Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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.

Hushing the Minority Voice: Should KC Have At-Large Council Seats?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Kansas City has 6 seats on its Council that are elected by the entire city, instead of by district. While African-Americans comprise ~30% of the city’s population, only 1 of those seats – 17% – is held by an African-American. This election cycle, a white male, Durwin Rice, is running for that seat, having recently moved to the district. Kansas City may soon have an all-white group of at-large council members.

Frankly, I had never given much thought to at-large seats as a policy matter until I read this blog post criticizing Durwin Rice’s candidacy.

I was struck by the incongruity of a white university professor living in Camden, NJ, opining about who should seek the at-large seat of the largely African-American 3rd district of Kansas City. She’s correct in claiming she is an ally of that district, helpfully explaining “which means, I got your back.” Pointedly denying that she could be a good leader for that district, she nevertheless seeks to prevent someone else not “of the district” from running at large, fearing that “her people” (presumably, white people this time) will elect him. It’s a fascinating piece, full of internal conflict and raising all kinds of questions.

It is perhaps unfair to point out that the piece is a white University professor writing from Camden, NJ, to tell a white resident of the 3rd district that he should seek office because he might get elected by the people who get to vote. Passing strange.

All of which is a lengthy introduction to the issue of at-large seats on the Kansas City Council. Why DO we allow people who live up near the airport to vote on who gets to represent people who live at 31st and Indiana? Or vice versa?

As demonstrated by the current under-representation (and potential future non-representation) of African-American at-large Council members, it’s tougher for minority candidates to win at-large races than in-district races. At-large seats have a strong pro-majority, anti-minority bias.

Imagine if, instead of 12 seats divided into 6 districts, we had 12 districts. Perhaps we would see more African-Americans elected. Perhaps we would see a Latino representative. Perhaps we would see large money playing less of a role in our city elections (it’s more expensive to run at-large, while dividing the city into 12 districts would allow a shoe-leather campaign a better chance of winning).

I’d be willing to give up my right to vote for who represents people in the Northeast if I could vote for someone from my neighborhood. What about you?

Why I Don’t Care About the 2010 Elections

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Ancillary Adams makes an important observation – this week’s big Republican win hurts a lot less than prior defeats, like the 2004 Bush victory.  He attributes the difference to the fact that he can at least understand where the populace is coming from this time around – the economy DOES suck and the insanely high expectations raised by Obama’s historic election have not been clearly exceeded (though, as this coarsely-named site shows, he’s quietly accomplished quite a bit).

First term midterms + bad economy = whupping for the party in power.  It’s easy, understandable math and the fact that the sane Americans kept the Senate and that Palin, Angle and O’Donnell were harshly rebuked, too, makes it all easier to accept.

It kind of felt like my dog wasn’t in this fight, the way it has been in most elections.  Statewide, the clubby democratic insiders decided that Robin Carnahan should be our nominee, and they made darned sure she wouldn’t face a real primary.  They screwed up again, and they have themselves to blame for Senator Blunt.  Robin Carnahan was a tepid campaigner and a vote that hurt to cast.

It seems that they looked at Claire McCaskill, the most disappointing Missouri Senator ever, and one of the most disloyal Democrats to hold office, and decided that Robin Carnahan would win in 2010 if she ran like Claire McCaskill in 2006.  So she pledged to deprive Missourians of locally important funding in the form of earmarks and behaved like she would rather muck out a horse stall than set foot in Kansas City.  Maybe their strategy caused some farmer in mid-Missouri to hesitate for a fraction of a micro-second before voting for Blunt, but it caused good democrats like me to shut our wallets and go through the mere motions of supporting her.

Unless Claire McCaskill gets a strong Democratic challenger in 2012, Missouri will be represented by two Republican Senators after she gets defeated.  I hope our party leaders saw what happened to Carnahan as a preview of what will happen to McCaskill.

Other races were similarly non-inspirational, though in a more positive manner.  Jason Kander crushed Jeff Roe and Sally Miller 70-30, and I knew he would.  Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Jeff Roe’s counterproductive and hateful tactics, Sally Miller could have presented a stronger challenge – Jeff Roe helped activate Jason’s true-believers to work on his campaign, and he marginalized Sally Miller as a nasty, uninformed loser.  Even the Republicans I talked to voted for Jason because of Roe/Miller’s plainly bogus attack on Jason’s role in ethics legislation.  (She didn’t really have a chance anyhow, because Jason has met and talked with everyone in his district, and he is simply an excellent State Representative, but Jeff Roe’s involvement transformed Sally Miller from a respectable defeated opponent into a slimy pariah who was willing to do absolutely anything to win, and still failed to be competitive.)

