Mayoral forum minus one
It’s hard to determine if there’s a turning point for a candidate in a close election. And by most accounts — this week at least — it’s a close race between Alvin Brooks and Mark Funkhouser. Whether Funkhouser’s no-show at the ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) mayoral forum last night was a turning point or not isn’t clear; however, it’s easy to say that for the 60 or so people at the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church on Benton Boulevard, the fruitless waiting guaranteed Brooks a lock on their vote.
“He even RSVPed twice!” said a frustrated Claudie Harris, an ACORN member, to the audience. “He (Funkhouser) chose not to be here.”
A Funkhouser campaign spokesman said Funkhouser attended a funeral service for the son of campaign treasurer Evert Asjes III.
“He (Funkhouser) was in a long line, the time went by. We tried to get it (the ACORN meeting) covered but couldn’t get anyone over there,” said the campaign spokesperson.
One can’t fault Funkhouser for paying his respects to a family friend concerning his loss. One can fault his campaign for leaving ACORN hanging without a timely explanation. The lack of follow through makes one wonder if the intense campaigning appears to have beaten Funkhouser around a little lately. His wife Gloria has been ill, which obviously affects him, and his campaign office was vandalized. Some believe it was not the work of ill-tempered teens, speculating instead it was some sort of political retaliation for Funkhouser’s win in the primary runoff.
A couple of comments posted on the KC Star Buzz Blog downplayed Funkhouser’s absence. One noted, “ACORN folks are never going to vote for him. Everyone on the Eastside knows they’re working with (Councilman) Terry Riley to smear him with lies about the water department.”
Another wrote: “ACORN hasn’t been particularly successful or competent at getting out the vote. This is the same group that had three workers indicted for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms in Kansas City…So Funkhouser loses out on the endorsement of a corrupt organization. Big deal.”
Funny thing though. The ACORN crowd didn’t appear all that impressed — respectful, yes — with Brooks or the answers he gave to some tough questions. It was far from a Brooks campaign rally though Brooks appeared to know many in the crowd.
Questioning from ACORN members — Kansas City has eight ACORN chapters — and others followed topics dealing with social service access, home repair and absentee landlords, minority job placement on city construction projects, infrastructure needs and TIF. The topic of privatizing the water department wasn’t on the printed agenda handed out to people attending the forum and no one asked about it while I was there.
If supporters in either the Brooks and Funkhouser campaigns assume that TIF is somehow not an issue in the minority community, attending the ACORN forum would show they are wrong.
ACORN member Shaun Burton asked Brooks to defend his vote for TIF for the high-end Briarcliff development. Brooks answered that the project met the “but for” criteria for TIF and pointed to the site as formerly being an abandoned mine. He said the school districts had signed off on granting the TIF, adding, “What’s good for one area is good for another.”
Burton responded by saying, “Your constituents in the inner city have not benefited from TIF. There is no area up north that is blighted.”
Brooks countered, “Downtown was blighted,” pointing out that with TIF, downtown is “going to generate jobs and job opportunities.”
Immediately someone in the crowd yelled, “For who? Johnson County?”
Yet, generally, it was a friendly crowd if not one totally convinced that Brooks as mayor would act on the issues of inner city residents. Brooks took every question with a smile and seemed ready to answer questions for as long as they were asked.
Funkhouser missed an opportunity to connect. It was a decision that feeds into the growing perception — partly fueled by Brooks’ supporters — that he is arrogant and not a “people person.” Yet, truthfully, it would be hard to outdo Brooks when it comes to connecting with people.
But even that observation brings derision. “Standing on a corner, holding a candle — what does that do?” said one resident who supported mayoral candidate Albert Riederer, who, along with Mayor Kay Barnes, has thrown their support to Brooks. The voter was undecided about Funkhouser.
Another political observer thinks Brooks is the candidate because it’s “his turn, he’s owed.” He calls Brooks part of the status quo. That person said that the Brooks campaign has locked up a lot of media buys and to expect an onslaught of TV and radio ads the last week or so leading up to the vote on March 27.
To win, Brooks needs a solid and overwhelming vote from the minority community and into the east and southeast parts of the city. A good outing of support along the southwest corridor, which many perceive as Funkhouser territory, would help also. Brooks needs some margin from the Northland though many believe Funkhouser’s strong showing in the primary there will continue into the general election.
Brooks is an old hand at this politicking. He genuinely likes people and appears unflustered no matter what question he gets. Funkhouser may still be in the learning mode, but he is a quick learner at this campaigning stuff, also.
It remains one of Kansas City’s more interesting political battles, and one, hopefully, engages a lot of voters.
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.
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