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Archive for February, 2016

I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton the last several years, including declaring I was through with her after the email scandal erupted. But it should come as no surprise I’m back in the fold now that Donald Trump is steaming toward the Republican nomination.

Super Tuesday is upon us, and it appears hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and screams of anguish will be the order of day tomorrow night, after the votes are counted.

As you well know, those screams will not be coming from Democrats; they will be from what’s left of the mainline Republican Party, i.e., Mitch McConnell and the other Republican Congress members who have fallen in line behind McConnell’s obstructive, do-nothing leadership.

Maybe you’ve heard that McConnell has just about thrown in the towel as far as his party’s chances of winning the presidency this year.

An excellent story in the Sunday New York Times, said McConnell was holding out hope for a Marco Rubio victory but had “begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election.”

The story went on to say, “Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.”

The story also said that at a recent presentation, political advisers to billionaire conservatives Charles G. and David H. Koch “characterized Mr. Trump’s record as utterly unacceptable, and highlighted his support for government-funded business subsidies and government-backed health care, according to people who attended.”

At this point in the political campaign, with the general election still eight months away, nothing could make me happier than seeing Mitch McConnell and the Koch brothers bitter and blue, with the Democratic frontrunner seemingly on the way to an easy victory in November.

A couple of days ago, in a reply to a commenter, I said the only way Trump could beat Hillary is if every registered African-American and Hispanic voter stayed home on election day. (In the 2012 presidential election, 45 percent of the people who voted for Obama were racial minorities, and many of them will be back to vote for Hillary this year.)

Going back much farther, I went out on a fairly long limb when I made this this prediction in a Nov. 7, 2012, post:

My first feeling, after learning Tuesday night that Barack Obama had won re-election, was that happy days aren’t just here for four more years but quite possibly 12. And for the additional eight years of prospective, Democratic control of the presidency we can thank Obama for naming Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State when he took office. If this 12-year scenario comes to pass, Rush Limbaugh might well be dead before the Republicans regain the White House.

Damn, people, I’m only eight months away from being dead on!

(I swear on my children’s college diplomas, though, this is the last time I’m going to mention that prediction…unless Trump somehow reduces Hillary to jello and beats her in November. Then, I’d eat 100 inches of electronic space.)

**

While Bernie Sanders appears to be a delusional candidate with his prediction of a voter “revolution,” the Democratic race has at least been anchored in constructive debate and an atmosphere of respect and dignity. Sanders is smart, quick and does not embarrass himself. Hillary is also fast on her feet, and more poised, polished and credible than Sanders.

On the Republican side? Wow. From the outset, it’s been a damn circus. The enormity of the egos and the volcanic level of the bluster have not only made it hard to watch but have made many of us turn away in shame and pain. Why? Because we know, inside, that we’re a better people than what that field of candidates has projected.

We may well be in for more shame and pain when we watch Trump flail away at Hillary, but, for most rational people, that’s going to quickly turn to anger. And then those angry, rational people are going to storm the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and the rout will be on.

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Well, our beloved hometown paper blew it today — not on one of its two front-page stories (that’s all we get now on the front page any more) but on both.

Let’s take the screw-ups in order of egregiousness…

“Kansas City board votes to close three schools”

This story was at the bottom of the page but, obviously, extremely important. It isn’t often that a school board votes to close schools, and it’s always big news, especially in the depleted Kansas City district.

So, look at that headline again and prepare yourselves for a pop quiz:

What’s the first thing you would be looking for as you jumped into that story?

A) What time the sun sets in Kansas City these days?

or

B) Which three schools are closing?

You all get an “A” on the quiz because the answer is “B.”

How long did it take, then, for reporter Mara Rose Williams to tell the readers which schools are closing?

The story takes up part of six columns, two on A1 and four on 11A. Williams doesn’t name any of the three schools on the front page, and it’s not until the first column of the “jump” that she names one of the three.

She doesn’t name the other two until the sixth and last column, and those are included in a throw-away series of “bullets” that wrap up the story.

Not only does Williams fail to give the readers the “news” in straightforward fashion but she gives no other information about any of the three schools, such as where they are located and how long they’ve been open.

