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?


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.


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.





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.


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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Reading today’s Kansas City Star, I couldn’t help drawing a contrast between people who were the subjects of articles in different sections of the paper.

One story, by sports columnist Vahe Gregorian — perhaps The Star’s most sensitive writer — was about the sister of former Chiefs’ star Otis Taylor, who is in an enervated state, unable to speak or take sustenance on his own.

The concussions and repeated brain jarring from football have stripped him, at 73, of his ability to participate in the collective consciousness of the life and world around him. But he has a lifeline, someone who makes his existence as tolerable as possible. That person is his sister, Florence Odell Taylor, a licensed vocational nurse who is caring for Otis.

As Gregorian reports, Odell Taylor formerly lived in Houston, where she tended to her mother before she died of Alzheimers. Then, about 10 years ago, she left Houston and came to Raytown to care for Otis, who was already deteriorating badly. Here’s how Gregorian described Odell Taylor’s solicitousness toward her brother.

“She just about literally hasn’t left her brother’s side since (arriving 10 years ago). As you read these words, she is next to him or feeding him or bathing him or turning him in his bed or cutting his hair or rubbing his feet or dressing him or otherwise ministering to him.”

According to Gregorian, when Odell sleeps, it’s in a chair beside Otis’ bed.

Before reading the entire story, I was looking for a photo of Odell. There was none, and my first thought was that The Star had blown it and not bothered to get a photo.

But, no, that’s not the case. Odell wouldn’t even consent to an interview. Gregorian didn’t explain why, but it’s very probable she didn’t want any attention bathed on herself. Her focus is on her brother — a brother who just so happens to be one of the most popular players ever to don a Chiefs uniform.

Most of us, when we think of Otis Taylor, picture him in that slow-motion recording from Super Bowl IV…Len Dawson hits him with a short sideline pass; Taylor catches the ball at the Minnesota Vikings’ 41-yard line; breaks a tackle; races powerfully and gracefully down the sideline; jukes another defender and glides into the end zone, sealing the AFL’s first victory over the NFL.


One of the most memorable plays in Kansas City Chiefs’ history — Otis Taylor breaking a tackle attempt by Vikings’ cornerback Earsell Mackbee in Super Bowl IV on Jan. 11, 1970.

I think that’s the memory that Odell Taylor does not want to impinge on. She does not want it disturbed.

…Then, there’s another notable story in today’s paper. It’s the lead editorial, on Page 18A, accompanied by a photo of a man named Scott Tucker. In the photo, Tucker is wearing sunglasses and a race-car driver’s suit. He’s obviously at some sort of race. He’s writing on a legal pad, and people are gathered around him. Even though he’s not smiling, it’s an image of a guy living the good life. Good looks. Prosperity. At least brushing with fame.


Scott Tucker

But, in fact, Scott Tucker is just a turd. A con man who made millions at the expense of poor people all around the country and then spent lavishly on his own comforts and indulgences.

Tucker, who lives in the Kansas City area, was indicted last week, along with two fellow “businessmen,” on charges of bilking 4.5 million people in a vast payday-lending scheme that Tucker started back in the mid- to late-1990s. He and his co-defendants and some others — including at least three men from prominent Catholic families in Visitation Catholic Parish — operated in the shadows for years and enriched themselves, often by finagling and raiding the bank accounts of people who never even requested loans.

Some of these guys, like Tim Coppinger and Frampton T. Rowland III (how’s that for a name implying “distinguished gentleman”?), used some of their ill-gotten millions to make significant contributions toward construction of a new chapel at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Prairie Village. Their generosity must have impressed at least some parishioners who didn’t know the score.

I hope indictments soon follow for Coppinger, Rowland and others involved in this cynical undertaking.

…During my many years in the newspaper business, I’d often people whine, “Why don’t they report some good news?” (So as not be be offensive, people usually didn’t frame the question in the second person singular.)

Well, today The Star reported some very good news on two fronts. First, that the government has closed in on some disgusting, self-enriching con men and, second, that we are blessed to have in our midst people like Odell Taylor who dedicate themselves to service for others and do so without seeking a sliver of attention or credit.

