Archive for the ‘2011 Elections’ Category

KC Political Nastiness – Who’s Covering for Whom?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

[UPDATE: According to a piece published at the Kansas City Star's Prime Buzz, Jim Bergfalk has explained that he does not appear on the ethics disclosure because he did the despicable last-minute mailing as a citizen exercising his free-speech rights for free Thanks to Dave Helling for tracking the info down. No thanks to Bergfalk for trying to drag a rare high-road campaign into the gutter. And shame on the labor groups for paying to spread Bergfalk's bile into my mailbox.]

Who was behind the repulsive anti-Burke flier that went out just before the KC Mayoral election?

Jim Bergfalk claimed he did it, in a piece written by Dave Helling. He said that the money came from labor groups.

Oddly enough, the MEC reports filed by the falsely-named “Committee for Integrity” confirm that labor paid for the slimy hit pieces (specifically, the Heavy Labor Construction Fund and the Operating Engineers Federal [?] PAC), but Bergfalk’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found. Instead, the money trail leads to The Lazarus Group.

Now, why would Jim Bergfalk claim responsibility for a mailer that came from someone else?

I honestly don’t know.

But I do know that the hasty “admission” came when Dave Helling was following up on this blog’s story that former king-maker Jim Nutter was a major donor to the “Committee for Integrity”.

It’s passing strange what comes out when you start kicking around the secretive committees and money streams that fuel the backroom deals of local politics.

Is Jim Bergfalk the Fred Phelps of Kansas City Politics?

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

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.

5 Reasons to Vote for Sly James – Reason #1: Sly James Can Rally Broad Support

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Way back when Sly’s candidacy was just a rumor, I had a conversation with the Greatest Political Mind in Kansas City (GPMKC) in which I opined that, if he ran, Sly would probably win the race. The GPMKC dampened my enthusiasm, though, pointing out that nobody really knew if Sly was willing and able to do the hard work of campaigning – calling friends for money, listening to constituents rant about non-city issues, and keeping focus on winning the race.

The Greatest Political Mind in Kansas City was right. At that time, Sly was unproven. All of Sly’s charisma, all his people skills, all his great ideas, all his intellectual ability – none of that would have mattered one whit if Sly did not exercise the dedication and humility necessary to become a successful politician.

Sly James has proven himself. He has run the long race.

He has shown up at dozens of forums, smiled and greeted people, called on friends and strangers to ask for money to fund his campaign, hired great people to run his campaign, and, through it all, maintained a cheerful, positive campaign that speaks to the best of Kansas City. Both candidates demonstrated this weekend that they would not be tempted by the cheap tactics of negative campaigning, and my respect for both of them grew.

But Sly has run the better campaign. With no elective experience, he has run a positive and effective campaign. He has raised more money than Mike Burke, even though Mike is the one with the Rolodex full of wealthy developers and entrenched business interests. Sly has also raised money from more people – more individuals have been moved by their contact with Sly James to pull out their checkbooks and invest in Kansas City’s future. He even inspired my politically-cautious wife to write a check for him – I cannot remember the last candidate she has done that for.

Mike Burke, on the other hand, has cobbled a campaign together through donations from old money like Jim Nutter and the TIF trough. He was forced to lend himself 6 figures to get through the primary. While the statistics aren’t readily available, I doubt he has more than a handful of non-family first-time donors, while Sly James has rallied support from a host of fresh faces and newly-engaged constituents.

Sly represents a fresh approach, while Mike Burke seems happy that Charlie Wheeler and “Credit Card” Kay Barnes think he’s the right guy to return us to the same old ways of doing business at City Hall. Sly James has reached out well past the old mayors and same old political class to inspire a new group of Kansas Citians.

Sly James has shown that he can literally rally fresh investment in Kansas City, while his opponent has relied on the same old crowd that has always run City Hall.

It’s time for Sly James to bring his excitement and enthusiasm to Kansas City.