Ok, ok…I know many of you are wondering by now which schools are closing and where they are. Here you go:

Wendell Phillips Elementary School, on 24th Terrace just west of Woodland Avenue

Southwest Early College Campus, 65th and Wornall

Satchel Paige Elementary School, on 75th Street just west of Indiana

…I have no idea what Williams was thinking here, but she could not have been very focused on the task at hand. And more surprising is the fact that Williams is one of The Star’s top reporters. In July 2014, for example, she and Mike Hendricks collaborated in exposing the UMKC business school’s lofty rankings as the result of orchestrated fraud and misrepresentation.

But good reporters sometimes lose their way; it happens to the best. And that’s why there are editors…So, where were the editors on this story?

Sadly, they, too, were in a coma.

Another thing about that story…Williams says in the second paragraph that school board members Amy Hartsfield and Marisol Montero voted no. That begs the question who voted yes? Do all readers know the names of the other school board members? Hell, no! It drives me crazy when, on big votes — whether it be school boards, city councils or state legislatures — The Star doesn’t tell the readers who voted “yes” and who voted “no.”

…I tell you, this kind of reporting is unacceptable in a major metropolitan newspaper. It cheats the readers and makes the paper look amateurish.

**

“Bernie Sanders rallies his faithful fans in KC”

This was the lead story in the paper — the centerpiece — with good reason. Sanders’ campaign has generated tremendous enthusiasm, particularly among young people.

The story itself — written by Scott Canon and Dave Helling — was good as far as it went, but the event cried out for a sidebar story. There should have been a second story, inside the paper, about the size of the crowd; how crowd flow was handled; and who controlled access to the convention center.

Crowd size was an important element of this story because, obviously, it reflects the depth of local interest in the Sanders campaign. And access was important because thousands of people were stacked up outside the convention center waiting patiently to get in. 

As I said in yesterday’s post, the size of the crowd was amazing. When my daughter Brooks and I arrived on the scene about 11:30, Bartle Hall was completely surrounded on all four sides. That’s four blocks of people — thousands.

When we first arrived, it didn’t look like the crowd was moving, but later we could see people advancing slowly through the entrance on 13th Street and then through metal detectors before going into the convention hall. I counted about five metal detectors — which seems like a very small number relative to the crowd size — but there could have been more.

Brooks and I gave up shortly after noon, and when we left Bartle Hall was still completely encircled by people.

In their online story, Canon and Helling said, “Sanders took the stage about 1:15 p.m., 15 minutes late but with still scores outside trying to clear security and crowd in with the upstairs throng.”

In today’s print edition, the only reference to a crowd estimate of 7,500. Gone was any reference to the outside line.

In a phone conversation this morning with Kansas City’s top convention center officials — executive director Oscar McGaskey Jr. and deputy director Michael C. Young — I learned a lot more about how the event was handled.

First, the Convention and Entertainment Facilities Department was not in charge of anything; all it did was host the event for the Sanders team. From there, the Secret Service was in charge of security and access. “The Secret Service managed the entry point from start to finish,” Young said. “Our staff and our subcontractors were not involved.”

Young would not say how many metal detectors were in use. (Naturally, that’s why it’s called the “Secret” Service.)

Surprising to me, Young said it appeared that almost everyone who was waiting outside got in for most or all the candidate’s speech. The lobby was empty, Young said, when he arrived 15 minutes after Sanders had started speaking.

Young said the size of the crowd exceeded the Sanders team’s expectations, and he admitted that he, too, was impressed.

“It was something to see,” he said.

Yes, and it would have been something for The Star to write about…if the editors had planned properly.

**

I want to add a quick, personal anecdote here…On Tuesday, Patty and I observed our 31st wedding anniversary. Feeling pretty giddy about that, I approached her at one point, put my arm around her and said, “Tell me, do you think I’m about the best damn husband who ever came along?”

She paused for a moment and said, “For me…yes.”

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Regardless of who you’re for or whether you’re conservative, liberal or independent, this presidential race is getting mighty interesting, isn’t it?

How can your pulse not quicken when a showman and political outsider like Donald Trump is hurtling at supersonic speed toward the Republican nomination? And how can you avoid gasping when you see, as I did today, masses of young people waiting patiently outside Bartle Hall to get inside to see Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders?

If your pulse is not quickening and your breath not taken away by such developments, you’re mired in a quarry where you’re hearing nothing but the echo of your own thoughts.

