Archive for May, 2021

More than a month has passed since KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman was lying on a bed reading in her first-floor, East Side apartment when someone fired a bullet through the window and fatally wounded her.

The fact that five weeks have passed and no one has been arrested and no prime suspect appears to have surfaced makes me think two things…First, the theory that she took a bullet intended for another woman who lived in the same building is off base. Second, that the chances of solving the case may well turn on whether the shooter keeps his mouth shut.

I’m now fairly convinced this was a random but intentional shooting. I said in an earlier post I don’t buy the stray bullet theory at all.

To me, it seems likely the killer lived in the neighborhood, which is very rough and where residents are all too familiar with the sound of nighttime gunfire.

A woman I spoke to when I was reporting in the area of 27th and Lockwood speculated that it was a case of someone who had recently acquired a gun and was testing it to see if it worked and was accurate.

That challenges the imagination of people living in peaceful neighborhoods but it’s not implausible. Right next to Haberman’s building is an alley that in all likelihood would have been pretty dark at night. Contiguous with the alley are parking spaces for residents of the three-story, brick building where the 24-year-old Haberman lived. Her bedroom was at the rear of the building, and a shooter would have been at least 30 yards from the facing street, Lockwood, and 100 yards or so from Benton Boulevard, to the west.

Aviva Okeson Haberman lived in the first-floor apartment pictured at right. Her bedroom was at the back of the building, where the three windows are. The bullet that killed her went through the last window.

In other words, there would have been little chance of the shooter being noticed, unless someone just happened to come out of the apartment building or pull into the alley.

Another possibility is that it was gang related. We’ve all heard that some gangs require fledgling members to show their mettle by killing someone…anyone. Then there’s the possibility — awful to contemplate — it was racially motivated. This is a Black neighborhood, by and large. Perhaps a young hooligan, one used to roaming the area and looking for trouble, happened to see Aviva, a white woman, in a vulnerable position (the blind in her room was up so it would have been fairly easy to see inside) and took a potshot.

Now, let’s consider the “unintended victim” theory.

Regular readers will recall I reported in my earlier post that the New York Post, a notoriously irresponsible newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, had published a story quoting a woman who lives in an apartment adjacent to Haberman’s as saying she believed the bullet was intended for her. The woman, 26-year-old Sadi Sumpter, told the Post she believes the shooting could have been a botched hit meant for her and arranged by her ex-boyfriend, whom she described as a drug addict and a convicted felon.

While possible, it struck me as improbable, partly because the ex-boyfriend, who is (or was) in prison, knows exactly where the ex-girlfriend lives, which is across the hall from Haberman’s apartment. I think it extremely unlikely that either the ex-boyfriend or the supposed “hit” person would have confused the west and east sides of the building.

Further casting doubt on that theory is that the person the ex-boyfriend supposedly lined up to kill the ex-girlfriend was his new girlfriend, a woman who reportedly has 13 children…I heard that from a good source just this weekend.

As soon as I heard that, I dismissed the mistaken-identity theory. First of all, when would a woman who has 13 children — if that is actually true — have time to go to the range and practice her marksmanship?

More basically, how many women are involved in planned killings? Very few. And how many are involved in planned killings outside their homes? Far fewer.

So, from the New York Post, we’re supposed to believe that a woman with 13 children was skulking around the night of Thursday, April 22, gun in hand, not exactly sure where her victim lives, takes a shot from shoulder height, and, bam, hits her right in the head from a distance of 10 to 20 feet?

Nope. Not buying it.


So, how does this case get solved? Well, sadly, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the KCPD’s homicide division. In a recent story (not about Haberman) The Star said said that of 176 homicides that occurred in KC in 2020, police cleared just 91. That’s slightly more than 50 percent. Nationally, the clearance rate for homicides was 61 percent.

If you’ve watched The First 48, one of my favorite TV shows, you know that a good percentage of homicides get solved because the killers start running their mouths — either boasting or feelings of guilt or stupidity.

That’s probably what it’s going to take to solve this case. Maybe the killer has already talked and has just been lucky no one has reported it. Maybe he has kept quiet. Someday, though, he’ll probably let it out, if he hasn’t already. Generally, it’s only hardened killers who can keep something like that under wraps.

In any event, this is one of the most puzzling murders KC has seen in a long time. I hope the homicide detectives down at 12th and Cherry are pulling out all the stops on this one.

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This got by the local news media, like a lot of things do these days, but ownership of the Country Club Plaza, or at least 50 percent of it, has changed hands.

You might remember stories from February 2020 that the nation’s largest shopping mall operator, Simon Property Group of Indianapolis, had reached an agreement to buy all of Taubman Centers and part of the Taubman family’s ownership interest.

Taubman Centers of Bloomfield Hills, MI, owned half the Plaza. Another real estate investment trust, Macerich of Santa Monica, CA, owns the other half.

The deal was supposed to close in mid-2020, but after Covid-19 took hold with a vengeance, Simon said it was backing out.

