Is Jim Bergfalk the Fred Phelps of Kansas City Politics?

The mayoral candidates were quite clear. They wanted to run clean campaigns, refusing to further divide the city, and reflecting their mutual respect.

But that wasn’t good enough for “political consultant” Jim Bergfalk. Just like Fred Phelps outside an Elton John concert, he wanted to subvert a civic occasion into an opportunity to spew negativity. But he didn’t have Phelps’ integrity to personally stand up and be seen with his slimy message; instead, he hid behind a secretive committee with unknown sponsors and deposited his slime into our personal mailboxes.

“I just thought that Sly James was going to ‘nice-guy’ himself into a second-place finish,” Bergfalk said. So Bergfalk decided that Sly James was just too stupid to embrace Bergfalk’s trick of dragging candidates into the mud, and sent out a brochure that attacked Mike Burke with exaggerations and misrepresentations. He showed up uninvited, just like the Phelps clan.

Now, let’s be clear. Just like Phelps, Bergfalk and the people who give him money have a Constitutional right to their free speech – a right I will happily defend against governmental interference. But that doesn’t make their behavior acceptable or appropriate.

One of the few moral distinctions between Phelps and Bergfalk is that Phelps does not (apparently) personally profit from his vile behavior. He faces angry motorcycle mobs and the derision of 99.99999% of society when he shows up with his hate signs, but he doesn’t get $10,000 checks from well-connected Kansas City insiders. Bergfalk, however, gets paid to pollute our political atmosphere. Until he files his reports Jefferson City, we won’t know exactly who hired the political assassination (and, yes, I will be featuring those names in this space when I get them), but we do know that Bergfalk doesn’t slime good people simply because he has a twisted understanding of the Bible. He slimes good people for money.

Unlike Fred Phelps, though, people like Jim Bergfalk are not held accountable in public opinion for what they do. “It’s part of the game,” political insiders say, and welcome him back into their cocktail parties without even insisting he shower away the stench first.

Did you enjoy the generally clean Mayor’s race? Do you wonder why we can’t have more races like that one – where just about everyone was happy to be choosing between two candidates they could respect and support?

The reason we can’t have more elections like that is because of people like Jim Bergfalk and the people who give money to people like Jim Bergfalk. I’m sick and tired of it, and I’m willing to name names and talk in the open about it. I will happily publish the names of the people who funded the attack piece on Mike Burke when they become available. And I call upon everyone in Kansas City, when they encounter those people on the streets and in their daily lives, to ask why they embrace the tactics of Fred Phelps.

If you really want clean campaigns, the first step is to hold accountable those who make them dirty.


11 Responses to “Is Jim Bergfalk the Fred Phelps of Kansas City Politics?”

  1. doc says:

    We were fortunate that the overwhelming positive nature of both candidates didn’t let that piece overshadow the race. The firefighter mailer that followed didn’t get much coverage. It was similar to the Nutter commercial, in that it was mostly a pro-Sly piece, but on the flip side had a short critique of Burke. Again, it wasn’t harsh, but inconsistent with the tone established by both candidates.

    Also, I’m suspect to the role Scott Burnett played in Bergfalk’s mailer. His sudden endorsement of Sly after ‘finding out about the mailer’ seemed all too convenient considering his close relationship with Bergfalk. I think the Burke camp assumed him as a silent supporter, but were probably uncomfortable with it at the same time.

  2. gonemild says:

    I tend to trust Scott, but I understand your concern.

    I probably should have said this in the body of my post, but you’re absolutely correct that the piece could easily have changed the tenor of the entire race. The last week of a campaign is a pressure cooker, full of rumors and fears. If Sly or Mike had been slightly less trusting of the other, and assumed that the third-party pieces were proxies of the campaign, we could have easily seen a nasty flame war that would have scorched any chance of both sides working together. It’s not just that Bergfalk sent out a nasty piece; he sent out a piece that could have provoked an explosion of nastiness – and was probably intended to do so. Yet another trait he shares with the Phelps family.

  3. Gone Crazy — Likening Jim Bergfalk to the Phelps clan is ludicrous. You gotta think before you write this stuff. Do you know Jim Bergfalk? I’ve known him for almost 40 years. He’s a good guy and a good political consultant…His piece hit my candidate, Mike Burke, and I didn’t like it, but I understand that he was just trying to push his guy over the top. I didn’t think it was a very good piece over all, but I did admire the juxtaposition of the “Road Closed Ahead” sign with the text above and below. And, yes, I do think Scott Burnett was in on it. Hell, he might have been the prime author, at the same time he was screaming bloody murder about Pat O’Neill’s TV ad, charging that James was “lost in a fog of indecision.” (Also a nice ding, by the way.)