As far as I’m concerned it’s a great day in Kansas City. Let’s applaud and be grateful for those who inspire us with their humility and sacrificial spirits. It is they who give us hope and show us that greed and corruption are not overwhelming.

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Cuba: Round 2

Judging from the strong response to yesterday’s post, I sense a keen interest in all things Cuban.

And why shouldn’t there be, with Havana being a 37-minute flight away from Miami — and yet a world away?

No McDonald’s, no Costco, no Home Depot. The equivalent, in a way, of our Old West, with its saloons, general stores, hotels and blacksmith shops. One big difference, though, is no one is walking around with a gun on his hip, or in his pocket. In Cuba, the government’s got all the guns. That’s not necessarily good, but it sure makes for safe streets.

Anyway, I got a lot of good photos during our 9-day stay, and I didn’t have room yesterday for all those I really liked. So saddle up and get ready for a second pass…


When you arrive at Jose Marti International Airport, there are no jetways; you walk down the steps of the plane and into the terminal. Immediately, you make connection with the ground of a new country.


For seven days, our tour guide Roberto and our driver Paqui were our almost-constant companions. Roberto has a brother who lives in the U.S., and his mother is planning to visit Miami this month. Most members of our tour group got the feeling Roberto would be visiting in the near future.


Our group of 10 with Kansas City connections was joined by several people from other parts of the country, including Rima (left), a social worker from Brooklyn, and her mother Susan, a family-advocate attorney in Woodstock, NY.


…and Bill, a retired Navy and commercial airline pilot from San Diego.


Four of us stayed over two days to see more of Havana and environs. I took this last Sunday, when we spent part of the morning and early afternoon on a windswept beach at Guanabo, a town about 12 miles east of Havana…That’s Patty on the right; Martha next to her, and Martha’s sister, Jane, who lives in New Mexico.


During the formal tour, musical groups entertained us at many lunches and dinners. This group was the first we encountered — on our first day in Havana Vieja — and one of the best.


Like the musicians, street performers work for tips.


The Cuban flag added color to this street in Havana Vieja — Old Havana — the heart of the city and the main tourist district.


In an unbelievable coincidence, we happened upon this old marble staircase — a photo of which has hung in the hallway of our home the last two or three years. I bought the photo from a local photographer who had visited and photographed Havana…I was dumbstruck after Patty came to an abrupt stop on our walk through Old Havana, pointed to the right and said, “Look!” And there it was, the same staircase.


The Malecon, the sea wall that extends along Havana’s shore line for several miles, is a natural and popular gathering place for tourists and locals alike. From the nearby hotels, you can hear the sound of happy voices emanating from the Malecon on calm Gulf Coast nights.


We got out into the countryside, too. These red-barked trees are facetiously called Tourist Trees because they resemble many tourists who mire themselves in all-inclusive Cuban resorts and burn their skins to a crisp at the resort swimming pools, never venturing outside the resort confines. (We stayed at one of those places two nights and saw a bunch of Canadians who did exactly that.)


At an organic farm, we saw what rich dirt looks like.


…and the people who work it.


…and how they till the soil.


Cuba used to export enormous amounts of sugarcane to Russia in exchange for oil. That came to a crashing halt after the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991. Sugarcane, coffee and tobacco remain are still some of the country’s largest crops. Here an organic farm worker strips a sugarcane stalk.


Ernest Hemingway had a rich history in Cuba, of course, before committing suicide in Idaho in 1961. In 1940, he purchased Finca Vigia, or “Lookout House,” several miles outside of Havana, and he lived there off and on until his death.


The residence, which sits on 15 acres, is now a museum. Visitors cannot go inside, but they can look through the windows.


Hemingway’s 38-foot fishing boat Pilar — the nickname of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer — is on the property.


A bustling, relatively modern town we visited in southwestern Cuba, on the Caribbean side of the island, was Cienfuegos.


Many young people in Cienfuegos were fashionably dressed.


This fabric store was doing a brisk business.


