Saturday, November 08, 2008

Can Funkhouser Win Again?

It's time to get real honest here, and even risk hurting a few feelings of people I like. But a few things need to get said.

Kansas City political insiders may be the most foolish batch of group-thinkers ever assembled in one town. In their world, Coffman had Kander on the ropes. Harris was the best hope against Koster (I'm not saying I'm immune). Barnes had a real chance in northern Missouri. Really, you need to spend some time at the cocktail parties to understand just how strangely out of touch some of these people are.

Now, they are saying Funkhouser is a one term Mayor. And they are saying it so confidently that it reminds me of how little chance Conventional Wisdom gave him in 2007.

In other words, it makes me suspect the inside crowd is wrong again.

First, let me acknowledge that all is not well in Funkytown. There would be serious problems if the election were to be held in the near future. But not for the reasons that have the chattering class smirking.

Funkhouser's biggest problem is the Citizen Satisfaction Survey. That is the metric that will make or break his fortune in the 2011, and right now, it is down. This paragraph from the report would be a knife through the heart of a reelection bid if it were happening today:
Kansas Citians’ satisfaction with city services declined this year, as it did in the other metropolitan area communities and large U.S. cities included as our benchmark cities. Compared to other area communities and large U.S. cities, Kansas City’s citizen satisfaction is still at or near the bottom.
If that does not turn around - if that is not simply a case of things getting worse before they get better - I hope and expect that Funkhouser would not even run again. That is the essence of the orange revolution, and if it turns out that Mark can't get make progress there (even if it isn't his fault), then the experiment has failed, and we should all try to learn from it.

(As an aside, I must point out that David Martin of the Pitch manages to look at the Survey and miss the point. He points to a decline in satisfaction with elected officials, and claims that they are Funkhouser's "approval ratings". It takes the opposite of political insight to reach such a conclusion. In fact, the average voter looks at the mess of City Hall intrigue and says "to Hell with all of them." At its worst, that statistic is bad news for all the council; at its best, it shapes up nicely for Mark to run once again as an outsider against the whiny council people who are mucking up the works. When the City Council does something stupid like the Anti-Squitiro Ordinance, Mark takes a small hit, but the members of the Council take a big hit. The infighting isn't hurting Mark as much as it is each and every incumbent. While I don't approve of the sexist "Mean Girls" label that a commenter here used, I think it reflects a growing perspective among voters.)

Another concern I have for Funkhouser's prospects is that he really has lost contact with most of the people who worked on his original campaign. I think back to the meetings we had and I cross off most of the brightest and best people I have ever seen working on a campaign. Maybe lunches with Jeff Roe are a substitute for breakfasts with Jeff Simon, but they make me queasy. Maybe a guy who made his money growing plants isn't as interesting as a crazed conspiracy theorist, but I know which one I respect. Right now, it appears that Funkhouser has decided not to dance with the ones who brung ya, and I don't like the looks of the crew on his dance card.

My final concern about Funkhouser's chances for reelection is a little fuzzier, but it's a spirit thing. The first go-round was open, fun and inclusive. Of course, it was "us versus them", but the only "them" was the TIF pigs at the trough. Now, "them" seems to be everyone but "us". "Them" now includes Cindy Circo, who I think is a darned good person. Jan Marcason is definitely "them", and, even as we disagreed through every step of the Anti-Squitiro Ordinance process, she showed the class and dignity that I think should be a model for all elected officials. I disagree with her, but I admire her - the opposite of an "us versus them" mentality. Sadly, I kind of fear that this post might put me onto the "them" team in their view, or my honest disagreement with the light rail proposal. It feels like a bunker mentality has settled in, and the exit door is getting used a lot more than the entrance. I don't see orange as the color of the next election - maybe battleship gray.

So, with all that said, how do I think that Funkhouser might be retiring from the Mayor's office in 2015 instead of 2011?

First off, let's remember that a lot can change over the next couple years. Most importantly, those citizen satisfaction numbers can change, and, if they go up, that is the most important factor in the election. Because, really, it is about a city that works, and if people think things are on the right path, then Mark will stand to benefit. Already, there is some improvement in some areas - if that improvement spreads, don't bet against Funkhouser, no matter what your political-know-it-all neighbor says.

Secondly, the only option will be another candidate, and who that candidate is will make a huge difference. Right now, the whispered candidates I've heard have huge flaws that make them unattractive representatives of the same era of profligacy we soundly rejected last time around. And, by all accounts, it will be a crowded field, which means Funkhouser will cruise through the primary on name recognition and appreciation for what has gone right. Who will be his opponent, and how bloody will he or she be after the primary?