Daughter Brooks and I went downtown today with the idea of seeing Bernie, but when we drove by, we could see long, long lines of people waiting on the west, south and north sides of the convention center. The concentration of humanity didn’t appear to be moving. After parking a few blocks away, we walked back to the convention center and then walked around the entire perimeter. To our amazement, we found the line also wrapped around the east side of the building — the one side we couldn’t see when we had approached from the west side.

When we looked closely, we could see that within the amorphous mass, two distinct lines appeared to be snaking toward the 13th Street entrance — one from Broadway on the west, the other from Central Avenue on the east. The people farthest away from the entrance, on 14th Street, appeared to be able to choose either the Broadway or Central line and then inch northward. In any event, it was the largest and most confusing line — or lines — I’ve ever seen outside an arena or convention center. So confusing, and so seemingly impossible, that Brooks and I decided to return to the car and give up on attending the event.

P1050973

A small part of the crowd that waited outside Bartle Hall today

That was shortly before noon. When we reached the northwest corner of 12th and Broadway, where the dock entrance to the convention center is located, we noticed a flurry of activity — police cars arriving and an officer directing traffic — and we sensed that the Bernie Cavalcade was about to arrive.

Sure enough, within five minutes, a few blue KCPD cars approached quickly, followed by at least two tan Chevy SUVs. As the SUVs flashed by, we caught a glimpse of a man with a distinctive shock of white hair and a distinctive sloop of the shoulders looking straight ahead, a cellphone to his right ear. The SUVS raced up the dock driveway and disappeared. Behind it, incongruously, came a full-length Kincaid bus, full of media members.

Had we just glimpsed the next president? Well, a guy who had positioned himself across the street, with camera, certainly thought he had. He began jumping up and down, clapping his hands above his head.

We went back home and watched Sanders’ rousing speech on the Internet. Thousands of people were packed into the room where Sanders spoke, and they gave him numerous ovations and waved “A Future to Believe In” signs.

…This all made me wonder if Sanders just might win the Missouri primary on March 15. And made me wonder if Hillary Clinton would attract such a throng if she came to Kansas City. I certainly doubt that an older crowd that size would have waited outside for hours — as these young people did — on a cold, windy, late-winter day. It was impressive.

**

On the Republican side, with Trump’s victory last night in the Nevada caucuses, the situation is coming into crystal-clear focus. Millions of Republicans are energized by Trump’s anything-goes, turn-it-loose personality and his upend-the-card-table approach to campaigning.

Nicholas Confessore, a New York Times, reporter who specializes in campaign finance, may have hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

“Mr. Trump is undeniably a showman. Unlike virtually all of his competitors, who repeat the same stump speech in the hopes of getting a poll-tested message across, Mr. Trump always surprises.”

The two men trailing him, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are flailing in water over their heads. Next to Trump’s 3-D persona, they look like cardboard cutouts. And both are getting flagellated in the press.

Consider what NYT columnist Frank Bruni said about Cruz today:

“He directs you to his halo as he surreptitiously grabs a pitchfork…As Matt Flegenheimer reported in The Times this week, Cruz hired a campaign manager, Jeff Roe (a Missourian), who is widely known for destructive gossip, for malicious tactics — and for winning.”

And consider what another outstanding Times columnist, Paul Krugman, said of Rubio:

“So when Mr. Rubio genuflects at the altars of supply-side economics and hard money, he isn’t telling ordinary Republicans what they want to hear — by and large the party’s base couldn’t care less. He is, instead, pandering to the party’s elite, consisting mainly of big donors and the network of apparatchiks at think tanks, media organizations, and so on.”

Those guys, Cruz and Rubio, are doomed. After Super Tuesday on March 1, Cruz can return to the Lone Star State, which is growing increasingly isolated from the rest of these United States, and Rubio can get back to the Florida sun.

And the rest of us? We get to sit back and enjoy the show. It could supplant Ringling Bros. as The Greatest Show on Earth.

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It seems pretty clear in retrospect that Donald Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination for president effectively rendered Jeb Bush’s candidacy superfluous.

Once the Big Jet started gaining altitude, Jeb was reduced to contrail.

And yet, at least one national reporter assigned to cover him has written movingly that she will miss him for his earnestness and sincerity, his vulnerability and awkwardness.

…Here’s another example of where The New York Times stands head and shoulders above the other news organizations. In a story posted tonight, reporter Ashley Parker wrote a compelling story about the many ways in which Bush endeared himself to her and other reporters following him.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Even as he stumbled as a candidate, he was, in many ways, a reporter’s dream.

