Joe Miller: Sizing Up Kansas City’s Mayoral General Election & The Candidates

Eight things I’m thinking about on the first day of the Kansas City mayoral general election:

1. The Star is the big winner. Tuesday’s election proved that the morning paper is the most powerful political institution in town.

Not too long ago, I thought the Star had lost its power.

A big chunk of the newsroom destroyed by downsizing. A shriveled news hole. Constantly scooped by a porn-crazed trogladite.

But it seems they’ve only grown in power: Fewer people reading; fewer people voting; and the readers and the voters are pretty much the same few.

In this election, the paper of record showed that its more powerful than the titans of industry in this city – both the Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Council, a secretive but well-intentioned cabal of CEOs from the city’s biggest corporations in the city – came out early for Deb Hermann.

But the paper picked Mike Burke and Sly James. The same two dudes who were on the front page Wednesday.

2. A few weeks ago I predicted on this site that the Star would provide biased coverage of the mayor’s race. That happened – in the worst way I’ve seen on my 10 years living here.

They didn’t report at all about the fact that Burke had been the lawyer of record on a failed development in the Northland that continues to cost taxpayers millions per year, and that his firm billed the city almost $1 million for this service.

They didn’t report that Sly has sued the city several times for wrongful injury cases.

But they did report speciously substantiated allegations that Hermann called a Hispanic cop “Captain Taco” – fifteen years ago.

It was such a hatchet job that Yael himself called foul.

3. Speaking of predictions, I wrote on this site that I didn’t think Funk would make it out of the primary.

I didn’t think much of this until Yael wrote it up on his blog and said I was one of only three people in the city who dared make such a prediction.

Needless to say, this upped the stakes a bit, and I was mighty nervous as the votes were being counted. I didn’t want to be the one who predicted wrong.

Especially when it wasn’t even really my prediction.

The post I wrote for this site is an almost verbatim account of a theory of a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed. He said it one day while we were chatting and I asked if I could steal it and he said, Sure.

Thanks, man.

4. So a few people have asked me what I think of the candidates, even people in my writing workshop in Lawrence. In fact, so many people have asked that I’ve started to ask myself, “So, Joe, what do you think?”

5. I’ve always liked Mike Burke. He was one of the first people from “The Establishment” who would talk to me when I was a reporter at the Pitch. Most of what he said to me was off the record (and, frankly, it didn’t really need to be). He always showed respect for my work and seemed to appreciate good journalism.

I’m sure he’s not happy about the article I wrote about his failed real estate thing up north, but he should really be thanking me.

The fact that I wrote that almost a year ago for a website that only, like, 14 people ever read, probably saved him from seeing it on a venue that actually has clout.

So, there you go, Mike, you’re welcome.

The easy knock against Mike is that he’s a development attorney. He’s helped rich people get tax breaks to build stuff for other rich people in the rich parts of town. And it’s probably a fair criticism.

Yet, I’ve seen him stand up against the development community to protect taxpayer interests. When he was chair of the committee that divides public improvement dollars among the many needy areas of the city, he bucked the trough feeders, as our soon-to-be-former mayor likes to call them.

And I sincerely believe he has the city’s best interest at heart.


(There’s always one of those, isnt’t there?)


Well, I’ll get to that later.

6. I don’t know much about Sly James.

He ran a great campaign, has the right idea about compromise and negotiation, and probably has the experience to back it up.


The question of James’s potential effectiveness on the top floor of City Hall depends on who he hires.

He needs to get a top-of-the-line, City-Hall-experienced, honest political operative.

He can talk all he wants to about negotiation and compromise. But the fact is he’ll probably have to deal with Ed Ford, John Sharp and Ken Baccus on the Council, and those guys are seasoned veterans of political game playing.

If James does what Funk did and hire pushovers like me, he’s gonna get his ass kicked.

If I was still a reporter, I’d be asking now who his chief of staff is going to be.

I’ve only had one, very brief interaction with him.

When I wrote for the aforementioned unpopular website, I called him for comment on a story about his cases against the city.

He came across as being indignant about my calling him about such an issue. I got a sense of real inexperience there. He seemed shocked that the media would dare question him.

If that’s so, he better get ready. Soon as he wins, the Star is going to turn on him and make sure he knows who’s boss.

Of course, I could be reading too much into it. His reaction could’ve been based on a perfectly reasonable strategy: I wrote for a pipsqueak website; treat me like a pipsqueak.

Yet, if he or his people knew anything about politics, they’d know I carry a certain amount of danger when I call. I know what makes a good story, and I know how to dig, and I know a lot of people at big, important news organizations who are looking for a good story and who are hoping they might find one without having to dig.

I’m not saying I’m all important, and I’m certainly not threatening him. I’m just saying, be careful who you condescend. You never know what kind of suction they might have.

7. I voted for Jim Rowland. I thought he would be the most progressive mayor of the bunch, the most likely to understand what city-dwellers want.

I held my nose when I did it. I thought his campaign reeked of Steve Glorioso, who is a toxic scumbag hiding under a thin and tattered cloak of liberalism.

8. Regarding the finalists, Burke and James, I’m concerned about two things:

One, they both seem to support a government-subsidized mega-convention hotel. As a citizen and taxpayer, I’m completely against this.

The convention industry is a sucker bet. Pretty much every city that goes after it winds up losing millions every year.

And even when it is a success, it’s hardly something to build a real economy around. The stuff that makes boomtowns is not convention business, but true, lucrative growth industries like medical science.

Second, I’m worried that both Burke and James are uncool. They don’t project a sense of urban hipness, at least to me. Expecially Burke, I hate to say, who comes off as quite suburban.

My number one issue is that the leaders in this city understand that this is a city, not a suburb. We need to have the hip and cool things that other cities have, like bike trails and dog parks and a powerful municipal arts commission.

These are things that are not expensive, but they make a huge difference when it comes to attracting highly educated, high-paid workers.

But, year after year, our leaders tend to ignore cool city stuff in favor of pipe dreams, like a convention hotel.

Just my two cents. Which aren’t even worth that.

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5 Responses to Joe Miller: Sizing Up Kansas City’s Mayoral General Election & The Candidates

  1. chuck says:

    Really interesting take imo.

  2. herbert_spencer says:

    People still read The Star. The old folks get it in print; others read it online. Some people do both. But very few people do neither.

    They sincerely don’t care what Tony thinks because they’ve proven him time and again to be a liar and fabricator. Everybody knows it. Hell, YOU know it.

    In any case, maybe KC will have a leader now.

  3. Stephen Pack says:

    Star provided balanced view of Burke’s failed development
    In the January 29 article that looked at the “con” of each mayoral primary candidate, the Star didn’t seem to be biased about the Northland development you mention:

    “Prospect North, a residential and retail project, never got off the ground, leaving a weed-choked field near Maple Woods Community College. The city backed $13 million in bonds for public roads and a bridge, which now costs taxpayers nearly $1 million in annual debt service. Burke

  4. Joe says:

    A mention in a long, boring overview piece is not the same as a stand alone, section-front article by your top political columnist.

  5. Johnny Utah says:

    readers know what the star is
    I don’t think the election proves anything for the KC Star. It’s hopelessly liberal both in news and opinion sections. all its readers know that, regardless of their political bent.

    a broad based coalition of voters mostly disagreed with the star in the November 2008 elections. but KCMO proper remains left leaning, and its votes reflect that, both in November and this week. no mayoral candidate delcared him/herself to be conservative, like the regional and national trend.

    it’s a coincidence the race turned out as the star hoped.

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