That led to a court fight, but in late December the deal went through, with Simon paying $43 a share for Taubman instead of the earlier agreed-upon price of $52.50 a share. (I stumbled across the news while researching Plaza ownership because of a City of Fountains Foundation project I’m involved in.)

The total price tag, Reuters reported, was $2.65 billion.

Now, in effect, Simon and Macerich are equal partners in the Plaza. This at a time when the future of shopping malls is very cloudy. Last year, the Macy’s store at the Prairie Village Shopping Center closed, and the Plaza has a lot of empty storefronts, including the Nichols Road Nike store that closed last Sunday.

In addition, plans for Nordstrom to open on the west end of the Plaza appear to be shaky. The projected opening has been pushed back a few times and now is scheduled for 2023.

When Simon pulled out of the Taubman deal last June, it looked like a good time to be getting out of the mall business. And yet, if the stock market is an indication, it appears Simon made a good deal. Since the transaction closed in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Simon’s stock price (SPG) has risen more than 40 percent.

In a January story on a Motley Fool website, reporter Maurie Backman said that after Covid vaccinations became widespread — which they have — “there’s a good chance mall traffic will explode once consumers feel more confident with the idea of in-person shopping.”

The day of mall-traffic explosion is still down the road, but I’m sure a lot of people are sick of looking at the tired, old clothes they wore during the pandemic and are eager to get back to the stores, where they can touch and feel materials and try on new clothes.

Simon already owned two malls in Missouri — Battlefield Mall in Springfield and Osage Beach Outlet Marketplace — and it previously owned Independence Center. With the acquisition of Taubman, it picked up the former Taubman Prestige Outlets on I-64 in Chesterfield.

In Kansas, it owns Towne East Square in Wichita.

Towne East Square, Wichita


I suspect Simon, being the largest mall operator in the country — it has about 200 properties — will take the leading role in operation of the Plaza. But it’s unclear, and, curiously, the Plaza folks seem to be in denial about the change of ownership.

Earlier this week, I put in calls to Taubman and Simon to try to get a clearer picture of how the partnership might unfold. In short order I got an email from a vice president at FleishmanHillard, the Kansas City-based p.r. company that represents the Plaza.

In one email, the v.p. said, “Let me run this down for you.”

The next email said, “Taubman and Macerich each own 50% of Country Club Plaza.”

Well, that’s not the case and hasn’t been for five months. I don’t know why the Plaza management or its p.r. firm would state something that is flatly incorrect.

Maybe, like the local media, they missed the news.

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With the events of the last week, we are moving closer to seeing a change in administration at the Kansas City Police Department.

I believe Rick Smith will be out as police chief, probably through resignation, by the end of the year.

The main reason is that continuous and relentless pressure from civil rights organizations has had a twofold effect: First, it has helped move Mayor Quinton Lucas from a teeth-grinding police critic to an unequivocal and outspoken adversary.

Second — and this is not as obvious but I sense it is happening — the pressure has taken a toll on one or more of the four Republican-appointed members of the Board of Police Commissioners.

I have seen two possible indications that the police board’s impenetrable wall of opposition to public opinion is starting to crack. Sometime in recent months, the board chose Bishop Mark Tolbert, a Black minister, as board president, succeeding Don Wagner, a blue blood who is more Mission Hills than Kansas City oriented.

(In 2019, Wagner was one of a dozen people who ponied up $100,000 each to play a round of golf with Tom Watson, who was hosting a fundraiser for the First Tee organization at the Kansas City Country Club.)

Then, on Monday, at a secret and illegal meeting, Tolbert was not around when three board members — Wagner, Cathy Dean and Nathan Garrett — voted to explore the possibility of a lawsuit in the wake of the City Council’s decision last week to reallocate 18 percent of the police department’s budget to a newly established “community services and prevention fund.”

Lucas, the only board member not appointed by the governor, voted “no,” but interestingly Tolbert did not attend the meeting.

Now, maybe he was out of town or otherwise committed, but this was an awfully important meeting, and he wasn’t there.

Bishop Mark Tolbert

My speculation is that the ongoing pressure from the civil rights organizations, led primarily by the Urban League of Kansas City and the SCLC of Greater Kansas City, has put a hitch in his step.

He might be a Republican — he was appointed by then-Gov. Eric Greitens — but he’s also a Black minister. And he’s probably the only Black minister in Kansas City right now who is on record as backing Rick Smith.

It’s got to be a lonely position for him.

Civil rights leaders like Gwen Grant of the Urban League and Rev. Vernon Percy Howard of the SCLC, both very eloquent and powerful speakers, keep bringing heat, and they’re not going to let up until there is a significant change.

Their ultimate goal, like mine, is local control of KCPD, but short of that they want Rick Smith’s crew-cut scalp. If Tolbert’s knees are getting wobbly, it’s going to be difficult for Wagner, Dean and Garrett to hold the line.

I would look for Dean, a retired lawyer with the Polsinelli firm, to be next in line to yield to pressure from the civil rights groups. (She is the only board member appointed by Gov. Mike Parson.)

