publisher's note
March 16, 2007



Brooks goes on message,
Funkhouser becomes a little more establishment
by Bruce Rodgers

Where Adam Smith’s invisible hand of self-interest may be indistinct in the marketplace, the influence of a political consultant can sometimes not be so faint.

At the Ruskin High School Mayoral and Council forum on March 14, Brooks revealed a new initiative in his contest with Mark Funkhouser for mayor of Kansas City, MO. It’s one that fits comfortably with Brooks, reflective of his long record of civic achievement and association with other politicians of both parties.

“There are two basic issues,” Brooks said in his opening remarks, “leadership and vision.” He hit upon the two words repeatedly.

When asked about light rail, Brooks answered, “With leadership and vision we can put together a plan.”

As for building consensus on the city council, Brooks answered, “Leadership and my background will bring about consensus.”

In dealing with the spread of payday loan companies into neighborhoods, Brooks said, “I have the leadership; I’m mayor pro tem.”

On the issue of education and working with school boards, Brooks responded, “A good leader knows how to meet other good leaders.”

It was more than subtle but not overpowering. Pat Gray and his NorthStar Marketing Group had found the two words they felt would propel Brooks to the mayor’s office.

In a color Brooks’ mailer, produced by NorthStar, the photos and text meticulously plant those themes in front of the reader. “Alvin Brooks Profile of a Leader” identifies a photo of young Brooks in his Kansas City, MO Police Department uniform. A USA Today photo has Brooks in front of the “anti-drug warriors” of the Ad Hoc anti-crime group he founded. Brooks is shown with former President Bill Clinton, a politician who tried to own the word “vision.” Brooks is shown with former President George H. Bush and U.S. Sen. Christopher Bond, and not surprisingly, the brochure’s cover has a smiling photo of Brooks set atop another photo of six smiling children projecting a diversity that leaves no color, race or ethnicity absent.

Brooks’ community involvement is recounted without much embellishment. Considering Brooks’ long career, the hard task likely was to decide what not to include. The four-page campaign brochure is brilliant in its delivery and simplicity, dovetailing completely into the themes of leadership and vision Brooks hammered home at the Ruskin forum.

As much as Funkhouser’s supporters may think this is a reactive response to their candidate’s campaign, it is not. Bringing forth this element in the Brooks’ campaign in its stressing of leadership and vision is a calculated unfolding to recast Funkhouser’s stature as a wronged do-gooder insider driven from city hall for telling the truth into a guy who can’t get along with people. Call it overwhelming the opposition with the positive.

Yet, Funkhouser’s garnering of officialdom support from the likes of mortgage banker James B. Nutter Sr., DST head Tom McDonnell and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce political action committee BizPac, with its decision to contribute to both Brooks and Funkhouser campaigns, has enhanced the establishment bearing of the former city auditor. Throw in the endorsement of the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City and it’s hard to make the argument that Funkhouser is anti-development.

But stack Brooks’ background, connections and accomplishments against Funkhouser’s professorial bearing, and the words “leadership” and “vision” percolate in the minds of those undecided voters.

In tandem, a more direct — and negative — attack also has taken shape. Brooks’ supporters are attempting to hang the word “privatization,” as in the city’s water, parks and aviation departments, on Funkhouser’s back like a “kick me” note. Just yesterday, in a continuation and likely escalating number of proxy-delivering slams at Funkhouser by Brooks backers, Councilman John Fairfield charge that Funkhouser suggested privatizing the aviation department and KCI along with it.

Funkhouser’s response came from his strength at knowing where the money comes and goes at city hall as former auditor: “Taxpayers get zero benefit from owning that airport,” he said in pointing out aviation revenues don’t go into the city’s general fund. Funkhouser, not one to shy away from delivering a punch, called such charges coming from people who have been at the (money) “trough a long time.”

Foreshadowing Fairfield’s blast, the privatization question came up a day before at the Ruskin forum — before any mention of TIF. Funkhouser answered as he has before that it “shouldn’t be off the table,” and that “There are circumstances in which you may want to look at the privatization.” He added that privatizing the city’s water department was “unlikely,” but “If so, no city employee will lose their job.”

Brooks, knowing that the majority of jobs in the water department are held by minorities, jumped to his feet. “Be honest, Mark,” an energized Brooks said. “What’s the real answer?” Then turning to the audience, Brooks added, “No! I won’t privatize!” The crowd gave Brooks loud applause then he continued, “A person with vision knows these (city departments) are vital community assets.”

Funkhouser responded by facing the crowd and saying, “You own this stuff, you’ll make the decision. It may come down a tax increase or a more efficient way to deliver these services.” The crowd applauded those remarks.

Brooks came out one more time. He accused Funkhouser of “flip-flopping” and “coming over” over to his side. “Come on folks,” Brooks stressed, “the sky’s not falling, don’t believe Chicken Little.”

While Brooks’ attack seemed surprising, it didn’t seem out of character either. Brooks’ demeanor, his people persona makes even such an attack-mode stance strangely endearing and, yes, something keeping in tune with the leadership-vision themes Brooks and company think they will win with.

As for Funkhouser, his supporters are no doubt pointing out that his recent spate of elite endorsements may have the establishment smelling a winner.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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