Finally, don't forget that Funkhouser is connecting with people every day. He's holding regular town meetings, and making himself available, unfiltered, to average citizens. He's showing up on the East Side and the West Side and meeting people other than self-appointed "leaders", and, by and large, he's winning a lot of favor. Snobby insiders and the chattering class may find Funk and Squitiro to be coarse and common, but the coarse and common voters are kind of liking what they are seeing.

And that direct connection to actual voters is what infuriates the insiders more than anything. Despite the inability of the political insiders to actually demonstrate any political savvy, they like to think of themselves as arbiters of what must be. They've never forgiven Mark for defeating their annointed candidate, and their heads will explode if he does it again.

Which might be reason enough for the rest of us to support him in 2011.

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Anonymous Funkhouser's New Mammy said...

You go, Dan! You are right on, and I think Mayor Funkhouser is a great man. He's been maligned by those mean girls in city council, especially Cindy Circo. Cindy got what she deserved, and there's a new sheriff in town on the housing committee! HA! One that can finally work with the Mayor.

And don't believe those nasty rumors that I'm a slumlord, anybody that supports Mayor Funkhouser better support me, or they'll get what Cindy got.

Go Funk!

11/08/2008 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Sophia said...

What is the basis for believing that "the coarse and common voters are kind of liking what they are seeing"?

Group-think thrives in the absence of data. Your thinking is no more supported than that of the insiders who thought Coffman had Kander on the ropes, you just have a smaller group.

Anecdotally, I was surprised by the number of people I spoke to yesterday who framed the mayor's suit as "why is the mayor suing us?"

11/08/2008 1:42 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Insiders never thought Kander was on the ropes. Quite the opposite. Insiders knew how badly run the Coffman campaign was - run on a razor's edge, one might say.

11/08/2008 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Brent said...

The who will the candidate be is a big question. As you noted, the entire council has taken quite a hit recently with their antics...and trotting out a whole bunch of city council members to run against Funk will not really do the trick. Who's going to beat him? Ford? Herman? Reiderer? Gottstein? I just don't see it. That was a big part of the last election -- there were only a couple of viable candidates even running. I can only see more of the same the next go around...hope I'm wrong.

As for the citizen satisfaction survey, in many ways, I think the mayor has caused some of the things to go down. Declaring war on metal plates and weeds I think raised the awareness of these problems which caused some of the scores to go down. This will bode well for him if he is succesful in shoring up these problems.

11/08/2008 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do you think funk will win his current lawsuit?

11/08/2008 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gottstein could win.

11/08/2008 4:22 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

The only reason Funk won the election (by 850 votes) was because of the Star endorsement, and the fact that Funkhouser, as an elected official, was unknown quantity and notable people had high hopes for him.

With regard to these two critically important factors, things have changed significantly. The Star revoked their endorsement today, and everybody now has had the opportunity to see how Funkhouser operates.

I think Funkhouser's track record speaks for itself. Always remember he won by 850 votes, and that was when people voters were filled with hope and high expectations about his future performance.

11/08/2008 5:15 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You're looking with your tail lights instead of your headlights, Mainstream. He may be running on a record of improved citizen satisfaction scores, against an EDC lawyer. He could win that race by a lot more than 850 votes.

The Star's endorsement means little, and depending on the circumstances, he might have it again, anyhow.

11/08/2008 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Gottstein is not an EDC lawyer.

11/08/2008 6:40 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Of course you'll say the Star's endorsement means little, when they retract it two years later.


When you win by only 850 votes, with all of Nutter's money behind you, the Star's procative campaigning that they did on behalf of Funkhouser (unprecedented) made all of the difference.

850 vote margin in the last election, and Funk supporters really didn't know what they were getting. They (WE) were hoping.

Next time around there won't be any hope involved - we'll have all of the facts we need.

11/08/2008 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Jayhoax said...

"The Star's endorsement means little"

Oh, please!

Without the Star's endorsement, the city would be run by Mayor Brooks....

11/08/2008 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not catering to insiders? Dan, c'mon. Sanders-Brooks, Webster, and Tauheed are the self-appointed leaders of the African-American community, universally panned by the neighborhood folks who know the score. Funkhouser is an expedient pol who doesn't want to do the work of actually reaching out to the parts of town unknown to him. Even the Star has given up on him. Take off your rose-colored glasses.

11/08/2008 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Former Bride of Christ? said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/08/2008 9:47 PM  
Anonymous Dan's Crazy ego said...

Beth for I could get behund that

11/09/2008 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,

Any comments on Gloria using her position in the mayor's office to threaten security officers at the airport?