“He held news conferences so frequently — nearly daily — that their absence felt newsworthy. And he seemed constitutionally incapable of not answering questions, even those he should not have. As aides tried to hustle him away, he would often pause and turn back, or roll down his car window, to give a final response, throwing political caution to the wind.”

“He gave out his email address easily and freely and, early on, even responded to queries sent there.

“…He talked with deep passion about space travel, and spoke to kids as if they were grown-ups, offering 8- and 9-year-olds treatises on the nation’s debt.”

Jeb Bush

What made Bush so enjoyable to cover, Parker wrote, was “he was deeply, impossibly human.”

She continued…

“In a cycle where so many other candidates were able to toggle effortlessly between soaring speeches and masterful debate performances, between well-rehearsed outrage and manufactured indignation, Jeb almost seemed to think aloud in real time, and we got to watch him muddle and bumble through, just like any real person.

“He was deeply self-aware, talking openly about how bad he was at debates and explaining, honestly, that his problem was answering the moderators’ questions too directly.

“He was atrocious at bragging in a year when self-aggrandizement was king.”

Parker said that in almost every speech he made, Bush talked about a severely disabled girl he had met while campaigning for Florida governor. And she recounted how, at one of his final events in South Carolina, a Times of London columnist who had been following the campaign, offered an observation before posing a question. The reporter said: “I haven’t heard any other candidate give a long period of their speech to talking about people with learning disabilities, people at the bottom of the pile. Whatever happens to your campaign, sir, that part you should be really proud of.”

…Amid Trump’s fulminating and the battle for second place between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, there wasn’t much about the Bush campaign that grabbed my attention — or that of most observers, I suspect. So, I’m very glad Ashley Parker took the time to reflect deeply, for public consumption, on the man she has spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of hours covering in recent months. With her felicitous writing and insight into Bush’s personality and character, Parker showed clearly that while Jeb Bush had a losing campaign, he was, and is, anything but a loser. He can walk away extremely proud that he presented himself humbly and honestly and came across “just like any real person.”

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Like many other KC Star readers, I’ve admired the skills of sports columnist Sam Mellinger, a relatively young guy (don’t know his age) who has been growing into the void-filling role left by the departure a few years ago of Jason Whitlock and, before him, Joe Posnanski.

A couple of years ago, The Star made a great hire in Vahe Gregorian as the counterpart to Mellinger.

Gregorian, a sports reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for many years, has a lot more experience in the business than Mellinger, and I said in a post last Sunday that Gregorian is “perhaps The Star’s most sensitive writers.” (That was in reference to a column he wrote about Otis Taylor’s sister, Odell, who is nursing the former Chiefs’ star to his death).

The difference in experience and sensitivity between Gregorian and Mellinger was on full display in Mellinger’s column today about former Chiefs’ pass rusher Jared Allen, who on Thursday announced his retirement from football after 12 seasons in the NFL.

Mellinger constructed the column around a jarring, troubling, long-ago incident in which Allen — with the willing participation of a radio personality — goaded a woman to put Tabasco sauce in her eyes. Her incentive was two tickets to the next Chiefs home game.

The point of this anecdote was to establish what an off-kilter personality Allen is and that he has a weird sense of humor that knows no bounds…Now, I don’t really understand the point of using the occasion of Allen’s retirement to establish that he’s a weird personality, but in any event relating the Tabasco-in-the-eyes stunt was unnecessary and in questionable taste.

Here’s how Mellinger described the reaction of the woman who put the Tabasco sauce in her eyes…

“Her screams of pain were exactly as loud and terrifying as you’d expect, and Allen doubled over in laughter, unable to speak until they broke for commercial and some people start(ed) dousing the woman’s swollen eyes with water.”

…Think about that for a minute. What do you think a physician might have said, had one been in the audience that day, when the woman stepped forward to put Tabasco sauce in her eyes????

In my opinion, we have three stupid people here — Allen; the radio guy, who went along with the “gag”; and, of course, the woman.

And now there’s one other party to the episode — the columnist who lacked the good judgment to veto the anecdote. By going with it, instead of digging deeper to come up with something else, Mellinger reduced himself and his column to sophomoric indulgence.

Certainly, Mellinger must have reflected on whether the anecdote was appropriate. Probably out of laziness — yes, even the best succumb when they’re itching to get a story “up” on the Web or facing the next morning’s deadline — he went with what he had. Big mistake.