BUSTED – How Low Will Burke’s Supporters Sink?

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

UPDATE: It now appears that while the piece was paid for by Nutter, a Burke supporter, the money changed hands before Nutter had shifted his allegiance to Burke. Both candidates have disavowed their third party mudslingers, which is wonderful news. While I still believe that Sly James is the best candidate for Mayor, my respect for Mike Burke remains solid.

Sly James has run a clean campaign, just as I knew he would. He’s just that kind of guy.

Mike Burke’s campaign has been floundering, though, just as I suspected it would.

That’s why I was honestly shocked and disgusted when I got a poorly-produced hatchet job in my mail today, attacking Mike Burke. Totally unprofessional, out of character for Sly, and completely unnecessary for a campaign that is winning with a joyful grace that has made me proud to know Sly.

It made me angry, and so I decided that I was going to do what I could to expose the creeps behind this kind of crap, even if they were fellow supporters of Sly. Wrong is wrong, dammit, and so I went to poke around the Missouri Ethics Commission website and see what kind of low-lives would do this.

The answer shocked even me.

The piece was paid for by none other than Mike Burke’s own strong supporter, James Nutter. The flyer was paid for by “Citizens for Integrity, Calvin Bender, Treasurer”. There is no such organization, but Calvin Bender is treasurer of the “Committee for Integrity”, and here’s the report of who gave money this year. Nutter is, as Burke is proud to point out, a prominent Burke supporter.

Now, why would Burke’s friend send out an amateurish piece doing a botched hatchet job on Burke?

Because it provokes in other likely voters exactly the reaction it provoked in me – revulsion at the perpetrator. And most people aren’t going to be as vengeful as I was, and bother to track down the creeps who produced it. So the taint would get unfairly placed on the innocent, clean-campaigning, Sly James.

Cleverly, they even chose to attack Burke on the fact that he is a development lawyer, an issue which has been obvious since day 1, and hence not anything that will lose Burke any further votes.

I am well aware, of course, that “Committee for Integrity” is not officially part of the Burke campaign, though I am also well aware that campaigns are able to exert strong influence over third-party mailings without technically “controlling” them. If anybody wants to be naive enough to believe that Mike Burke’s fingerprints are not all over this despicable bag of garbage, then those people should join with me in calling upon Mike Burke to publicly condemn Mr. Nutter, to return Nutter’s campaign donations to him, and to publicly state that Sly James has run a clean and honorable campaign, despite the lies being spread by his own supporters.

Anything less would leave Burke in the company of sleaze.

Update: Check the comments for a plausible alternative explanation from commenter “Doc”.

5 Reasons to Vote for Sly James – Reason #2: Sly Embraces the Heart of the City, and Won’t Flee His Roots

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Sly James lives in Hyde Park. His office is downtown. He grew up at 44th and Montgall, and went to Bishop Hogan High School (now the high-performing Hogan Preparatory Academy). He went to Rockhurst University. He served on the Board of Operation Breakthrough, and was President of the Board at Genesis School. His roots in the heart of Kansas City are deep and strong. He lives about 2 miles away from where he grew up.

Mike Burke grew up about 2 miles from Sly, but now he lives a world apart, across the river, in a cozy upper-middle class northern suburb. He fled his roots.

By no means does a home address in the Northland disqualify someone from serving effectively in the Mayor’s office. Lots of great people born and bred in the Northland have contributed hugely to the city we share. And, if you’re paying attention, the Northland is looking more and more like the rest of our city – with a growing population of immigrants and minorities. The river is no longer the barrier it once was.

But, if you roll the clock back a few decades to the time when Burke chose to flee the midtown area, it meant something else entirely. Northland neighborhoods were proud of their “ethnic purity”, and minorities were distinctly unwelcome. Moving north from midtown, a few decades ago, was the equivalent of moving to Johnson County while still holding onto a KCMO residence, which could be helpful for an up-and-coming politically-astute development attorney wanting insider appointments.