  4. gonemild says:

    Jim – I’ve met Mr. Bergfalk several times, and until he attempted to stink up this race, I had no problem with him. I still don’t really have a problem with him – I’m sure he’s nice to puppies and mows his lawn regularly. But what he did was despicable, and the analogy to Fred Phelps is only upsetting because you know it’s so dead-on perfect. Employing offensive speech in a public setting where it is not wanted just to try to provoke a negative reaction is exactly what the two of them do. I’m sure Bergfalk is capable of behaving like a gentleman and conducting intelligent discourse, especially if that’s what he gets paid for, but, this time, he threatened to bring down the civility of an entire election.

    As for your name-calling and patronizing attempt to imply I’m not well thought-out, get over yourself. If you are smart, and you spend time observing and thinking about politics, you will see that very good people do some very misguided things on a regular basis. The fact that you have known him for 40 years and think he’s a good guy is exactly the sort of “analysis” that paralyzes clear thinking. Look at yourself – you’re defending an outrageous and obnoxious brochure, just because he’s a “good guy”. The day that I start refusing to ding my friends in politics because they’re “good guys (or gals)”, even when they’re behaving badly, I hope I realize that I have become very much a part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. I expect when I have lost my bearings so badly, I might even start talking about how I admire attack pieces in a campaign the candidates have worked to keep clean. I hope I never get so hopelessly blinded that I would use the term “nice ding”, though.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Dan!!!! I’m so fricking sick of the club of insiders and their boypal “journalist” friends who would never dare calling each other out. Funk had his share of self-made problems, but he was doomed from the beginning because he didn’t belong to that circle.

    Thank you for having the guts to call out Jim Bergfalk. Thank you for promising to name the names of those who gave money for his nasty piece of crap. Punks like JimmyC will only pick on powerless people or the parents of a dead teenager.

    Sorry to leave my name anonymous, but my living depends on assholes like Bergfalk and his friends. Keep up the good work – you are doing the right thing, no matter how much JimmyC wants you to shut up about his friends.

  6. I totally agree with you 100%, keep up the great writing!

  7. Anony says:

    I don’t know, Dan. You more than anyone spent time demonizing Mike Burke for being a successful lawyer. You called him “the King of TIF’s” and you posted that flyer that Bergfalk sent with the kind of glee and mean spiritedness that I’m sure you picked up from you association with Gloria Squitiro.
    Don’t try to hold your self above the fray. You are as dirty as them all.
    You just think you are smarter, which doesn’t make you any better.

  8. gonemild says:

    Anony – You come pretty close to raising a fair point, and it’s one that I gave some thought to. While certainly not “more than anyone”, I certainly did point out that Mike Burke has made excellent money by pushing development projects I don’t think were in our community’s best interests. My writing was neither as hateful nor as poorly-done as the hit piece I received, but it sounded some of the same themes. So, is publishing my opinion in a blog the same thing as sending out a hit piece to everyone’s mailbox?

    The answer is no, and here are two of the several reasons that they are hugely different.

    1. My opinions don’t show up unwanted in somebody’s mailbox – people have to choose to see my opinions. If Bergfalk and Phelps merely spouted their negativity to people who chose to seek it out, that would be an entirely different matter.

    2. I’m not sneaky. People know who I am, and I don’t claim to be some committee named for integrity. I’m Dan Ryan, and you don’t need a Star reporter to track me down. If somebody was paying me to write my stuff, you’d know about it. I don’t play all that cloak-and-dagger, hide-and-seek stuff.

    As for your attempt to interpret my mindset when I posted the flier, you’re simply wrong. I thought it was ineffective and despicable, and I still do. I sincerely doubt that anybody read that flier on this blog along with the commentary I provided and decided to vote for Sly because of it.

    And, finally, as for my supposed smartness advantage, I’m pretty certain that I’m smarter than some people in the political process, and not as smart as others. I’m more informed and insightful than some, but not all. I’m certainly not above the fray, but I’m not dirty, either.

  9. Anony says:

    Negative campaigning was not much of a factor during this past election. This was a traditional battle in the trenches. Get your message out and get your supporters to the polls. I picked Burke as the best of the bunch early on. My only concern with him was wether he could get people to the polls. Obviously James, whom I underestimated, was much better at that.

  10. gonemild says:

    I agree with you that this was a campaign that relied on the basics, without the negativity of most. I picked Sly early on as the next mayor, and my only concern was whether he would do the hard and occasionally disagreeable work to win the race. He had a fantastic team behind him, and he did what needed to be done. Mike ran a solid campaign, too, and did far better than I expected.

  11. [...] as worthy of emulation for being a contest that managed to stay positive until the closing moments (when Jim Bergfalk slimed the city).  If their mutual supporters show the same level of dignity that the candidates themselves [...]

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