Cathy Dean

Wagner, who made a fortune in the steel tank business, and Garrett, a lawyer who formerly was a member of the Missouri Highway Patrol, will never cave. Like Tolbert, Wagner and Garrett are Greitens appointees.


We should all be very proud of Lucas for finding his spine and leading the drive to round up the nine votes needed last week to pass the ordinances giving the city more power over the Police Department’s budget.

I have watched with interest as the bond between Lucas on one hand and the Black ministers and other civil rights leaders on the other has tightened. It evidenced itself most clearly at the April 13 Park Board meeting, when civil rights leaders fist bumped and elbow bumped Lucas and then practically fell over each other in praising the mayor for helping build a consensus that brought about a resolution of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. street-naming quagmire.

The civil rights leaders had little use for the previous mayor, Sly James, who fumbled the MLK issue for at least two years.

At a news conference immediately after that April 13 meeting, one civil rights leader (I can’t remember which) said, referring to the turnabout on the MLK issue, “What changed? The mayor changed.” The others on hand nodded and raised their voices in agreement.

…It’s been gratifying to see the worm start to turn here. Whatever happens at the state level — no matter how much shit the General Assembly dumps on the city in retaliation for the council’s perceived impertinence — Lucas has the broadsword out and is swinging away at a longstanding miscarriage of governmental power.

Somehow, the state’s head must be cut off. State control of KCPD has got to end. Ultimately, it will take an initiative petition and a statewide vote. It’s an urgent matter. At the last session, the General Assembly considered but did not pass a bill that would make the initiative petition process significantly more difficult.

Next year, it could well happen. It’s essential to launch the petition drive and get it submitted before the General Assembly and Mike Parson take even more power out of the hands of Missourians.

In the near term, however, as the pressure keeps building on the police board, the chances of a board majority continuing to back Rick Smith are lessening. Lucas’ sword just might catch that scalp.

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Today I want to talk about lollipops, specifically the two major versions of the song “My Boy Lollipop.”

One version — the best know by far — was “My Boy Lollipop.” The second, which came eight years earlier, was “My Boy Lollypop.”

Ever since I was a youngster listening to WAKY (“Everything’s going wacky!”) in Louisville, I’ve been listening to Millie Small’s 1964 version of “Lollipop” and loving it.

It was recorded in England, went to No. 2 there and later topped out at the same spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

It is categorized as a ska/reggae song (a fact I didn’t know until I started researching it today). Ska, according to Wikipedia, is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to reggae.

Anyway, all these years that I’ve been listening to the version by Millie Small, a Jamaican singer and songwriter, I wasn’t aware of the existence of the 1956 version, “Lollypop,” by an American girl named Barbie Gaye.

And when I say “girl,” I mean girl because she was 14 when she recorded it. Moreover, she cut school the day the day the song was recorded in Midtown Manhattan.

Barbie Gaye

I became aware of Barbie Gaye’s version just a few weeks ago, when it began turning up on SiriusXM’s “50s on 5” channel. (About all I listen to on SiriusXM is that and the “60s on 6.”)

When I first heard Gaye’s version, I was kind of taken aback and put off. But even at the first listening, I was struck by the richness of Gaye’s voice and her crisp delivery and cascading phrasing. Her version also has a nice saxophone solo that was cut from Small’s version.

Before I play both songs for you, here’s the story — condensed from Wiki — behind “My Boy Lollypop” and Barbie Gaye playing hooky to record it.

The song, originally called “My Girl Lollypop,” was written by Robert Spencer of the doo-wop group The Cadillacs. Record company executive Morris Levy bought it from Spencer, and he and an alleged gangster named Johnny Roberts removed Spencer’s name and listed themselves as the writers.

The song caught the attention of a Levy associate, mobster and music mogul Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, who had heard Barbie Gaye singing on a street corner on Coney Island. Vastola took her to meet famous New York radio DJ Alan Freed, who was equally impressed. Vastola became Gaye’s manager and soon acquired the sheet music and lyrics for “My Girl Lollypop” from Levy.

Wiki then says…

He gave them to Gaye, with no specific instructions except to change the gender of the song’s subject and be ready to perform it by the following week. Barbie Gaye changed the song’s title to “My Boy Lollypop” and rewrote the song accordingly. She added non-lyrical utterances such as “whoa” and “uh oh,” chose the notes for the lyrics, shortened and lengthened notes, decided which lyrics to repeat (“I love ya, I love ya, I love ya so”) and added the word “dandy” to describe the subject.

When it came time to record, Gaye cut school and took the subway to a recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. Gaye met the three members of the session band, guitarist Leroy Kirkland, saxophonist Al Sears and drummer Panama Francis. The band leader, Kirkland, asked Gaye to sing the song for them. After listening to her, they improvised music to match her vocals. They decided to record the song in a relatively new style of R&B called shuffle. The four musicians, including the white teenage girl, went into the studio and recorded the song in one take. Barbie Gaye was paid $200 for her writing contributions to “My Boy Lollypop” and her studio recording.