Sly James is who he was, and he will remain that person when he becomes Mayor. Mike Burke is a development lawyer who suddenly opposes development on the Plaza, but we have no idea where he and his insider buddies will decide to plan when the winds of political expediency change. Mike Burke has fled his development roots (and we’re supposed to believe him?). You just can’t count on someone who ran a clean campaign until he realized he was losing, and then unleashed attack ads through old insiders like Jim Nutter.

In contrast, Sly has announced clearly and strongly the standards that need to be met to gain his approval. He won’t flee his political roots of rational, unifying decision-making.

Sly has deep roots in the heart of our community. He has deep roots in standing up for what he believes in. He has deep roots in clean campaigning and unifying rather than dividing. It’s who he is.

Sly won’t flee his roots. Never has, won’t now, never will. That’s why he has my vote.

Update: I had no sooner hit “publish” on this post than I received a slimy flier from the ironically named “Citizens for Integrity”, going very negative on Mike Burke – at least as negative as the TV add that Burke’s supporters used against James. I really do try to be fair, so, unless someone can prove to me that Burke had control over the message of the TV advertisement, I shouldn’t blame him for the slime any more than I would blame James for this piece. Third party mailings are the bane of good campaigns.

5 Reasons to Vote for Sly James – Reason #3: Sly James Means Better Jobs for Kansas City

Friday, March 18th, 2011

What kind of fresh insight can you expect from a guy that has been endorsed by Charlie Wheeler, Kay Barnes, and Jim Nutter? What kind of change can you expect from a guy who brags that he’s clued into the current staff of city hall? How can you feel optimistic about a guy whose plan to create new jobs is (I kid you not) to “Work with local chambers, the EDC, and the Kansas City Area Development Council to develop a strategic plan to market Kansas City, targeting specific industries and businesses”, and to go to Jefferson City to beg for more incentives to give to developers and their lawyers?

When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Mike Burke cannot help it – he sincerely believes that if you want to get something accomplished, you should talk to rich developers and make them richer. It’s what he has done for his entire career, and now he wants to have more meetings and more committees with chambers and development groups.


The problem is not just that Mike Burke has a boring proposal, it is that his proposals amount to doing exactly the same things that have failed in the past. Hey, Mike, here’s another old idea for you – why don’t you propose to “Revamp and expand the business retention program of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) in cooperation with local business groups.”

Oops, I see that you already found that tired, same old, same old idea. Notice that he loves meeting with business groups?

Reading Mike Burke’s campaign material is like reading copies of the Star from the 1950s. Been there, done that, didn’t work.

Sly James has a better way than going back to what doesn’t work. Sly has created a “Get to Work” program for Kansas City, and it represents a strengths-based approach to jobs creation for Kansas City. Download a 2 page executive summary from this page, and you’ll be impressed that FINALLY, someone is trying to help Kansas City succeed based upon its real merits. Mike Burke might believe that we are just one more expensive developer boondoggle away from becoming a convention mecca (the Allis Plaza hotel didn’t do it, the convention center didn’t do it, the P&L Center didn’t do it, so let’s try one more time with another hotel? What’s next on the developer wish list?).

How about if, instead of spending all our money in hare-brained schemes to become a glamorous convention destination (so we can change bedsheets for the world?), we build upon the real strengths that Kansas City has. Sly James isn’t dreaming of Kansas City becoming the next Orlando or Las Vegas – he has the common sense to notice that “Located at the juncture of three interstate highways, four interstate linkages, and 10 federal highways, Kansas City is served by more than 300 motor freight carriers. Kansas City is the third largest truck terminal in the United States, the second-largest rail center in the United States and is served by four of the country’s eight Class I rail carriers, as well as three regional lines and one local switching carrier (Kansas City Terminal).”

