publisher's note
November 10, 2006



The people’s moxie
by Bruce Rodgers

My friend Joe Nichols and I had lunch the day after the mid-term elections. Joe was in good spirits because of the Democratic wins. He’s from the so-called “Greatest Generation,” the dwindling number of Americans who experienced the Great Depression and World War II.

“It was the Democrats who saved the country,” Joe said as I drove to the Village Inn restaurant in Mission. By Democrats, I’m sure Joe was thinking of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led the country out of economic gloom and inspired millions that there would be victory over the Nazis.

Joe remains in touch with contemporary politics, and more. He has opinions about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and just shakes his head sadly at the mention of George W. Bush.

His body may show the effects of over 80 years on this earth, but his mind can expand and wrap itself around most any topic. Bad eyesight hampers him somewhat but his subscriptions to Wired magazine and Scientific American remain current. So not to tire his eyes too much, he listens to audio books.

“One thing about audio books, though” he explains, “You can’t go back and highlight anything.”

One book Joe highlighted heavily was Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements published in 1951. I wasn’t surprised Joe embraced the ideas of the longshoreman philosopher. On his head that day Joe had a new hat, a blue proletarian cap that Lenin easily could have taken to.

“Must have given that book to hundreds of people and never got one back,” said Joe laughing.

Joe praised that mass movement of voters that showed up at the polls on Nov. 7. It was easy to sense his pride in being part of this country’s most recent exercise in democracy and the change (hopefully) that the voters set in motion. “The public showed guts, a lot of moxie,” said Joe.

Locally, Kansas City voters sure showed the moxie in passing Clay Chastain’s light rail proposal. Nobody, absolutely nobody gave the $975 million plan a snowball’s chance to pass. Not one public official voiced support. Its passage even left Chastain a little shell-shocked.

“I’m walking tall in cotton,” he told me in a phone interview from his home in Virginia. “I’m happy for the city and its folks.”

After more than ten years of trying, Chastain seemed genuinely grateful that voters “embraced the vision.” And he wasn’t shy about the effect the vote had on city leaders. “It was like a mushroom cloud over the establishment,” he said gleefully.

Contrary to what his detractors may think, Chastain isn’t all that anxious to lead the charge to make light rail a working reality in Kansas City. Chastain and his wife have a new baby girl in their lives.

“I would, “ he said, “but I could go either way. It’s their call.”

He does like former city Councilman Ed Ford’s comment that Chastain could go to Washington to lobby for light rail funding. With passage of the proposal, Chastain says he’s “got credibility.”

He welcomes Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s help, and said he has called Cleaver’s office to arrange a meeting.

“I think we could work together. We could be a real dynamic team…after being mortal enemies during the ‘90s.”

Chastain believes Democratic control of Congress increases the chance of securing federal money. He cites the Small Starts Program through the Federal Transit Administration as a way to get possibly $150 million for a starter line. He prefers something built north of the river or south around UMKC or Swope Park — “12 to 14 miles to move people back and forth from their jobs” — as a showcase system to secure more funding to complete the entire light rail line.

Chastain likes what he’s hearing with the recent conciliatory words coming from city hall and the Mid-America Regional Council. He would like the metro to think about a bistate transit plan. “But I don’t know if they (MARC) are thinking that way,” he said.

On the flip side, Chastain said he is concerned “They could drag their feet and not make a serious attempt to get federal money.” But he’s open to possible changes to the proposal “as long as they follow the mandate of the people.”

With the upcoming mayoral and city council races in early 2007, Chastain thinks light rail, and its implementation, will “and should be” a campaign issue. Chastain doesn’t plan to lobby any of the candidates but he says a supporter of outgoing Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields has contacted him. Shields is planning on running for KC mayor and has been recognized for her pro-environment activities.

Whatever the final light rail approach, no one can deny the change to make it happen came from the voters — not their elected representatives..

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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