After being released by Darl Records in late 1956, Freed promoted the record aggressively. It went to No. 25 on his “Top 25” on WINS radio in New York but did not break through nationally. It sold enough, however, that Gaye got to tour with Little Richard and Fats Domino in 1957.

Like many artists at the time, Gaye received no royalties from radio play. Vastola kept all the profits.

…I don’t know if Barbie Gaye is still alive or, if so, where she lives. Millie Small died a year ago in London at age 72. Now, here are those two great versions of “My Boy Lollypop/Lollipop.”

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It was a tumultuous day at City Hall Thursday, with Mayor Quinton Lucas declaring war on the Police Department (finally) and pulling off one of the most brazen sneak attacks to ever occur at 12th and Oak.

It was a big victory for City Council members — and residents, by extension — who have chafed under state rule of the Police Department. But the victory could be short lived because the Missouri General Assembly relishes rubbing the city’s nose in the dirt and can dictate what percentage of the city’s operating budget must go toward police operations.

More about that in a minute, but there was another significant facet of yesterday’s upheaval:

The developments signaled the most significant breach ever between the Northland, which has long tilted Republican and conservative, and the southern part of the city, which is decidedly Democratic and liberal.

The backdrop for yesterday’s events was that for months civil rights groups and others had persistently criticized Lucas for failing to challenge Police Chief Rick Smith and the state-dominated Board of Police Commissioners.

Gradually, though, Lucas grew frustrated with the police board’s stonewalling and refusal to consider even relatively minor changes he requested.

By Thursday he’d had enough, and he had organized a raiding party.

First, Lucas held a press conference announcing the introduction of two ordinances that would give City Manager Brial Platt the authority to negotiate with the police board how the department would spend about $42.3 million — more than 15 percent — of the police department’s $239 million budget.

The city, presumably, would push for much of that $42 million to go toward social services and other alternative approaches to conventional law enforcement. At the press conference, Lucas said the ordinances would go to a council committee for consideration.

Instead, in a breathtaking, rope-a-dope move, Lucas went to that afternoon’s council legislative meeting and asked for immediate approval. Being a good politician, he had the votes lined up, and both measures sailed through on 9-4 votes.

The four dissenting votes is where the north-south breach enters the picture.

Lucas’ press conference was met with wails of protest from the four Northland council members: Teresa Loar and Dan Fowler, who live in the 2nd District, and Heather Hall and Kevin O’Neill, who live in the 1st District.

At a press conference of their own, they asserted the measures were not well thought out and would harm the Police Department. Making an argument that will echo with their constituents, they said the ordinances masqueraded as a police-funding cut that would result in fewer police officers patrolling the streets.

“This is absolutely the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen ever since I’ve been here at City Hall,” Loar said.

All the screeching and hair pulling in the world wasn’t going to derail the freight train that Lucas was engineering, however. It was in-your-face all the way, with the nine council members from south of the river lining up behind the ordinances. For the record, those joining Lucas in the pile-on were were Brandon Ellington and Melissa Robinson from the 3rd District; Katheryn Shields and Eric Bunch from the 4th District; Lee Barnes Jr. and Ryana Parks-Shaw from the 5th District; and Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus from the 6th District.

In the end, it was a very satisfying day for residents who favor police reform, but, as I said above, the City Council might hold the hill only temporarily.

Kansas City is one of just a few big cities where state government, not city government, controls the police department. It’s been that way for a long time and isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

The governor appoints four of five members of the police board, with the mayor being the fifth member. The appointed members serving now were all appointed by Republican governors — Eric Greitens or Mike Parson — and they are a veritable rubber stamp for Police Chief Rick Smith, who, if he was subject to City Council approval, would have been fired months ago.

In addition, a state law says the city must spend at least 20 percent of its general fund on police operations. The city has been exceeding that, but the significance of the $42.3 million figure is that it represents the most the city can reduce the police budget and still comply with the 20 percent requirement.

…What might happen, and relatively soon, is the General Assembly could raise that percentage to whatever it wanted, say 25 percent or even 30 percent. The legislature adjourned last Friday but will be coming back into special session later this year, and I fully expect the Republican majorities in the House and Senate to take the whip to what they view as their rebellious subjects in Kansas City.

There are other ways the General Assembly could counterattack, and don’t be surprised if the guy leading the spanking mission turns out to be Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Parkville Republican.

In the just-expired session, Luetkemeyer sponsored the bill that lifted the longstanding city residency requirement for Kansas City officers. And like the Northland council members, he wasn’t at all happy yesterday about the prospect of fewer officers on Kansas City streets.

He told The Star, “I think it’s the worst thing the city could do at a time when we have record high crime.”

Yes, the nine council members won yesterday, and Lucas had one of his best days so far in office. But they’d better be ready, in the months ahead, for a barrage of legislative rockets that, for noise and upheaval, could rival the Israelis’ shelling of Gaza.

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Well thank God we were spared another Triple Crown victory by thoroughbred trainer Bob Baffert on Saturday.

A lot of people were pulling against Medina Spirit in the Preakness Stakes after the horse turned up to have had a banned substance in his system during the Kentucky Derby and Baffert at first blamed everyone and everything, except himself. But after he “discovered” that one of his assistants had applied a topical substance, he changed his tune and found humility.