Sly’s talking about GOOD jobs – jobs in life sciences, health care, green jobs, and international trade, including light manufacturing. That’s exciting – that’s sustainable, and that is common sense.

Or we could try the old way one more time.

5 Reasons to Vote for Sly James – Reason #4: Sly James Unifies People

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I’ve known Sly James for years, and he is one of those people that virtually everybody likes. He’s a good guy, and he relates to people with a gentle sense of humor, a thoughtful kindness, and by finding common ground.

A great example of this skill is in the success he found in presiding over the local bar association. The truth is, lawyers don’t get along. Insurance defense lawyers think that plaintiff’s lawyers are all liars and cheats. Plaintiff’s lawyers think that insurance defense lawyers are unethical hacks. Corporate counsel believe that they are better in every specialty than the specialists, and the specialists think that corporate counsel are lazy prima donnas. Big firm lawyers think that solo and small firm attorneys are losers who couldn’t make the grade, and solo and small firm lawyers think that big firm lawyers are pompous, pampered price-gougers. And everyone knows that bond attorneys are over-priced proofreaders.

Now, how would you like to take on the task of unifying the seething mass of dislike and distrust that is a bar association?

Sly James took on that challenge, and did a great job of serving as president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association. In fact, he did such a great job that he came out of the job even more popular among the lawyers than he was going in. He then ran for the Missouri Bar Board of Governors, and crushed a field of other candidates, including a couple of incumbents (myself included). In his race, he got big endorsements from several influential lawyers who did not share his practice setting or his specialty.

Sly James got lawyers, one of the most combative groups on earth, to follow his leadership.

It makes sense, if you think about it. Sly is a plaintiff’s lawyer, which means that, in most cases, he doesn’t get paid unless 12 average citizens on the jury agree that his side ought to win. By some strange coincidence, when he is elected mayor, he will be able to achieve his agenda by convincing 12 below-average citizens on the council that his side ought to win. Sly is uniquely qualified to lead Kansas City.

5 Reasons To Vote for Sly James – Reason #5: Mike Burke is the King of TIFs

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

In 6 days, Kansas Citians will go to the polls to pick the next Mayor, and far too many of them have developed a severe case of post-Funk apathy, unwilling or unable to see past the “anybody but Funk” paradigm. While it’s true that we all share a sense of civic relief, we have a choice to make on Tuesday, and anybody who says there’s not much difference between Sly James and Mike Burke is either woefully uninformed, or a Burke supporter trying to lull you into complacency.

Sly James is, by far, and for important reasons, the better candidate. Over my next 5 posts, I’m going to tell you why. I’m not working for Sly, and nobody who is has offered me any suggestions or help – this is just me, a person who cares deeply about our city and has been paying a lot of attention to what has gone wrong and what has gone right in our City for the past couple decades.

So, today, let’s talk about failed development projects and Mike Burke. In a nutshell, TIFs are a way that increased tax revenue generated from a development project gets redirected from schools, libraries and general revenue, back into the project itself. So, when a developer gets Tax Increment Financing, he gets to spend tax revenue on his own infrastructure instead of supporting the police, school children and roads that the rest of us drive on. That smooth parking lot in the suburban strip mall is why you drive over metal plates in the poorer neighborhoods.

Mike Burke’s law firm has made millions of dollars – millions – by helping people take tax money from our schools and roads and put it into developers’ pockets – so they can pay millions of dollars to their lawyers. Follow the money, and you’ll see Mike Burke’s law firm getting money that otherwise would go to plow snow off our streets, or maintain swimming pools for our kids. He made it when his law firm represented TIF clients, and he made it when he served as attorney for the Port Authority.

Look, for example, at the Prospect North TIF project, and you’ll shake your head in disgust. Mike Burke’s law firm has made good money because of a debacle that is costing the city $1 million a year. Folks, it was awful when the “Mammy” lawsuit cost our city a few hundred thousand dollars once; this is like having a couple “Mammy” lawsuits every single year for 21 years! And, if you drive up to see what your tax dollars paid for, you’ll see nothing but vacant lots, weeds, and some unused roads. It’s dismal and sad.