Similarly, Jolie Justus was an obvious hands-down winner, and the Republicans couldn’t even find someone to run against her.  She defeated a Libertarian by a 76-24 margin.  Jolie is wonderful, but it was hard to get very emotionally involved with a race that had no doubt.

Jacob Turk provided no challenge to my Congressman, and the fact that Republicans are excited that he managed to slip into a single-digit margin of defeat in the most favorable political climate they could ever dream about – well, folks, that just makes me smile.  Keep on running, Jacob, and keep on sending him money, Republicans!

I’m still a proud Democrat, and I still believe that the pro-people policies of the Democrats are better for our country than the pro-millionaire policies of the Republicans.  I still believe that Obama will be one of the greatest presidents ever.  I still believe.

I will be there in 2012, loud and strong, supporting a Democrat (a real one, this time) for the Senate, and getting Obama re-elected.  I think that the next two years will provide a stage where the Republicans can show how anti-American people they truly are, and I anticipate a melt-down between the rednecks and the millionaires.  I’m (slightly) hopeful that our idiot Democratic leaders will realize that Missouri voters will support a strong populist Democratic voice, but never a slickly-marketed inauthentic creation of consultants.

It was tough to care about 2010, and I’m not going to get weepy about what happened.  But I will care in 2012.  Passionately.

Everyvoter – Back from Vacation

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

It’s been more than a month since I’ve written anything here. It’s time to start this thing up again.

The unannounced vacation got started for a lot of reasons. But the biggest factor was taking an actual vacation – a week in the mountains of Colorado, hanging out with my wife and friends, fishing, drinking great beer, making and enjoying great meals, and doing almost anything but worrying about the local politics around this city.

On the drive across Kansas on the way back home, I realized I had spent the week at the same level of political engagement that fits the vast majority of voters. I was Everyvoter.

Go up to the average voter on the street, and ask which city district they live in. Most of them will look at you blankly, and say, “umm . . . the 48th?”. But a select few of us will narrow our eyes, and think it’s a trick question. “Did they pass a redistricting plan today?”

Most voters couldn’t name their State Representative. A select few of us can recite the biography of ours.

Most voters are vaguely aware that we will soon have a Mayoral race. A select few of us have our demographic analysis and elaborate predictions of who will emerge from the primary.

In a very real sense, my time in Colorado allowed me to see things through the eyes of Everyvoter, not the hyper-engaged, over-informed eyes of the “select few”. And it was kind of refreshing.

While I’ve been “on vacation”, I’ve started a new job, brewed some good beer, worked on a business plan for the coolest entrepreneurial project I’ve ever dreamed of, and I have not focused on the County Courthouse, City Hall, or Jefferson City. I haven’t worried about voicing my opinions, because I haven’t bothered forming them.

Well, it’s time to come back.

When Cleaver Retires, Who Will Go to Washington?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

It’s been a rough year for Congressman Emanuel Cleaver.  He turned 65, he got spat on and called names, and his efforts to return civility to Congress have been spectacularly unsuccessful in the most polarized Congress since Sumner got caned.  He shows no signs of retiring, but, eventually, he will.

Who will take his place?  A crafty old insider, or a rising star?

Over at, I mention Al Riederer, Jolie Justus, Kay Barnes, Mark Funkhouser, Jason Kander, Airick Leonard West and Mike Sanders.  (I was kidding about Funkhouser, though I’m still correct about him having the best chance of winning the 2011 Mayoral election.)

Whom did I miss?

Crystal Williams Already Cleaning Up Jackson County Politics – Diane Williams Dodges the Oath

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Yesterday, Diane K. “Crystal” Williams resigned from the race for the 2nd District At-Large seat on the Jackson County Legislature.  What prompted the sudden change-of-heart?

She was scheduled to answer questions under oath in a deposition this morning.  The lawsuit filed by the real Crystal Williams exploring the circumstances behind Diane K. Williams’ choice to run as “D. Crystal Williams” threatened to expose the involvement of Henry Rizzo in this unsavory political dirty trick.  Faced with the choice of answering questions honestly or covering for Henry Rizzo, Rizzo’s dirty trickster chose door three, and fled.It’s impressive that the real Crystal Williams has already begun chasing the charlatans out of Jackson County politics.  In response to a race-baiting, lie-filled withdrawal letter published on the city’s joke blog, the real Crystal Williams showed real class, focusing her attention not on Henry Rizzo’s slimy tactics, but on the voters of Jackson County -

I am pleased that this issue is now resolved.  I am committed to open and accessible county government, focusing on real solutions designed to improve the lives of Jackson Countians.  That is what the voters of Jackson County deserve, not game playing by people who should know better.