So, it was with great joy that many racing fans, including me, watched as Rombauer, trained by Mike McCarthy, charged by Medina Spirit in the Preakness and took Baffert down a few more notches than he had already taken himself.

Trainer Mike McCarthy, Jockey Flavien Prat and Rombauer’s owners, John and Diane Fradkin, hoisted the trophy after Rombauer won the Preakness Stakes.

Medina Spirit ended up third, behind second-place finisher Midnight Bourbon. Medina Spirit is still likely to be taken down as the Derby winner, assuming a second drug test confirms he ran in the Derby with a corticosteroid in his system. His connections would not get any purse money. The payouts to bettors, on the other hand, would stand.

The Preakness was a much better race than the Derby, where Medina Spirit went gate to wire. With rare exceptions (Secretariat), it’s more exciting to see horses come from behind rather than run away with races from the start.

…I’ve said before that some of the most vigorous writing you can find is in the Daily Racing Form’s official charts. The charts include a description of how every horse runs in every race — where they start, how they proceed and how they finish.

Here’s the chart for the first three finishers in the Preakness…

ROMBAUER brushed the outer portion of his stall, recovered and settled off the pace while between rivals, took closer order leaving the far turn, leveled off under pressure past the five sixteenths, shifted four wide with momentum into the lane, sustained under left handed encouragement, forged past MIDNIGHT BOURBON heading the sixteenth pole then eagerly pulled away while drifting in a bit late. MIDNIGHT BOURBON, away in good order, prompted the pace three to four wide outside MEDINA SPIRIT, drew alongside while under a light hold heading to three eighths, dueled with that one into the lane, secured command near the three sixteenths, spurted clear soon after then gave way grudgingly while drifting in some late. MEDINA SPIRIT bobbled slightly at the break, quickly recovered and took command, set the pace two to three wide, came under pressure into the far turn, was under a ride while sparring with MIDNIGHT BOURBON past the five sixteenths, kept on to about mid stretch then gave way.

I love the detail, such as “brushed the outer portion of his stall (the gate)” and “forged past” and “gave way grudgingly.”

It was a great race, and now it’s on to the Belmont two weeks from Saturday. I hope Rombauer does it again. If he does, he won’t go off anywhere close to the 11-1 odds he went off at Saturday. It will be more like 2-1.

One guy we won’t have to worry about next month is Baffert: Today the New York Racing Association temporarily suspended him, disqualifying him from entering any horses in any New York races, including the Belmont. The owners of Pimlico should have disqualified him from entering horses at that track, but Baffert threatened a lawsuit and they backed off…NYRA is another matter. As the late, Hall-of-Fame-trainer Woody Stephens once said, “When you cross the Hudson, the buildings get taller.”


Did you see that the man who invented the glue that made the Post-it Notes what they are today died?

His name was Spencer Silver. He was a chemist who spent his career in 3M’s research lab developing adhesives. The New York Times obituary said that in 1968 he was trying to create an adhesive so strong it could be used in aircraft construction.

Spencer Silver

“He failed in that goal,” the story said. “But during his experimentation, he invented something entirely different: an adhesive that stuck to surfaces, but that could be easily peeled off and was reusable.”

It took about six years for 3M to find a product on which to use the adhesive, and it wasn’t until 1979 that 3M introduced Post-it Notes nationally. But once the genie was out of the glue bottle, it never stopped flowing. As Dr. Silver’s obituary said, “They have never stopped selling.”

Dr. Silver was 80. He died May 8 of a heart problem at his home in St. Paul, MN.

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I stole that line — the part not in parentheses — from the inimitable Michael Barbaro, host of the New York Times’ wildly popular podcast The Daily.

That’s how he ends each day’s show, capsulizing for listeners the top stories in the news.

So, today, here’s the JimmyC version of the news roundup…

:: Ellen DeGeneres has announced her show will be ending at the end of 2022. I don’t watch her show, but I saw her 2018 Netflix special, Relatable, and it was hilarious. An article in the print edition of today’s Times, recounted her start on national TV, when she first appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1986.

She began with this joke…

Setup: “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60.”

Punchline: She’s 97 today and we don’t know where the hell she is.

And then the kicker: “I’m kidding. We know where she is. She’s in prison.”

:: The Missouri House and Senate have both approved a bill, by wide margins, eliminating the requirement that Kansas City police officers live within the city limits. After Gov. Mike Parson signs the bill into law, officers will be allowed to live anywhere within 30 miles of the city limits, but not across the state line in Kansas. The Senate passed the measure 31-2 on Wednesday, and the House did so Thursday on a 140-4 vote.

Passage of the measure angered Mayor Quinton Lucas, who said the residency-requirement rollback was “based on animosity to Kansas City.” The bill does, however, have several advantageous elements, including that it bans police chokeholds, for the most part, and requires police departments to look into officers’ history with other agencies before hiring them.

