publisher's note
June 15, 2007



Funk becomes more Clay-like
by Bruce Rodgers

Have you hear the one about two guys sitting in a Midtown bar talking politics (Yes, folks, it does happen.) when one guy asks?

“So, what do ya think about Funkhouser?”

“Well,” answered the other guy, “I liked him better when he was runnin’…you know, that stuff about getting rid of the metal plates, the ‘double-wide’ campaign headquarters, the gawd-awful orange campaign stuff, drivin’ that beat-up Toyota, and being a tall guy, admitting he couldn’t play basketball.”

“Yeah, people like that crap…something different,” said the first guy. “So what happened…considering this shit about getting a free car, nominating what’s-her-face-Minuteman-woman to the Park Board, and not even six months out, having half the city council leanin’ on ya?

“Typical,” answered the to other guy.

“Whatdoya mean?”

“He got elected.”

Then both men laugh and one adds, “And he’s probably got Clay Chastain advising him.” And then they laugh again.

Like Funkhouser after him, the public warmed to Chastain early on when he appeared on the scene in the early 1990s. People liked his truth-telling stand against pouring millions into Union Station for a “museum” while ignoring the building’s transportation heritage. What Chastain was railing about in such an approach “never returning the public’s investment” proved accurate. And he seemed committed to the community with his fervor for light rail. He was rebel people could accept.

Chastain correctly recognized the hypocrisy in politics and the inside dealing. On the surface, he seemed a populist, willing to sacrifice personal gain for the public good. He even drove an old 1950’s pickup akin to Funkhouser’s well-worn Toyota.

But then things turned sour. Chastain got caught dumping construction waste in the trash barrel of Midtown car wash. And later there was the uproar over Chastain noting the attractiveness of women who signed his light rail petition. The Kansas City Star, and the city chewed on Chastain.

He pushed back, taking it personal and feeling misunderstood. He took the city to court over a ballot issue, held press conference after press conference, and accepted talk show invitations wherever he could get them. And he kept at his light rail petition drives despite repeatedly saying he wasn’t going to do another “if this one didn’t pass.”

His efforts revealed a man obsessed with being proven right. One without close male friends, tone-deaf to the suggestions of others and convinced his way was the only right way.

Chastain defended himself, claimed he wasn’t a politician, espoused his engineering prowess, projected the aloofness of a runner all the while seemingly uncomfortable with impromptu human interaction or engaging in small talk — skills that could change people’s minds regardless of what the media said about him.

Finally, last November, a Chastain-inspired light rail proposal passed. The public — it could be argued — was able to separate Chastain’s image from the issue. But Chastain cannot separate the issue from his image yet while claiming there is no Chastain image just the light rail proposal passed by the public. If so, why then his threat of a law suit if the proposal is altered?

Funkhouser claims the no-image argument too. “I’ve never been interested in creating an image,” he said on KCUR’s Up to Date program. When asked if he thought an image was important, Funkhouser answered, “I don’t know. I put myself forward as a bureaucrat not a politician.”

Chastain, too, disavowed a required embrace of politics. He claimed he was doing something different, something politicians wouldn’t do.

Likewise Funkhouser: “What’s news here, I believe, is that I’m doing something different…when you do something different somebody is going to criticize you,” he told The Kansas City Star.

For Chastain, it was all about light rail, not him. For Funkhouser, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s all about being “upfront” and transparent when he accepted the free car. “As long as you’re completely transparent, it covers a lot of problems,” said Funkhouser.

For Chastain, the establishment will never accept him but he’ll continue to fight for “his” light rail issue. For Funkhouser, if he asks Frances Semler to resign from the Park Board, it “will make a whole set of other people mad at me.”

Both Chastain and Funkhouser cling to the absurdity that being in the public eye — by merit of what you do publicly as a citizen or as mayor — has nothing to do with you, personally. And if politicians or the media don’t understand, it’s because, as Funkhouser put it, “What I’m doing here is different,”

Not really Mr. Mayor. Accepting a gift means you’re just being a politician.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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