Friday, March 30, 2007

In Defense of the Brooks Campaign - 10/10 Hindsight

As mentioned below, the pundits are having a field day criticizing the Brooks campaign for coming up 1010 votes short in Tuesdays election. Typical is Steve Kraske, who is beginning to resemble that guy in the Fed Ex commercials who is always wrong, and is shocked to learn they don't get "French benefits". He wrote:
On 10 different levels, it shouldn’t have worked. And it may not have worked had not Brooks run such a milquetoast campaign. The mayor pro tem’s campaign at times appeared invisible. So much ammunition was at his disposal, such as the former city auditor’s call to privatize the water department or raise trash fees, not to mention his startling one-time advocacy for school vouchers.

All that’s fair game. It didn’t have to mean “going negative.” But Brooks, a former cop, only flicked a jab or two at forums and his campaign, led by venerable tough guy Pat Gray, forgot to step on the gas.

“It never got off the ground,” said former City Councilwoman Teresa Loar of Brooks’ campaign.

From the start, this was Brooks’ campaign to win. He had every advantage: the money, the campaign team, the big-time endorsements, the name identification, the title of mayor pro tem, the unwavering backing of Barnes and decades of community service in his hip pocket.

But that wasn’t enough to sufficiently motivate his base. His numbers paled in comparison to another prominent black politician, Emanuel Cleaver. As good a guy as Al Brooks is, as much as he’s contributed going back decades in this community, he’s no Cleaver.

His campaign gave him no help in making up the difference.


I've got to call bullshit here.

While it's true that Brooks and Funkhouser both ran remarkably positive campaigns, and it's true that, all things being equal, it might have grabbed some attention if Brooks had gone negative, it is not true that such a move would have resulted in an uptick of votes for Brooks.

Such thinking assumes that the Funkhouser campaign would have remained static. Sure, I could beat the hell out of Mike Tyson, if I got to throw all the punches. Who knows how Funkhouser would have responded? I'm certainly not going to go negative now, but I suspect Funkhouser could have responded with similar, fact-based material that would have weakened Brooks' positive image.

Those who are decrying Brooks for running a clean, positive campaign, and claiming they could have done better, are using sloppy logic. Yes, some pointed criticism of certain audits drawn out of context could have changed the landscape, but the response from the Funkhouser campaign would have changed the landscape further. Perhaps the changed world would have resulted in a Brooks victory, but such a result is by no means certain.

The only thing that would have been absolutely certain is that Kansas City would have had an uglier Mayors race.

To claim that Brooks ran a bad campaign because he didn't go negative and came up 1010 votes short is to engage in utterly false hindsight. The race was run on the high road, and both candidates were wise and honorable to stay up there.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Keith Sader said...

I will have to say that for once in my life, I had the choice of two people I thought would have done a good job as mayor.

I'd like all my elections to be that tough. Give me two good people and let me make the tough choice.

I think that if Mr. Brooks had been 10 years younger he might have won the election.

3/30/2007 8:35 AM  
Anonymous moe said...

Dan - The Brooks campaign DID go negative, but they drew a line. Didn't you get the negative piece or hear Al talk? And they also went negative through Glorioso/Barnes.

Brooks and the Brooks campaign explicitly personally attacked Funk - they accused him of rigging audits and delaying audits while he was auditor, because he had mayoral aspirations.

That was a series of personal attacks, they was negative, it was in writing under the Brooks campaign. So Brooks did go negative with personal attacks and Funkhouser didn't.

The Brooks campaign is probably worthy of hindsight criticism, but so is the Funk campaign. One can easily say the 1,010 margin could have been bigger if the Funk campaign did a GOTV in the northland - there was a paltry 23% turnout in the North.

So Brooks MAY have lost it through poor campaigning, but Funk lost opportunities to widen his lead as well, by not running a better campaign.

My diagnosis is that it both campaigns could have done a much better job but it was always Funk's to lose simply because Funk had a message (and one that resonated), and the Brooks campaign didn't. You need to also note that the Brooks campaign did a fairly good, but far from perfect, GOTV effort. Funk didn’t really.

And also note that the Funk campaign was outspent, but not as much as we might think. Add the $70,000 that the Homebuilders threw in, plus what other groups did, and add in some incremental value of the Star/Yael support, and it was a closer money contest. The biggest deal is that seasoned political talent was absent from Funk’s campaign, with only one volunteer/staffer with serious campaign experience.