Fifty miles southeast of Cienfuegos is Trinidad, a charming town with cobblestone streets and a lively street life.


The busiest place in town was the Telepunto store, where people were lined up, presumably to buy phone-time cards.


The Trinidad Post Office.


This guy wasn’t begging, but I gave him a Cuban 25-cent piece in exchange for this photo.


And wasn’t it inevitable that we would run into a Royals fan somewhere in Cuba? Cubans’ favorite Royal, naturally, is Kendrys Morales, a native of Cuba, who escaped the country on a raft in June 2004. Cuba’s loss was our gain. Opening day is less than two months away!






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When we landed in Miami Monday afternoon after nine days in Cuba, one of the first things that popped up on Patty’s phone was the score from Sunday’s Super Bowl game. That was the first we had heard of the result. And that’s a reflection of how different a world we had been in, even though Cuba is just a puddle jump away from the U.S. by plane.

We had talked and dreamed for nearly two years about going to Cuba, and it more than lived up to our expectations.

On the one hand, Cuba is a place of charm, beauty and energetic, resourceful people. On the other, it’s a place of crumbling infrastructure, abject poverty and totalitarian government that keeps the populace firmly under its heel. In any event, it’s an eye-opening, enthralling place to visit.

For the first seven days we were on an organized, educational tour operated by a company called Cuba Explorer and sanctioned by the U.S. government. The sanctioning meant we had visas — good for 30 days — and health certificates that qualified us for hospital treatment had any of us experienced a medical emergency. (Fortunately, we all stayed healthy.)

The organized tour consisted of 19 people, including 10 in our immediate group and nine other Americans from various places. The tour took us to Cienfuegos and Trinidad in southwestern Cuba (see map), as well as Havana. At the end of the tour, four of us — Patty and I and a good friend of ours and her sister — stayed on for two more days to explore Havana on our own. The sisters are conversant in Spanish, which helped immensely.

cuba map

By category, and with accompanying photos, here are some of the highlights of our trip…

The Car is King

Everyone has heard, of course, how the Cubans are able to keep their old, mostly American-made cars chugging along. Some have been restored and are in excellent condition, but many are rattletraps that are nursed along through ingenuity and jerry-rigged equipment. Car ownership bestows status in Cuba. That’s because they are big revenue producers. In addition to official state-operated cab services and private taxis, some car owners use their vehicles as informal, communal taxis, known as almendrones. Standing curbside with hands extended, people flag down these vehicles, quickly discuss destinations and rates and either jump in or send the driver on his way. (I saw very few women drivers.) Often, several people going to different places ride in the same vehicle…It’s a cheap and efficient way to go, and we never worried about our safety. For the first few days, we took private taxis, but on our last full day, Sunday, we twice flagged down almendrones, getting cheap rides and cheap thrills.

People who give rides — whether in official taxis, tourist taxis or almendrones — earn much more money than the average, government-paid Cuban worker, including doctors. Other high earners are those in the hospitality industry, like musicians, waiters, bellmen and tour guides — basically anyone who works for tips. From the looks of things, even the banos attendants, who are just about everywhere, take in more money than doctors, who reportedly make about $50 a month. (They’re also leaving Cuba, understandably, in droves.)


This is the way many people arrange rides — quick conversations with drivers of communal cabs, called almendrones.


And while there are a lot of restored classic cars, you see more of this variety…These guys were replacing a muffler and tail pipe.


One night, our entire group of 10 got a ride into Havana Vieja (Old Havana) in this tourist taxi. Our driver was Jose.


The cab seated eight people on two bench seats in the back and two people up front.


Truly a beauty, that car.


There are two types of currency in Cuba: the one the residents use, the national peso, and the one that tourists use — the Cuban Convertible peso, C.U.C., phonetically referred to as “kooks.” The ratio is about 25 national pesos to one kook.

And while the kook is essentially the equivalent of the U.S. dollar, Americans get outrageously hosed when exchanging dollars for kooks. Right off the top, the government takes a 10 percent surcharge, compliments of Raul and Fidel, I’m sure. Then there’s an exchange fee of three to four percent, which means every kook is actually worth about 86 or 87 cents.

