January 07, 2011



Overestimating the Funk’s weakness
by Bruce Rodgers

On the first day of the year the Kansas City Star opined in a section titled “Looking Forward to ‘11” that KCMO Mayor Mark Funkhouser was “in a fierce battle to retain his seat.”

Later that same day, Funkhouser, and wife Gloria Squitiro, hosted supporters and friends — via facebook — for a gathering at the mayor’s “TripleWide” reelection headquarters in the River Market. If the mayor was “in a fierce battle” he remained untouched and unconcerned about it all. Funkhouser was friendly, engaging and (dare I say) mellow as he circulated among people. He is confident of a second term and wears his increasingly custom-fitted Teflon attire quite nicely.

The contrast between what the daily newspaper depicts and Funkhouser’s demeanor makes one wonder if this great mayoral race so announced by the Star is so much smoke and not a lot of fire. Could it be the newspaper’s editorial board has a little buyer’s remorse in backing Funkhouser in his first bid for mayor, so much that the editorial board sees a momentous contest coming on the horizon where there’s not much more than an arm wrestle brewing?

Columnist E. Thomas McClanahan has declared Funkhouser won’t make it pass the primary (Feb. 22). Columnist Yael T. Abouhalkan states he “can only hope” that Funkhouser won’t be the next mayor. Political reporter and KCUR talk show MC Steve Kraske calls Funkhouser’s four main challengers (i.e. the ones with endorsements and money) a “fearsome foursome.”

Apparently it’s gotten so frenzied around the Star that the newspaper’s unsigned editorials are ignoring reality. In a Jan. 6 editorial titled “Speak up for KC schools,” the unknown writer states: “City officials have long taken a hands-off approach to schools.”

Hello. What about Funkhouser’s School First initiative? For over a year, Funkhouser has pushed his school/neighborhood plan with more police and improved infrastructure and, admittedly, its gotten nowhere. But it’s hardly a “hands-off approach” from a public official despite rejection from the city council and a blank stare from the Board of Directors of the KCMO School District and Superintendent John Covington.

Though Funkhouser hasn’t brought it up … could his School First initiative have helped contain the mess Southwest High School is now in, at least give the district more of an ability to keep a principal at the school for longer than a few months?

Of course with most of town’s establishment seemingly with their panties in a wad over Funkhouser, dismissing ideas coming from him that attempt to improve the city gets a reflexive dismissal. Such a negative instinct really encased itself when Funkhouser blamed the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce last November for the loss of jobs from Kansas City, MO to Kansas. He called on business leaders to form their own Kansas City Chamber.

The negative reaction was predictable among the business elites. Yet Funkhouser scored points across the political spectrum. Many liberals and conservatives loved his criticism because they perceive government officials as beholding to business, not the taxpayer or working man or woman, as evident by tax and development policies that favor the well connected and wealthy.

The inoculation against an open mind continued with Funkhouser’s call to hire more cops. Reportedly, the police department, with Police Board support, is “studying” whether hiring more police would be effective. To the vast majority of citizens this is a no-brainer. Wondering if more cops would help cut crime is like wondering if planting a tree won’t provide shade.

It’s only with the brewing of possible corruption tied to the Kansas City Port Authority that city leaders are paying attention to what Funkhouser says. If it turns out the mayor’s call for change at the Port Authority is justified because of corruption in the agency, the egg-on-face will drip from the city council and Funkhouser will be perceived as all knowing — something citizens want their mayor to be.

Funkhouser is not perfect by any stretch nor does he possess great insider political skills. But his big asset, one recognized by ordinary folks, is that he’s consistent in his beliefs of what he thinks he needs to do. At present, he has the one thing that eludes most public officials and an element that can guarantee a long political life if it’s nurtured and maintained — a sense of integrity about who you are and where you came from.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.