People tend to conclude that Brooks didn’t capitalize on the latent voter satisfaction with the city – but I conclude that the margin could have been wider had Funk capitalized on latent voter slight/moderate dissatisfaction levels.

3/30/2007 9:55 AM  
Anonymous TheNitWit said...

Well put, Moe. Brooks campaign had numerous ways to contrast Brooks with Funk without going negative. In fact, Funk's entire campaign was premised on a negative/contrasting theme that every other candidate represented the "status quo." Brooks didn't have to attack to draw sharp distinctions -- Funk's recommendation on the water department is a prime example, but there were numerous other issues available.

Further, in low-turnout elections like this one, the dissatisfied are almost always overrepresented. So as the issue-landscape emerged as essentially a choice between "more of the same" and "change," Funkhouser had a huge leg up. If Brooks had redefined the landscape as being that Funkhouser's vision of change was bad/risky he likely would have won.

Finally, the substantial amount of money dumped into the race by the Homebuilders shouldn't be discounted (along with the Star's overt bias). I had no idea they put $70,000 into the race. That's a ton of cash, and it deserves some scrutiny (hello, Star?). If any special interest group had put that much money behind any other candidate, Funk's supporters would be accusing them of being on the take and saying they owed favors.

3/30/2007 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Moe said...

Yes, Nitwit, that's right. But my bias, having said all that, is that Funk should have won by more votes.

I'm a Funk supporter, but also recognize that it was Funk who lost a bit of opportunity in this election, moreso than Brooks.

My 20/20 hindsight is that if both campaignbs were run better Funk would have won by more.

3/30/2007 10:42 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Moe,

I agree with much of what you write - I'm just trying to be nice and not complain about the negativity from the Brooks campaign. My point is that people/experts like Kraske who think that Brooks would have won "if only" are wildly off target, and their hindsight is based on an artificially static campaign landscape.

As for Nitwit, I think you're overstating the Star's bias - clearly Yael had a straightforward preference, as is proper, but the reporting as a whole was fairly balanced. I know you will disagree with that, but we'll just have to agree to disagree, because I know of a lot of things that didn't get covered, etc.

Soft money was spent on both sides, and I don't hear Funk complaining. Nothing scandalous, but I would certainly like to see someone develop a constitutionally acceptable way of limiting the impact os such dollars.

Keith, while I had strong feelings that Funk was the better candidate, I know exactly how you feel. It was never a race where I thought that if we lost, the city would suffer horrible damage. It was definitely a choice between the better of two goods rather than the lesser of two evils.

3/30/2007 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Moe said...

I agree that the city would be just fine under Brooks, but I think both Dan & Nit are being nice. Nicer than I can be.

Brooks hasn't really done anything for the city in his tenure substantially, other than being a good pastor. Nothing that qualifies him to be mayor. It was pretty clear from his campaign literature and TV ads - with a supposed lifetime of achievement they could only parade a 20-year old USA Today in front of us. Look closely, or not so closely, at what was really said about Brooks accomplishments - there was really nothing there.

I also get that feeling from talking with white and African- American Brooks supporters as well.

I think the majority of Brooks' support was driven by anti-Funkhouser sentiment.

And what is sad is that I truly believe the election would have gone even more negative if Becky Nace/Roe had not done their negative in the primary and suffered the backlash.

I don't believe we had two good candidates - we had one good candidate (Funk) and another that had primary momentum on name & race, that morphed into the default candidate for all of the anti-Funkhouser votes.

3/30/2007 11:06 AM  
Anonymous thenitwit said...

Dan, anyone who doesn't recognize that the Star was biased toward Funk from the primaries through the general election, was either drunk on the Funkhouser kool-aid or subscribes to a different newspaper.

Yael's columns were a joke and were anything but about "a straightforward preference." His columns continually put forth bunky criticisms about other candidates and trumped up glorifications of Funkhouser. Further, Yael's influence over the editorial page itself and as an editor over staff reporters will never be fully known and never recognized by Funk's supporters.

And $70,000 isn't a little soft money. I'm not positive of the final figures, but it represents somewhere around 1/4 to 1/3 of Funkhouser's complete budget for the entire campaign. That's a huge contribution, and if Brooks had gotten that much support from one entity, a lot of your fellow Funkhouser supporters would have been crying foul, so why is it OK to assume differently about this kind of support for your candidate? I'm not saying it's illegal or even wrong, but don't you think a little scrutiny is warranted here? Or does Funk get a free pass one more time?