The best way to go, like I did, is to exchange dollars for Euros before leaving the States and then exchange the Euros for kooks in Cuba. Euros and other foreign currency are not subject to the surcharge, so you’re gaining 10 cents on every dollar.



Fifty C.U.C., or 50 “kooks.”

Accommodations and (in)conveniences

If you let TripAdvisor hotel reviews be your guide, you’d never go to Cuba. That’s because the hotels are government owned and not up to American standards. The beds are narrow, so make sure you get a room with two beds, and the plumbing is unreliable. For example, the toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilets but in trash receptacles next to them. There are no wash cloths, either, so bring your own, if you absolutely need them. (At one point, I converted my eyeglass-cleaning rag into a wash cloth.)

It’s amazing, though, how fast you adjust to the conditions if you just relax, focus on having fun and making do with what you’ve got.

Oh, and because Cuba has a monumental trash problem (no regular pickup, as far as I could tell), the banos in restaurants and bars are not equipped with paper towels or hand towels, and most of the automatic dryers don’t work. Usually, you find yourself shaking off your hands and letting evaporation do the job. In many cases, hand soap is not available, either…But, like I said, you adjust.


Our first hotel was the Copacabana — “the hottest place north of Havana,” as the great Barry Manilow song goes.


From our room, we had a view of the Russian embassy — a structure whose tower resembles a sword handle.


The hotel wasn’t the greatest, but it offered a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico.


We spent one night at the Hotel Presidente, about a 10-minute drive from Old Havana.


From our room there, we could see the waves crashing against the Malecon — the sea wall — one morning when the wind was high and the sea rough.

Food and Drink

I had my fill of black beans and rice by Day 3. I like black beans and rice, but after two or three consecutive lunches and dinners featuring them, I swore off. I also got tired of the main meat dishes — pork, beef, chicken and lamb. Last Sunday, a driver we had hired for several hours took us to an Italian restaurant where the pizza ranked right up there with Minsky’s. A day earlier, we found — thanks to a recent New York Times travel story — a restaurant that had American-style food, including hamburgers. Although it didn’t particularly look like American hamburger — it was cured, we believed — it was close enough for satisfaction…And by the way, I really liked the Cuban Kola (in photo below); it rivals Coke and Pepsi, in my opinion.


I made the mistake of ordering a “super hamburguesa” instead of a regular. I ate one and a half of the three patties and later tossed the rest to a dog on the street.


I gave up alcohol about 35 years ago, but this bottle of Cuban rum sure was alluring.


At a national park north of Trinidad, on the southern coast, we bought some honey and nut bars that tasted like a combination of peanut brittle and granola bar.

Dancing and Entertainment

On one of our first nights in Havana, we attended a cabaret-type show at the Hotel Nacional, the most prominent building along the sea front. I wasn’t expecting much from the show, but it turned out to be thoroughly entertaining. For me, the highlight was a conga-drum player who won the crowd over as much with his radiant smile and crowd interaction as with his lightning-fast tapping and slapping on the drums.

…Salsa dancing in Cuba is something to behold. Last Sunday, we went to one of two Casa de la Musica establishments in Havana. About 45 minutes before a live band performed, people began dancing to loud, thumping recorded music…I don’t know how these women do it — whether they learn it from formal instruction or it’s in the genes — but they way many of them swish their torsos and roll their hips is spell binding. Many men are great dancers, too; their moves are just more subtle.


Hotel Nacional de Cuba


A cabaret show at the Hotel Nacional.


Above and below…Salsa dancing at Casa de la Musica.



I could write a lot more and show you many more photos, but even electronic space should not be abused. So, I leave you with this…If you haven’t been to Cuba, try to go. And try to go soon. With American dollars and tourists pouring into the country, it’s going to change. It’s hard to say how long this lost-in-time country will boast the eclectic, authentic flavor it has right now. Maybe five years, maybe 10, maybe more. But the influx of money is bound to bring significant change. While the future is uncertain, for now all is Muy Bien!



Our group — minus the blogger who had been occupying the empty chair.

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