11/09/2008 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth Low? or do you mean a different Beth?

11/09/2008 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Lance Weber said...

Beth Low turned her Facebook profile from "public" to "friends only" since her re-election.


11/09/2008 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What is it with your readers and Beth?

11/10/2008 1:24 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I have no idea about the Beth thing - it's kind of a creepy obsession for one of them.

11/10/2008 5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is rare for someone like Funk to be able to recover. His first 18 months reminds me of the following leaders:

Governor Holden -- He never recovered from his shaky start -- and it was not the primary that killed him. He would have lost anyway.

Governor Teasdale -- Won due to Carter wave and the fact he was not Bond. Lost in a rematch. Was politically isolated for the entire term. Like Funk, had no support within Missouri General Assembly (City Council)

Governor Finney and Governor Hayden -- She won due to the fact she was not "tax hike Mike" Ran as a populist -- could not lead. Like the Funk, Hayden developed a seige mentality and developed legislative enemies.

Don't forget one hit wonder St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, too. I think he ended up getting around 7 or 8 percent in his reelection run.

The only way for Funk to recover would be for there to be a multi-candidate primary and he gets into a run off against a one issue candidate a la Chastain type. However, he is not helping himself when he sues the city of which he is supposed to be leading.

11/10/2008 10:59 AM  
Anonymous inafunkaboutthefunk said...

Did the 60/40% rejection of light rail make you think that the Funk is in tune with the needs and wants of the people?

11/10/2008 11:16 PM  
Blogger katy ryan said...

Hi, Dan --

I've been reading your blog for several months -- your insight on a variety of local matters makes for informative and entertaining reading.
That being said, I have to throw my hat in the ring in regards to The Funk. I'm not "coarse and common," nor am I "snobby or chattering class." I'm a 26-year-old Kansas City resident and journalist, and I'm appalled at how the Mayor is treating his office and elected position. For the volunteer ordinance to have exploded from an inner skirmish to an outright lawsuit is laughable; add to that The Squid's adventures at KCI and Funk effectively abandoning his office in favor of his humble abode, and, well, those matters combined are too much for me to overlook. It would be different if, at the same time, city services and matters were improving, so at least there would be the distraction of an all-important silver lining. Yet I see nothing. Crime rates are up, the city's noose is continuing to be tightened by Cordish, roads are deplorable and, clearly, the citizens aren't satisfied.

I'm not sure Funk has the power to create the turnaround that I'd need to cast my vote for him in the next election. Instead, I'll hope for one of the following options:
a) Funk realizes his lost calling as a mediator and abandons his mayoral post in favor of more lucrative opportunities.
b) The Squid flees after being seduced by Rudy Giuliani in a delicious flouting of party lines.
c) Kansas Citians succeed in a recall petition.

11/12/2008 2:06 PM  
Anonymous heidi said...

"... he really has lost contact with most of the people who worked on his original campaign."

Why is that, Dan? Did Funkhouser just wake up one day and decide he was going with a different crew?

Or is it thas he alienated many of those original supporters?

11/14/2008 9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you really just call those who think Funkhouser is a one-term Mayor stupid? Like the blog but your obsession with the guy is really overboard.

Apart from the fact that he is a complete moron, his chief of staff is a complete moron, he has a bunch of idiots working in his office just shaking their head yes at everything and he has zero clue what to do for Kansas City, he would have to beat the pack of like 15 people who are sure to run this time around.

Not to mention, he will continue to be haunted by a local education, housing and economic crisis that he has zero idea how to solve. On top of that, he won't have the support that he did last time. He won't have the war chest he gathered last time. And he won't get even half of the votes he gathered last time.

Other than that, he might have a chance at winning.....3rd or 4th place.

One term mayor. It's that simple man. It's fine that you aren't going to leave his side in thick or thin, but at least acknowledge that to your readers instead of acting like people who don't share the same obsession of the Mayor are out of touch.

11/17/2008 12:49 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anonymous -

Who says he won't have a warchest? He certainly didn't have one at this point in the race last time, and now he has access to all the checkbooks.

Who says he doesn't have support? He certainly didn't have much at this point last time, and now he has 110% name recognition. While much of the publicity has been bad, there are many who have been impressed, and, remember, Bloomberg as at about 25% approval rating at this point, and now they're talking about changing the law in NYC so he can stay.

Who says I'm with Funk through thick and thin? I've knocked him on those occasions when he's wrong - I just haven't been a sheep who believes that everything Tony complains about is really a problem.

11/17/2008 5:38 AM  

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