 3.

Prentiss Earl III, entrepreneur in residence, Kauffman Labs — 3.

John FIerro, c.e.o. of Mattie Rhodes Center — 3.

Kevin Koster, president of Sandweiss Koster Inc. and founder of SaveKCI.org — abstained.

John McDonald, president of Boulevard Brewing Co. — 3.

Mike McKeen, director of development for Briarcliff Development Co. — 3.

Paula Meidel, account executive at Oracle Corp — 3.

Nikki Newton, senior vice president of Waddell and Reed — 3.

Mark Pederson, vice president of Lockton Companies — 3.

Joe Reardon, former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas — 3.

Nia Richardson, director of business development for DuBois Consultants Inc. — abstained.

Bill Skaggs, former Kansas city Council member and former chairman of the council’s Aviation Committee — 3.

Alicia Stephens, executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Council — 3.

Reginald Thomas, president of Kansas City Laborers Union No. 264 — 2 or 3.

Qiana Thomason, vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City — 3.

Sheila Tracy, president of the Northland Chamber of Commerce — 3.

Donna Wilson Peters, attorney with Husch Blackwell — 3.

**

This morning, I met with Councilman Russ Johnson, chairman of the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said that the airlines ultimately would decide how much could be spent on a new terminal because they will be paying the gate and landing fees, which will be used to retire revenue bonds that would be issued (with voter approval) to finance construction.

Johnson predicted the final tab would be less than the Aviation Department’s $1.2 billion estimate, and he said he believed the airlines would support passage of the bond issue because their executives realize that a new terminal is needed.

**

Note: Thanks to KCMO public information officer Chris Hernandez for providing me with a disk containing all 24 score sheets, and thanks to frequent commenter John Altevogt for turning up a list of the committee members, which both KCUR-FM and The Pitch ran last year when the group was appointed..

 

 

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Kansas City, we have a winner!

It’s the KCI Terminal Advisory Group, which today stood up to the head-in-the-sand crowd that would like to keep Kansas City International Airport just as it is, even though it has become a veritable aero-saur.

After painstakingly sifting through studies, testimony and recommendations for the last year, the 24-member committee recommended razing KCI’s three terminals and building a single new one.

…Everyone who is now wearing a hat, please take it off and throw it in the air!

Ah, I see a sky full of hats…Good to know.

…Well, maybe my glasses need cleaning, but I hope there are more hats in the air than there would have been a year ago, before this process got started.

We’ve seen lots of letters to the editor on both sides of the issue, and the committee’s deliberations have placed a spotlight on KCI — and it isn’t pretty.

When you load all the factors in a mixing bowl — including the estimated $1-billion-plus price tag for a single terminal on one hand and the quickly deteriorating, existing terminals on the other — the unavoidable conclusion is that Kansas City is stuck with an airport that no longer adequately serves the needs of modern aviation or the pace of society.

KCI, unfortunately, was becoming an antique about a decade after it was built. Remember those nice, quaint parquet floors? I loved ’em, but, hell, they were totally impractical — a maintenance nightmare.

You probably don’t remember this (I do because I was covering City Hall at the time) but there was a big to-do over what company was going to get the right to install photos of Kansas City — the Plaza, Crown Center, Arrowhead Stadium, etc. — in the late 80s.  But we never got any good promotional photos in the airport — at least none that really stood out in those curving concourses.

So, now, let’s get rid of it. Those who insist on clinging to the “but-it’s-so-convenient argument” need to get on board and help us get a light-and-bright, modern airport, with a smooth-flowing, central security station and plenty of retail and food options.

I am sick of going to places like Denver, Chicago, Nashville and Louisville and walking through modern, energizing airports and then coming back to dingy, dull KCI.

…Yes, razing the terminals and building a large new one is going to cost a lot of money. But one thing many people don’t understand is that it’s not going to require a tax increase. The $1 billion plus price tag would be paid for primarily by the airlines, through gate rentals, landing fees and other fees. Of course, the airlines will pass the cost on to the airport users — the flying public — but that’s the way to do it.

If voters approve, the city would issue “revenue bonds,” which would be issued to finance the project. Revenue generated by the new project would be used to retire the bonds. The city would not ask residents to approve a new sales tax or a new property tax.

I think that is a very winnable issue at the polls.

As my friend Anita Gorman, former president of the Kansas City Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, used to tell me whenever the park board went to voters with a ballot measure:

“Jim, if we can educate the voters, if we can explain to them exactly what they’re going to be getting and how we’re going to pay for it, they will go along with us.”

It’s all about educating the voters — showing them images of what a superior, modern airport would look like; laying out how it would surpass what we’ve got; and assuring them it would be paid for one airline ticket at a time.

Get on board, everyone. With any luck, KC could be flying high in several years.

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Kentucky Derby 140

We returned to Kansas City last night after spending the weekend in Louisville and attending the 140th Kentucky Derby.

Whenever masses of people determined to have fun and be seen come together, you can count on a spectacle, and the Derby never disappoints in that sense.

Over the years, the event has become too commercialized, especially with a huge, new video board pummeling you — at seemingly stratospheric decibel levels — with advertisements and various promotions. Of course, it would be naive to expect anything else. Maybe it’s a sign of age, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ve reached the point where the event is becoming more of an endurance contest than an opportunity to kick up my heels…Really, I can’t get very far off the ground any more.

Enough complaining and philosophizing, however, let’s get to the photos…

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The crowd. (Note that the Twin Spires, Kentucky’s No. 1 landmark, are getting dwarfed by the high-rise construction of top-dollar seating facilities on either side.)

 

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An alluring look always accentuates a beautiful hat.

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Sophistication doesn’t have a monopoly on the proceedings, however.

 

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Two of our “boxmates” — Adam and Eva, from the Chicago area. (Adam and Eva…I swear.)

 

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Eva (right) and Ella, another boxmate, with tasty treats.

 

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Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy C. Fitzpatrick of Kansas City, Missouri.

 

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Under cover, in the First Floor Clubhouse.

 

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Not all the hats are special.

 

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It can be difficult to maintain the pace.

 

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Sometimes it’s the shoes that stand out.

 

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Before the Derby race, even the chefs (note the two or three tall hats in the top tier) stop what they’re doing to watch the horses come over from the stables.

 

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The “walkover” from the stables is one of the great Derby scenes. Horse trainer Bob Baffert once called it “an out of body experience.”

 

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Immediately after the race, even the bright reds start to pale.

 

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Then, 164,000 people have to get out of the track and its environs.

 

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No van for us…We park with Charlie and his wife Barbara, who live a few blocks from the track. See you next year, Charlie…God willing.

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