As recently as five or 10 years ago, I would have strongly objected to lifting the residency requirement, but now I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. For decades, a majority of KC police officers have lived in the Northland, so we might as well let them live in Lee’s Summit, Independence, Raytown and other Missouri suburbs.

:: At long last, the General Assembly has approved an increase in the state’s 17-cents-a-gallon gas tax, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Starting Oct. 1, the tax will increase by 2.5 cents a year until it hits 29.5 cents a gallon in 2025. The hike would make Missouri’s rate closer to the national average among states.

MoDOT has estimated that the state faces a $745 million annual funding gap for roads and bridges.

“I don’t know how much longer we can keep kicking that can down the road,” said Republican Rep. Becky Ruth of Jefferson County, south of St. Louis. “We have an opportunity to invest, make an investment in our roads and bridges, help economic development, bring jobs here and make roads safer.”

State Rep. Becky Ruth

It’s gratifying to see the Republicans in General Assembly finally come around on this issue and stop trying to duck a gas-tax increase. The last time the Republican-dominated assembly tried a back-door maneuver was in 2014, when they proposed a Constitutional amendment that would have imposed a 3/4-cent statewide sales tax to pay for road and bridge improvements. That, of course, would have shifted the lion’s share of the financial burden from highway users, like truckers, to the general public.

I met and teamed up with Tom Shrout, a transportation expert who then lived in St. Louis, and we came up with this slogan: “You pay, truckers don’t.” It was very effective, and Amendment 7 went down in flames, losing by about 18 percentage points.

Tom Shrout

Tom and his wife Debra moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, but we still stay in touch. He’s a regular reader of the blog and comments frequently.

:: Finally, KCUR reported Monday that about 40 editorial employees at the Kansas City Star, excluding editors and editorial board members, have begun an effort to unionize. Led by longtime reporter and columnist Mike Hendricks, the employees have presented Star management with a request for voluntary recognition as the Kansas City News Guild.

Hendricks told KCUR the initiative came in response to the bankruptcy filing by owner McClatchy last year and the subsequent takeover by Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen with the paper, either with our jobs or with the direction of the newspaper,” Hendricks told reporter Carlos Moreno. “And we thought it’d be good to have a seat at the table.”

Mike Hendricks (Photo by Carlos Moreno of KCUR)

Very few people are around who remember the last time editorial employees at The Star and The Kansas City Times, then the morning paper, tried to unionize. It was in the early 1970s, and the movement was led by a friend and colleague of mine, Robert M. Dye. We were both general assignment reporters on The Times. It took a lot of guts to initiate that move because management was very strong, much stronger than it is now.

Unfortunately, the national NewsGuild sent in an ineffectual representative who was not able to rally or inspire the reporters, photographers, copy editors and other front-line employees. I remember Dye asking me if I would sign a document stating my support for the union, and I, about two years on the job, declined. I told him I’d vote for it but wouldn’t be out front.

I remember the city editor, the late Don D. “Casey” Jones, gently but firmly grilling me in the newsroom one night, asking how I felt about it and why. I told him I was for it but slipped away as quickly as possible. When it came time for a vote, it failed badly, as many of us expected.

Then came a big repercussion: Dye, one of our better reporters, was taken off reporting and consigned to the night copy desk. For reporters with high hopes, the copy desk was exile. In short order, Dye resigned and took a job at The Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, where he later landed on the business side of the operation and made a big salary working directly for the publisher.

I admired him for taking a chance, but I was always glad I kept my head down during that period.

In this case, Hendricks doesn’t have to worry. He’s very close to retirement age and could walk out the door, head held high, at any time. In addition, it’s likely a majority of those in management sympathize with those pushing for the union. Everybody there, including Editor, President and Time-Clock Checker Mike Fannin have to be nervous about hedge-fund journalism.

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I wasn’t planning to write about Kentucky Derby 147, even though Patty and I were in Louisville that week, visiting friends and relatives and betting the Derby online.

But now that the blockbuster story has surfaced about the winning horse, Medina Spirit, having failed a drug test administered shortly after the race, I can’t hold back.

The black hat here is none other than Bob Baffert, the most successful Thoroughbred trainer in the world but also one of the biggest turds to ever walk the backside of a racetrack.

With Medina Spirit having won the May 1 Derby, the 63-year-old Baffert became the trainer with the most Derby wins — seven.

No. 7 would be pulled down, however, if a second drug test, administered by a different lab, confirms that Medina Spirit had the drug betamethasone in his system the day he ran. Betamethasone is a corticosteroid injected into joints to reduce pain and swelling. The reason corticosteroids are banned is that they can mask pain and other problems, presenting a distinct danger of horses being seriously or fatally injured while overextending themselves.

Baffert has reacted to the failed test result with a barrage of denials and martyr-like entreaties.

“We didn’t do it,” he whined Sunday morning outside the Churchill Down barn where Medina Spirit was housed before being shipped Tuesday to Baltimore, where he is tentatively scheduled to compete in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

Further trying to shovel the responsibility away from himself, he proclaimed, “There’s problems in racing, but it’s not Bob Baffert.”