**

This is not all “Monday-morning quarterbacking” on my part. I tried to stop it. As soon as I saw this story on the website yesterday afternoon — before 4:30 p.m. — I sent an email to Mellinger, telling him I was disappointed he had chosen to go the route he had. I urged him to change out the anecdote for today’s print edition. I heard nothing back. About half an hour later, I sent another email to sports editor Jeff Rosen, saying the anecdote made both Allen and the radio guy “look like jerks and idiots” and made Mellinger appear “sophomoric for getting sucked into the stupidity.”

I heard nothing back from Rosen, either.

…Also, this episode reflects a bigger problem at 18th and Grand. For 10 months, The Star has not had a managing editor. The managing editor is the person who functions as the chief personnel and editorial gatekeeper for all departments. Where Rosen would have made the first call on Mellinger’s column, a managing editor could have ordered it pulled or changed. For financial reasons, however, The Star decided not to fill the post of managing editor after Steve Shirk retired last year. When Shirk left, a lot of experience and good judgment went out the door with him, and it wasn’t replaced.

Without a managing editor, there’s a significant gap in the review process. The next level is the editor, whose job is more focused on planning and overall direction of the paper, rather than review of individual, daily stories. The editor, of course, is Mike Fannin, and my guess is he didn’t read the story before it either went up on the website or appeared in today’s print edition.

**

One final thought on the Jared Allen story. Yes, he was a great pass rusher, but he only played for the Chiefs for four years, from 2004 through 2007. He followed that up with six seasons in Minnesota and one in Chicago, before wrapping up with a split season at Chicago and Carolina this year. As far as most Chiefs’ fans are concerned, Allen is a distant memory. I don’t think he even deserved a column. A straightforward, 15-inch sports story, recounting his record here and elsewhere, would have sufficed.

There’s no way a weirdo and long-forgotten person like him deserved 47 inches of valuable space in The Kansas City Star.

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At lunch one day last week, former city councilman and now real estate development attorney Jerry Riffel recounted an interesting anecdote to me and another friend, Janet Redding, Riffel’s former council aide.

Riffel said that while waiting recently for a flight out of Kansas City International Airport, a man sitting next to him — someone from out of town — asked Riffel if he was from Kansas City. When Riffel said yes, the man commented, “This is kind of a quaint airport you’ve got here, isn’t it?”

Riffel responded, “I take it you don’t mean that in a complimentary way.”

“That’s right,” the traveler said.

I haven’t done any sample surveys, but I would think that’s how many people from elsewhere view KCI. Quaint.

Now, how many of us want as a key part of our metro fabric an airport that is considered dowdy? That does not make us attractive — not at all — to casual travelers, business flyers or convention planners.

Frankly, it’s just embarrassing. And it’s time to get on with building a new, single terminal. As I’ve said before, I want Kansas City to be first class in every way. We’ve got a tremendously successful downtown arena; in Power & Light, we’ve got an entertainment district that helped revive a long-decrepit downtown; and we’ve got a stunning performing arts center that may be the best in the country.

About the only remnant of our inferiority complex and our cowtown image — which plagued us into the early 1990s — is that damned airport.

I was up there a couple of weeks ago to catch a flight to Tampa, on the way to Havana, and I was stuck, as usual, with hundreds of people in one of the cramped waiting areas, where you get routed after going through security. Naturally, people had to use the restrooms, and people were lined up single file, waiting impatiently. Several people in line grimaced and exchanged looks that said, “This sucks.”

I felt the same way, but, having good political instincts, I said loudly several times, “Vote for the new airport! Vote for the revenue bonds.”

That lightened the mood. Several people laughed and nodded their heads in agreement.

If you asked that group how much of a priority they placed on the convenience of getting to and from their gates — the reason many people cite for wanting to keep KCI much as it is — I don’t think convenience would have rated very high.

**

After an aberrant digression toward renovation of one of KCI’s horseshoe-shaped terminals, we are talking once again about a new, single terminal. As far as I’m concerned, renovation went down the tubes with the Aviation Department’s analysis of the “Crawford plan,” which erroneously estimated that an existing terminal could be adequately expanded and renovated for about $336 million.

I could have gone for that if the cost estimate was viable, but the consultants dismissed the plan almost out of hand, saying the architects who put it together — at the request of Councilwoman Theresa Loar — grossly underestimated and didn’t understand what all had to be done.