The real Crystal Williams is the real deal, and it’s wonderful to see somebody committed to defeating the filth of the Jackson County Legislature without sinking to their level.  Henry Rizzo should be ashamed of himself.

Elvis Costello and local politics

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

My column over at the KCFreePress this week discusses dirty tricks and local politics, and it works in two of my Elvis Costello quotations – “There’s no such thing as an original sin” and “I used to be disgusted and now I try to be amused.”

Meeting Candidates – Why Does it Matter?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Political season is upon us, with sequential waves of candidates descending upon us seeking votes for school board elections, followed by County primaries, followed by County generals and Congressional elections, followed by City elections. And, if you take the slightest interest in voting, you will be bombarded with opportunities to “meet and greet” candidates.

It’s a strange phenomenon, really.

From a politician’s perspective, shaking a voter’s hand is THE most effective way of securing a vote. No mailer, no phone call, no 20 page position paper will be as effective for that voter as a firm handshake, a look in the eye, and a couple meaningless words. “I’m Joe Blow, I’m running for ________, and I’d appreciate your vote on August 3,” is all it takes.

We voters are star-struck with shocking ease. That’s the only explanation that accounts for the incredible success that hand-to-hand political conquest offers.

We voters are fools. We believe, like the Worst President Ever, that we can look into someone’s eyes and get a sense of their souls. Spending 30 seconds with a candidate makes most voters think that they’ve taken the measure of the candidate, and gives them confidence that the candidate is worthy of their trust.

It’s not even limited to the charismatic candidates. I’m not immune, and I’ve seen the phenomenon happen with some of the least charismatic candidates imaginable. Somewhere I have a picture of my son and me beaming with Governor Bob Holden – Holden may or may not have been a good Governor, but he certainly was not a splash of transformative inspiration.

It’s the celebrity, I suppose. Meeting someone whose name is in the news gives us a touch of importance otherwise lacking in our daily world. The fact that someone you’ve heard of is sticking his or her hand out meet you is flattering, and, as much as we want to believe otherwise, most of us vote with our emotions more than our brains. Researching policy positions and comparing them to our own half-formed beliefs is nothing compared to having a politician look us straight in the eye and treat us, for a few seconds, as if we matter, as if we are worthy of respect and attention from someone “more important” than ourselves.

It’s not entirely a bad thing. The importance of meeting candidates does force politicians to expose themselves to malcontents and germs, which at least assures us of politicians with a good immune system and some awareness of mental health issues. And, as voters, we are offered the opportunity to weed out a few whose arrogance, general creepiness, or other personality flaws outshine their star power. We may not be able to get a sense of someone’s soul, but we can occasionally recognize a total loser.

So, it’s meet and greet season, and I’ll be out there meeting and greeting. I’ll even host a few candidates I feel strongly about, through deeper conversations and more thorough vetting. That’s how the political process works, particularly at the local level. It’s the best we have, particularly in the absence of an impartial local press that can adequately cover local issues and candidates.

Seek out the candidates. Ask a few questions. See how quickly and intelligently they respond to difficult questons. Shake their hands. But remember to pay more attention to positions and interests than a good grip.

Let’s Talk Politics This Time

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Last year about this time, we discussed whether the City Council should make a $2,000,000 donation to the County, in the form of stadium subsidies. I opposed the decision, the Mayor opposed the decision, but the City Council voted 12-1 to give money away.

Since then, the Chiefs and Royals have had horrific seasons with terrible attendance, the City has not had sufficient money to clear streets, our murder rate remains high, a rapist roams Waldo, city employees have been laid off, remaining city workers have had their wages frozen, and we’ve installed Cathy Jolly’s odious red light cameras to generate revenues. All this, and nobody has had the cleverness to point out that the City Councilmembers who voted for the donation should be held accountable for their shocking priorities.

And now the issue is back again.

(As an aside, why don’t some of the crack reporters for the Star do an article about the FREE Royals and Chiefs tickets handed out to County and City politicians? Who’s sitting in those seats? Are they even being used? I’d be willing to bet there’s a story there – either the politicians are handing them out to donors, or they’re wasting the tickets. And, as another aside, why doesn’t the Star do a story on why, exactly, we even have a Jackson County Sports Authority? How much bureaucracy do we need to pay for simply to keep track of two tenants??)

This year, I’m not even going to bother arguing about the wisdom of stealing $2,000,000 from the city’s coffers. My opinion remains clear, but let’s look at a much smaller issue.