Tuesday he went on “Fox & Friends” to continue his moaning, and he later went on the Dan Patrick (formerly of ESPN) radio show and said: “Churchill (Downs) came out with a really harsh statement. I think it was a knee-jerk cancel culture kind of reaction. They violated my due process. Now I have to fight this in public.”

(A Sports Illustrated article earlier this year said Baffert’s political views are hard right and that he is a Donald Trump supporter. Is this a coincidence?)


I’ve been very familiar with Baffert since before he won his first Derby with Silver Charm in 1997. I remember that Derby particularly well because it snowed and also because I was able to buy two tickets outside the track for two friends but could not come up with two more, so Patty and I ended up watching the race on TV at the home of some friends.

He is, undoubtedly, an excellent trainer, but he’s also a chronic cheat. Winning horses he has saddled have failed drug tests 30 times over the last four decades, including five in the last year or so. Partly because of horse racing’s hodgepodge of rules and regulations, varying from state to state, most cases took months or years to resolve, and Baffert has been able to get away mainly with modest fines or brief suspensions.

…Baffert is a cheater at more than horse racing, though. In the early 2000s, he began dating a Louisville TV anchor woman named Jill Moss. At the time, Baffert, who lives in California, was married to a woman with whom he had four children. A very good friend of mine who lives in Louisville recalled a night, when Baffert was still married, that he saw Baffert and Moss going at it, so to speak, at a bumper car place in Louisville. Baffert subsequently divorced his wife, and he and Moss married in 2002.


Beyond his cheating at and away from the track, I came to personally realize Baffert was a first-class jerk in 2010, when I had the opportunity to meet him.

Two days before that Derby, I was in the Churchill Downs barn area with Joe Drape, turf writer for The New York Times. Joe is a Kansas City native, and I had known his sister, Mary Ann Drape, many years before meeting Joe.

After Baffert had posed for a photo with some fans, Joe and I approached him. Joe introduced us and then began interviewing him. Among other things, they talked about the unfavorable post position (No. 1, on the rail) that Baffert’s Derby runner, Lookin at Lucky, had drawn. (Ultimately, he finished sixth.) Joe also asked him about the weather forecast — heavy rain — and how Lookin at Lucky might handle a sloppy track.  

As the conversation began to lag, I decided on the spur of the moment to ask Baffert a question about the horse that I liked, Noble’s Promise, who was coming out of the No. 3 post position. 

So, I spoke up and said, “Where do you think Noble’s Promise will be?” 

I will never forget this…Baffert fixed me with a hard stare for just a second and said, “I don’t have the slightest idea, and I don’t care.”

With that, he turned on his heel and walked away.

I turned to Joe, and we looked at each other — slightly in shock — for a couple of seconds. I said, “Sorry I fucked up your interview.”

Here’s a photo I took of Baffert and Joe that day…


The Baffert who snubbed me on April 29, 2010, that is the real Bob Baffert, not the glib, seemingly affable chap heretofore seen in TV interviews. He’s a cheat and an asshole, and I hope Medina Spirit gets taken down and his connections are denied the $1.8 million first-place check. (The trainer and jockey usually get 10 percent each.)

The only good thing about this story is that after negotiating for Derby tickets for a couple of weeks beforehand, Patty and I decided the day before the Derby not to go. Ticket prices were way too high — several hundred dollars each even for bad seats — and Derby Day is interminable, with the Derby race not going off until 7 p.m. Eastern time.

As in 1997, we watched on TV at our friends’ residence, a beautiful condominium facing the Ohio River. We had a great afternoon; we bet the Derby online; and we all lost.

But none of us bet on the asshole’s horse.

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When I heard about the shocking shooting of KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman, I initially accepted as plausible the theory espoused by many news outlets, including CBS News, that she was the victim of a “stray bullet.”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how unlikely that was. A stray bullet would had to have been spectacularly stray. Think about it: One bullet traveling straight through a first-floor, bedroom window and striking a woman who was either sitting, standing or lying inside, close to the window. Plus, it was nighttime, and the bedroom light was almost certainly on.

I’ve since learned that Haberman, 24, was lying in bed reading. She was found in that position the afternoon of Friday, April 23, having been shot the night before.

Yesterday morning, I went over to 29th and Lockridge, near 27th and Benton, and did some reporting. I came away convinced that this was an intentional shooting. The bullet may or may not have been intended for Haberman, but it was almost certainly fired with intent to kill.

Yesterday, the New York Post published a story quoting a woman who lives in an apartment adjacent to Haberman’s as saying she believed the bullet was intended for her. The woman, 26-year-old Sadi Sumpter, told the Post she believes the shooting could have been a botched hit meant for her and arranged by her ex-boyfriend, whom she described as a drug addict and a convicted felon.

A KCPD spokesman declined comment on Sumpter or her allegations. The police department has only said “the round that struck her was fired from outside her apartment into her apartment.”

Dan Margolies, the KCUR reporter who wrote the station’s initial story about Haberman’s death, told me today he had not read the Post story and didn’t intend to. The Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has a reputation for sensationalism, with fleeting attention to accuracy.