At this point, I put a lot more trust in the patient, methodical approach Mayor Sly James has taken to try to nudge citizens toward the idea of radical change.

Two proposals for a single are on the table. One would cost an estimated $964 million, the other about $972 million. The Star’s Eric Adler last week wrote an in-depth story about those two proposals, as well as two other terminal-renovation proposals. But a special committee appointed by the mayor — and headed by highly regarded architect Robert Berkebile — concluded in 2014 that building a new terminal was the best way to go, and that’s the lead I believe we citizens should follow. Building a new terminal is the most practical and efficient way to have a single security checkpoint; to allow for incremental gate expansion; and to expand and reposition concessions and retail shops.

Take a look at the schematic drawings for the two new-terminal proposals.

Option 1 would raze now-closed Terminal A and start afresh. The new terminal would have 35 gates, with the ability to expand to the south along two concourses — east and west. Concessions would be concentrated near the entrance, past the central security point, and in the central section of the two northern concourses.

KCI option 1

 

Option 1 is modeled on Indianapolis International Airport, which opened its new $1.1 billion facility in 2008. Here’s that layout.

indianapolis-IND-terminal-map

 

 

 

Option 2 would raze Terminal B and start afresh. It would also have 35 gates, with expansion possible to the south on one of two concourses. Like Option 1, arriving passengers would be picked up on the lower level, while outgoing passengers would enter on the upper level. In both Option 1 and 2, baggage claim would be on the lower level, as it is at most modern airports.

NTB_desktop

I would vote for either option, but my preference is Option 1, simply because I like the idea of concourses running at right angles to the terminal trunk. In addition, Adler said the gate areas “would be shaped like antlers.” After all the trouble of getting a new airport, I would hate to hear it referred to as “the antler airport.” 

**

Perhaps the biggest single challenge to consigning the existing terminals to the wrecking ball is clearing up the misapprehension that the hundreds of millions of dollars that would go for construction of a new terminal could be better spent on basic needs, like road and bridge repairs, park improvements and demolishing abandoned houses. The fact is, the Aviation Department is one of two city “enterprise departments,” along with the Water Department, that pay their own way with revenue generated from their operations.

If voters approved the issuance of airport revenue bonds, they would be retired with money generated exclusively from airport-related operations. The biggest of those would be airline gate leases, a percentage of concession revenues and a relatively small increase in airfares. The revenue could not be used for any purpose other than building and operating a new terminal. And by the same token, no money from the city’s general operating fund — financed by such things as earnings, sales and property taxes — could go toward expenses related to the new terminal.

Yes, $1 billion is a big number, an intimidating number. But Indianapolis and many other big U.S. cities have been able to bite that much off in recent years and give their metro areas new, attractive, more efficient airports. We can, too. The issue probably will be on an election ballot early next year. I can’t see this going on the general-election ballot in November. Proponents probably would prefer a special election, when a voter-education campaign would not have to compete with the presidential election.

It will take a well-financed, really good campaign. As my friend Anita Gorman used to say when she campaigned for proposals as president of the Kansas City Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, “If we explain to the voters what we are doing and how it will benefit them and the city, they will be with us.”

More than once, I thought Anita was off her rocker, but I don’t think she ever put forward a parks proposal that went down to defeat. I’m betting that in the end, with a well-run campaign, a majority of Kansas City voters will see the light on KCI.

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Although my grandfather on my father’s side was a tobacco man by trade — he had his own company in later years and sold to countries in Africa and elsewhere — he was a terrific letter writer.

My father inherited the letter-writing gene from him, and between the two of them, it amounted to something of a sacred trust. Letters were not only to be written but also to be preserved. Many of my grandfather’s letters — and some of my father’s — have been preserved. My grandfather, Joseph W. Fitzpatrick, who was born in New York City and later a resident of Louisville, KY, wrote regularly to his five children. My grandmother, Henriette Lloveras Fitzpatrick, also wrote a lot of letters.

I learned recently from my aunt, Nanette Eckert  the only surviving offspring of Joseph and Henriette — that when my grandfather wrote a letter to one child, he would make four carbon copies and send them to the other children. That practice ensured a panoramic flow of information.

Recently, one of my cousins, Josephine (Josie) Fitzpatrick, who lives in Barcelona, sent me electronic files of a passel of letters, many of which were addressed to her father, Joseph Lloveras Fitzpatrick, who died at age 89 last June. (I was lucky enough to spend a few days with him a month earlier, when I was in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.)