We can’t afford that kind of liability.

Kay Barnes, who was mayor when this and other massive development raids were hatched in back rooms, has endorsed Mike Burke. No wonder. Amusingly, the Burke supporters are claiming that Mike’s cozy relationship with insiders like Barnes and others is a reason we should support him. He promises to “hit the ground running”, because he served on the council way back in the 80s, and has been running the city into the ground ever since with projects like Prospect North.

We can’t afford that kind of experience.

But enough about Burke’s history of deal-making – I promised 5 reasons to vote FOR Sly James, and so far I’ve only talked about why not to vote for Burke.

Sly James has a solid understanding of what this city needs, and he intends to use development wisely to put Kansas Citians to work. A project that builds empty roads in vacant land does not help anybody but a few already-wealthy lawyers and one road contractor. Sly has a far better vision.

Sly James would focus on jobs, not on developers. He would “Hold developers accountable to hire Kansas City workers if the company receives Kansas City tax incentives.” By all means, click on that link and you will find a page full of common sense. He’s not against development, as many accused our current mayor of being, and he’s not a money-spending, Burke-supporting nightmare like Kay Barnes was. Instead, he offers a common-sense vision of using development as a tool to help all Kansas Citians.

That’s the sort of investment we can afford.

I Was Under-Optimistic – KC Voters Did a Super Job

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I can’t recall ever being so happy to be wrong in my predictions and my analysis.

I thought Funkhouser’s name recognition, incumbency and anti-insider reputation gave him a free pass to the general election, and that the Star had screwed up by endorsing both James and Burke in the primary. I was wrong – the KC voters chose the two best candidates, period.

On top of that, Kay-Kohn-Kristl Crawford got trounced by Jim Glover in the first round, while Annie Presley and Anne McGregor simply failed.

No snark, no excuses, no pointing back to better performances – my predictions were wrong, and KC voters showed far better judgment than I ever anticipated.

Kansas City Election Mayoral & 4th District At-Large Predictions

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

What a great primary season it’s been! I’ve been paying attention to local politics for a long time, and I’ve never seen such a great group of candidates on one ballot. Kansas City will be stronger after this election season than it was going in.

That said, here are my predictions on how the mayoral election will shake out. I’m voting for Sly James, and it’s possible that my views are coloring my expectations, but we’ll see about that. Anyhow, I think the results tonight will be Funkhouser 25%, James 22%, Burke 19%, Rowland 15%, Hermann 11%, Klein 5%, Wheeler 3%,

In the general, I think it will be James 62%, Funkhouser 38%.

In the Fourth District at-Large, I am supporting Jim Glover, but I find this one a lot harder to predict. Crawford is easy – he’s going to place first in the primary, by a solid margin. After that, though, it gets a lot tougher. Glover has name recognition going for him, but ran a lackadaisical (at best) campaign. while Presley has money and the Republican/Tea Party bloc solidly behind her. McGregor should have resigned and endorsed Glover, and Pace never got into the race. My prediction is Crawford 41%, Presley 23%, Glover 21%, McGregor 11%, Pace 4%.

In the general, I think it will be Crawford 58%, Presley 42%.

I hate to apply my tag “Uncanny Gone Mild Predictions” to this post, because I don’t have my usual confidence in my guesses. While I remain confident that Funkhouser will escape the primary, I could easily imagine the other survivor being James, Burke or Rowland. In the 4th at-large, I would bet my house that Crawford cruises through the primary, but it’s tough to guess whether there are more people who remember Glover fondly or who respond to Presley’s perky Palin persona.

It’s a wide-open year. Get out and vote – if turnout is at the 18% or so they’re predicting, it’s like casting 5 votes for the price of one!