How do the politics of this debate work this year? Will Funkhouser’s suggestion that we end the exemption do him political harm or political good? Will it harm him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and willing to risk our sports franchises? Or will it help him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and being the only one who prefers to spend $2,000,000 on things like police protection, snow removal, and city workers rather than weak athletes?

I’m curious about what people think. A good friend emailed me when the news came out and said that this closes off Funkhouser’s path to reelection – “Voters won’t tolerate our Mayor screwing Chiefs and Royals, regardless of the budget shortfalls.” He may be right, or he may be wrong, and the decision could be a step on the path toward reelection. (I know a lot of you disagree with a lot of Funkhouser’s decisions, and believe that reelection is utterly impossible. That’s fine – but, if you can, try to analyze the politics of this one decision. I’d love to know what you think.)

(Update: A commenter claimed that city officials get tickets, but county officials don’t. The commenter is mistaken. Under the lease agreements, County officials get a suite and prime parking. See page 16, section 7.4. It’s offensive to think that the City Council would steal money from city priorities so that county officials can watch games from a suite.)

Thoughts from Last Night’s Ethics Forum

Friday, January 29th, 2010

The Committee for County Progress hosted an Ethics Forum last night. Micheal Mahoney served as moderator, with panelists Rep. Paul Levota, Rep. Jason Kander, and David Levinthal, the Communications Director for the Center for Responsive Politics in DC. The panel was great, the discussion was informative, and the crowd was a who’s who of up-and-coming politicos. I don’t have time to do one of my typically verbose descriptions of the event, but here are a few observations:

Paul Levota is funny. At one point, Mahoney was pressing Levota on the unlikelihood that the Missouri Senate will accept contribution limits. Mahoney pointed out that little will be accomplished by sticking to the issue accept to use it as a campaign weapon. “That’s the plan,” Levota deadpanned.

Transparency is crucial. One of the big problems in Missouri is that donors hide behind committees. When checks get funneled from “Missourians for Good Things” to “Missourians for Awesome Things” and then to “Missourians for Nice Things” and then finally to the candidate, it’s awfully hard to track the dollars back to the special interest pulling the strings.

Jason Kander is funny, too.
Commenting on a fellow representative’s $100,000 donor, Kander pointed out that the donor probably gets his calls returned faster than the representative’s children. (Maybe that isn’t funny.)

The Center for Responsive Politics is a tremendous resource. Levinthal was well-informed, completely balanced and thoughtful. The Center is non-partisan, and his straight-arrow style made clear that he is interested in good government, period.

The candidates are out to see and be seen. The crowd was peppered with candidates in up-coming races. I hate to mention names, because I don’t want to neglect anyone, but Crispin Rea was a welcome presence, along with his campaign treasurer Theresa Garza Ruiz. I finally met Jeremy Ploeger for the 51st district, and Geoff Gerling, candidate for the 46th District.

Where were the County Legislators? The only County Legislator in attendance was the always-wonderful Theresa Garza Ruiz. This came as a bit of a shock, given that it was a forum on Ethics sponsored by the Committee for COUNTY Progress. After the legislature’s embarrassing and anti-ethical attempt to avoid ethical home rule, it seems that more of them would have an interest in the topic. Fortunately, Henry Rizzo’s opposing candidate and likely replacement, Crystal Williams, was present.

Speaking of Theresa Garza Ruiz . . . I had a brief opportunity to speak with her about her sudden removal as Chair of the Justice & Law Enforcement committee. Despite her degree and experience in law enforcement, she was unceremoniously dumped from the committee, and the “dumper”, Henry Rizzo, didn’t even talk with her about it first, before awarding the committee Chair to a convicted felon. Theresa didn’t have much to offer by way of explanation of this baffling move, other than to point out that the claim that it’s part of a normal rotation of chairs is demonstrably false.

Micheal Mahoney knows his stuff. Mahoney did a great job of moderating the event, and the high point came when he ran factual rings around a loud audience member who was claiming that money is the be-all and end-all of politics. Mahoney pointed to the Carnahan/Talent race, and when the blustery but ill-informed talker pushed on, he pointed out that the Mayor was also not the leading fundraiser in his election. It was an amusing and deft evisceration of an anti-Funkhouser activist who seemed to be substituting volume for accuracy.

It’s wonderful that so many people care about ethics in Missouri.
On a Thursday evening, a healthy crowd of people came out to a mid-town law office to participate in a high-level forum on the topic of dollars and politics. That’s a pretty impressive level of interest, and the CCP deserves credit for putting on the forum.