Joey, Mimi, Poppy

My Uncle Joey as a dashing young man and my paternal grandparents, Joseph and Henriette Fitzpatrick.

The letters, typewritten and dating mostly to the early 1940s, are a window into the joys, concerns and daily developments in the lives of the Fitzpatrick family. I think you’ll be interested in some excerpts. The letters I will quote from were written by my grandfather and grandmother to my Uncle Joey, who, at the time, was in the Army Air Corps. He went on to become an outstanding artist and taught art at the college level for many years.

My Uncle Joey was more unpredictable and spontaneous than his two brothers and two sisters. In 1958, for example, he and his girlfriend up and went to New York, where they were married, then traveled to Israel, where they stayed for more than a year.

In the letters, you will see that my grandparents encouraged him and, at the same time, tried to drum personal responsibility into him.

**

Feb. 15, 1944, from my grandfather

“You did not tell us anything about your hours of rising and retiring, also recreation. Would be interested to learn, also, how you are standing the strain of regular exercise and discipline. You are going to find it rather tough, I imagine, but if you go with the tide, instead of trying to buck it, you will get along alright.”

Jan. 28, 1946, from my grandmother…

“Much love to you, dear Joey, from everyone here, which means Daddy, Marie, Bobby (my father), Nanette, Johnny and “Quisette” (the family dog). Aren’t you lucky to have so many people thinking of you? Think of the poor kids who have no one to love them, who never get any letters or anything — it is good to feel that someone is with you in thought, praying for you, is it not? God bless you always. Affectionately yours, Mother.”

Feb. 7, 1946, from my grandmother

“Why on earth did you not telegraph soon after your arrival at Mather Field — even a card or something?????????”

“Since you do not mind at all, I shall write down the words you have mis-spelled in your last letter, with the correct spelling, and I know it will help you to improve…”

Feb. 19, 1946, from my grandmother

“You write you only have left camp once, and went to San Rafael (CA), and so have little news to give us, yet you do not say anything about San Rafael. It would be interesting to know what it is like and whether you like the place or not — and what is there to see or do.”

“Now, do try to be careful with your spelling, Joey. Study some of the corrections I am enclosing. You have a good memory and certainly next time you use these words you will remember how to spell them correctly…I know you do not mind my saying this, being your mother, and it is for your own good, after all.”

March 10, 1946, from my grandfather

“My congratulations on your typing, and I wish I could also compliment you on your spelling. You may not realize it, but it is not improving at all. Even in the case of simple words, as for example “recent,” but spelled in two of your letters as “recient.” I don’t know how you are going to overcome this defect in your writing, but if I remember correctly we sent you a pocket dictionary some time back. I know it is very bothersome when writing to stop to look up the spelling of a word, but I am sure if you do so whenever you are in doubt, you will find within a comparatively short time that your spelling will improve greatly.

“Now for the news. The big event was the arrival Monday at 3:30 A.M. of James Carey Fitzpatrick at St. Joseph’s, where Mary Louise (my mother) and he are getting along very well. At first Bobby (my father) was very disappointed with the looks of his offspring, but yesterday he began to realize that after all, his heir is ‘a very nice looking little fellow.’ “

(Editor’s notes: 1. There’s a saying in journalism when a writer fails to put the most important development first, that the writer “buried the lead.” Well, modesty aside, my grandfather buried the lead in putting his concerns about my uncle’s spelling before the birth of his second grandchild — ME! 2. I’m shocked and appalled to learn my father was initially disappointed in my looks. Wisely, he never told me about his initial assessment.)

March 23, 1946, from my grandfather

“Dear, Joey: Congratulations on your well expressed and typed letter of the 13th, your spelling, and also your unusual promptness in replying to mine of the 10th. Just shows what a man can do when he is put to the test. Keep up the good work, including the use of a dictionary — or did you use one when you were writing?”

**

After reading these letters, I was feeling a bit sorry for my Uncle Joey for the relentless flogging he took about his spelling. Oddly, in all the writings of his that I saw, I don’t remember a single “mis-spelled” word. Like his father and my father, he was an excellent writer, which means, I suppose, the badgering produced results. Also, I’m sure Uncle Joey — a laid-back sort — took the chiding in good humor, accepting his mother’s assurance, “It is for your own good.”

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