Down on Funk
Mark Funkhouser has been mayor of KCMO a matter of weeks and it appears the “honeymoon period” never appeared. Not that I think it really bothers him. He got plenty of annoying slams and disparagement as city auditor. The hide toughened.
But as auditor, the policy mandate was relatively narrow and having Funkhouser act as the glass-is-half-empty guy gave city council members the opportunity to pontificate in faux hand-wringing to score political points and the mayor reason to lean on the city manager to deflect any heat if anyone paid attention to what Auditor Funkhouser had to say.
Bottom line: Auditor Funkhouser affected city policy, particularly city development policy, very little. Which, as some say, is the reason he ran for mayor.
But being mayor is a different game, a political game. And if there’s any consensus among the city’s political pedigree — which includes journalists, bloggers and citizens who habitually attend public meetings — Funkhouser ain’t no politician.
Many people describe him as anything but. Here’s a short list of what I’ve hear or read recently about Funkhouser: “a character,” “weird,” “egoist,” “funny,” “a goof,” “all talk” and “arrogant.” For the record, I don’t subscribe to any of them but would lean toward him being “a character” if nothing else. At 6’ 8” that term kinda comes with the territory, anyway.
In this town or any big city, a mayor better be political or at least savvy enough to get around the politics — that being using the public as support — to be effective. Though it’s too early for Funkhouserites to worry, it wouldn’t hurt to look for some friendly political consultation, especially after Funkhouser got shot down over his resolution wanting to appoint a citizen committee to write new economic development policy.
No doubt in Funkhouser and his staff’s mind they weren’t stepping on the city council’s toes, just following the citizen-oriented approach they sincerely believe in. But any poly-sci graduate student could have warned the mayor’s staff that if you seek to leave the city council out of something as important as development policy by using a citizens’ group, your naiveté is scrapping the ceiling.
Considering the majority of city council members are new, and anxious to prove themselves in order to reach beyond term limits to another elected office, there was no way in hell any council member was going to sit through meetings with a citizen group telling them what they need to do about economic development.
Reportedly, the council “wants to move fast” and it seems that Funkhouser’s desire for citizen input is in jeopardy. How he fends off this challenge may set the tone for how effective he becomes as mayor. No doubt there are members of the city council who would be happy if all he did is cut ribbons and attend prayer breakfasts.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t’ seem to be anyone on Funkhouser’s current staff with any political smarts to head-off ideas that sound good in the perfect-world of inspired citizen involvement but will crash and burn when toasted by political reality and ambition.
Among local political junkies, the only advice-giver Funkhouser has outside his wife and staff is Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah. Complaints can still be heard how it was the Star, and Abouhalkah in particular, that got Funkhouser elected, as if Abouhalkah commands the rap attention of the voting public with every tap on his keyboard.
Believing such tripe fails to understand Funkhouser’s appeal. In a word, he’s “real.” Ordinary people pick up on that, and many find they like him. They like him driving his old Toyota, pumping his own gas, loving is slightly off-center wife Gloria, freely saying his family comes first and being open to whatever just about anyone has to say to him.
His strength — political strength — is in being himself. But it’s also a liability. Professional politicians don’t easily warm to another politician being himself and some genuinely dislike another of their breed being him or herself. The reason being that most can’t be themselves and be a successful politician — or at least they believe that’s the case. It’s like wearing white socks with a tux — people notice the color but not the fit.
Funkhouser has to learn to turn his honest appeal from the citizenry into political power. He can’t do that by being a policy wonk or trying his hand at stand-up when faced with defeat.
Dig out that college-bought copy of The Prince by Machiavelli, Mr. Mayor. Intrigue and deceit are the fumes of power.
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.
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