3/30/2007 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Moe said...

Nit - I got the $70k from an article in PirmeBuzz or somewhere else on the Star - I did not independently check the data. Brooks got an absolute ton of soft money, moreso than Funk.

Nit - I'm a Funk supporter and agree with you the Star was completely behind Funk and it was a huge benefit to the campaign.

BUT - and this is a HUGE "BUT" - The Star gave Brooks an absolute free pass the whole time. The Star was accused by a group of black ministers years ago of racism and they're scared silly of someone playing the race card. Yeal and everybody else at the star applied three standards to the candidates:

(1) "The Funk standard" - they supported him, "he's not perfect but he's our guy and best for the city...
(2) "The Brooks standard" - they never, ever criticized him and always referred to him as the front runner. They never mentioned his lack of accomplishment...
(3) the "all other candidate standard" - they actually scrutinzed appropriately all of the other candidates.

Sure there was a Star bias, but Brooks shared in the favorable bias as well as Funk.

3/30/2007 11:23 AM  
Anonymous thenitwit said...

Moe, I'm not saying Brooks didn't get any 3rd party support. Of course he did. But $70,000? I doubt any single group ponied up anywhere near that amount for him. When a 3rd party group runs TV ads in a local race like this one, it really stands out. Seriously, where's the scrutiny on this?

As far as the Star's bias goes, I do agree that they largely gave Brooks a pass too. That said, the paper framed the general election campaign from Funkhouser's perspective -- change vs. status quo (especially regarding TIF) was almost all we heard about. That meant that Brooks was forced into defense rather than offense in most of their coverage.

But you're right that the real travesty in the Star's coverage was during the primary. The paper didn't give any of the other candidates a chance to even make it. The paper's coverage which was biased when it wasn't non-existent dictated that we were going to get Funkhouser and Brooks in the general election.

And that's where I strongly suspect that Yael and other editors at the paper crossed the line between opinion advocacy and journalistic malfeasance in working to shape the outcome of the election.

3/30/2007 11:53 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

The thing I noticed most about the Brooks campaign was that it seemed to run on cruise control. Al never really articulated anything in any of the debates. He just stood up and basically "I'm Al Brooks" and left it at that.

I bet they expected to win and didn't plan on a tough challenger, so they waited until it was too late to get serious. The disappointing part for me was that he never tried to separate himself from Kay Barnes. It felt more like Barnes running for a third term than Al Brooks running for himself.

3/30/2007 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Moe said...

Eric, that's an excellent way of characterizing the Barnes-I-mean-Brooks campaign.

3/30/2007 12:22 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

Eric - I think you hit the nail on the head.

I don't live in KC so I didn't have a dog in this race. But watching from the outside, it was my perception the Barnes camp felt that they had recreated KC in Her Image and if she annointed Brooks, then everyone would vote for Brooks.

As far as going negative against Funk, how do you do that, exactly? He had a reputation as being an honest broker without a political agenda or any real ambition. How do you attack someone for doing their job quietly, objectively and honestly?

Personally, I think Stan Glaser and The Pitch handed the Mayorship to Funk with the piece they did on Glaser's campaign. The gist of that article seemed to be "why isn't Funkhouser running this city?"

3/30/2007 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Drew Murphy said...

The reason why Brooks lost, was instead of telling us why you should vote for him, he told you to vote for him. He ran as the entitled and not the contender, which Funkhouser successfully did. To me, when Brooks walked out of the Southwest High debate in January, due to a non-emergency function, really spoke volumes. Especially during the primary, it seemed at times that he didn't want to be there. Although I don't think the city would have burned down during a Brooks regime, he would not have been a good mayor.

3/30/2007 9:27 PM  
Blogger joe said...

Actually, we got a lot more third party support than the homebouilders. Citizens for Responsible government bought more than $100,000 worth of advertizing.

Also, no one has mentioned the highly valuable professional labor that was donated to the campaign -- not the least of which was mine. We had top level writers, graphic designers, media buyers, etc. doing work for free.

I believe that all tolled we collected a lot more than Brooks. Add to this the amount of money that went to Pat Grey and his cronies, who, in my humble opinion, did a very poor job of building the Brooks brand, I think we actually had more exposure than Brooks, because we didn't waste money on a dinosaur like Pat Grey.

3/31/2007 8:31 AM  

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