To me, Sumpter’s story sounds credible, but who knows?

Regardless, I want to show you what I turned up in my visit to the apartment building yesterday.

The apartment Haberman lived in was on the west side of a three-story, red-brick building with six large, two-bedroom apartments — three on each side of the building, each unit extending from the front of the building to the back. Here’s the building…

You’re looking at the west side of the building on Lockridge, which runs east-west. Haberman lived in the first-floor apartment on this, the west side, Her bedroom was at the back of the building, between the two dark, parked cars.

Sadi Sumpter lives across the hall, in the first-floor apartment on the east side. The alley (keep the alley in mind) runs between Haberman’s building and another apartment building (left), which faces Benton.

Here’s a closer look at Haberman’s bedroom windows.

The bullet that struck Haberman pierced the far-left window a few inches from the bottom. The window is about six feet from the ground-level sidewalk. You can’t tell it from the photo, but between the rocky ground and the sidewalk is a downward incline of a couple of feet. A person standing on the rocky patch would have a relatively clear view into the window. It would be much harder to get a clear view from the sidewalk.

Now, here is the bullet hole…You can see it at lower left, in the reflection of a nearby building.

There is a screen over the glass. It appeared to me that the hole in the screen (hard to see here) was slightly to the right of the hole in the glass. If that is the case, it would tend to indicate the shooter was standing at an angle, rather than shooting straight ahead.

Now, here’s the kicker. A woman who was standing in the stairwell of the building behind Haberman’s told me that when police were scouring the scene the day Haberman was found, a cone was placed in the alley, as if to indicate the presence of a shell casing. The cone, she said, was in a position that would have given shooter a clear shot into the apartment.

The woman, Saundra Napper, said: “I don’t think it was stray.”

No, it was not stray. This was intentional, and an innocent young woman, a budding journalistic star, is gone forever.

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After five days in Louisville, we returned to KC last night, just in time for the Fountain Day celebration this morning.

Fountain Day is an annual event that has a strong appeal because of Kansas City’s great inventory of fountains and also because of flowing water’s powerful symbolism: It lifts the spirit and soothes the soul.

Despite overcast skies, about 50 people attended today’s event at Haff Circle Fountain, Swope Parkway and Meyer Boulevard. The fountain, named for Delbert Haff, a park commissioner from 1908 to 1912, was renovated about three years ago at a cost of more than $1 million. More than $300,000 of that came from the late James B. Nutter Sr., self-made mortgage banker and longtime benefactor to civic causes.

I have more than a passing interest in Kansas City’s fountains, monuments and sculptures because I’ve been on the City of Fountains Foundation board of directors almost three years and currently am vice president.

The highlight of today’s celebration was a tribute to one of our longtime board members, Anita B. Gorman.

Anita, a Northland resident, has served Kansas City in many capacities for decades, including…

:: Member of the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners from 1979-1991 and board president from 1986-1991.

:: Member of the Missouri Conservation Commission from 1993 until 2005 and first woman to chair the commission. (The Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center on Troost is named for her.)

:: Member of numerous organizational boards, including Starlight Theatre, the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial, the Kansas City Zoo, the Salvation Army, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

I’m proud to say I’ve been a friend of Anita’s for many years. I got to know her in the mid-1980s, when she was on the park board and I became a City Hall reporter for The Star. When Anita went on the board, the president was L.P. Cookingham, who had been city manager from 1940 to 1959. Cookingham died in 1992.

Anita became board president in 1986 and served several years alongside restaurant magnates Ollie Gates (Gates Bar-B-Q) and Carl DiCapo (Italian Gardens).

That was quite a trio, and they were fun to write about because all three are powerful personalities. It was also easy to write about Anita because she was honest, straightforward and always had the city’s and the park department’s best interests in mind.

I don’t believe the park board ever lost a tax-increase proposal that it put to a public vote during the time Anita was on the board. Her abiding principle was: “Tell the voters exactly what the need is, what it’s going to cost and what the proposal is going to do, and they will be with you.”

After I left the City Hall “beat” in 1995, we were not in close contact, but several years ago we reconnected, and Anita began setting up “reunion lunches.” The group consisted of Gates, DiCapo, former Mayor Richard L. Berkley, who appointed them to the park board, and me.

How I managed to merit inclusion in that group I don’t know, except that Anita always thought I did a good job of explaining park board issues and why the parks department was important.

Those four outstanding public servants — Gorman, Gates, DiCapo and Berkley — are all around 90 years old now, and they don’t have the energy they once did. They remain keenly interested in their city and its direction, however, and we are still having those lunches.

The next one is scheduled for June 3. When I told Anita goodbye after today’s celebration, she said, “I’m sure looking forward to June 3.”

Here’s a photo from our last lunch, which took place at Gates’ Cleaver Boulevard location last Nov. 3, Election Day.

From left to right, Dick Berkley, Carl DiCapo, me, Anita Gorman and Ollie Gates

Today was a very good day for Kansas City and a great day to honor a person who has done so much for the city. God bless Anita Gorman.

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