All You Need Is Love
As the new year begins, anyone with e-mail is still snickering over Kansas City first lady Gloria Squitiro’s 2007 Christmas letter, the details of which we don’t need to repeat here.
Meanwhile, City Manager Wayne Cauthen confirms that he’s a semifinalist for the city manager’s job in Austin, Texas. Who can blame Cauthen for exploring his options after Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s bungled late-2007 attempt to force him from office? For Cauthen, it’s apparently small comfort that the City Council quickly rallied behind him. Insulted that Funkhouser had gone behind their backs in trying to fire him, the council ends 2007 by giving Cauthen a brand-new contract that will pay him around $700,000 over three years.
The first lady is undaunted. In the January 11 installment of the almost-weekly newsletter sent out by the mayor’s office, Squitiro ends with a personal note about the we-ness of it all:
“We read an excellent quote by prospective First Lady Michelle Obama that hit home with us this week. She said that her husband was going all out at becoming President this time because running for office is very difficult. She goes on to state, ‘It hasn’t beaten the life out of us yet. We need to be in there now, while we’re still fresh and open and fearless and bold. You lose some of that over time. Barack is not cautious yet; he’s ready to change the world, and we need that.’ This message spoke to us in many ways. The first being that this couple is definitely in this together, as evidenced by her speaking the word ‘we’ quite frequently. It also speaks to how I perceive Funk, as he too is fresh, open, fearless and bold. It takes these traits when one is trying to change the culture of government for the better.”
Lawsuits fly over Funkhouser’s attempted ouster of Cauthen. Minutemen member Francis Semler resigns from the parks board. Strangely, she complains that she didn’t feel enough support from Funkhouser.
In this week’s newsletter, Squitiro marches with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., even if she doesn’t quite share his gift for metaphor: “Today’s edition of USA Today spoke to the conditions on the East side of Kansas City since Dr. King’s death in 1968. The article stated that, ‘Poverty and blight have overwhelmed hopes of restoring a once-vibrant neighborhood devastated by the rioting.’… These statements speak to conditions that have plagued Kansas City for at least 40 years. They speak also to an important reason Funk ran for Mayor — to lift up the long underserved areas of our city and to make it a City That Works For Regular Folks….
“Right now Funk’s at the stage of the change that is similar to what happens when one paints a house. He’s scraped off the old paint — and the house looks worse now than it did before he started…. He’s at the stage of the paint job that comes right before you begin to apply the new coat of paint that will make the house look really beautiful. My husband, your Mayor, is doing the same thing. Right now, he’s at that really ugly stage of the change. He’s at the part right before everything begins to turn in a better direction…. So our hope, on this day, the national holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is that we join hands and hold on tight while we navigate our way through the ugly part of this change. There will, no doubt, be mistakes along the way, but with hearts that are in the right place, there will be nothing left to do but to make the long journey to reach the other side — to the really beautiful part.”
An effort to recall Funkhouser sputters out before it can get going. The mayor warns that the city may have to cut $70 million from the budget this year. He also starts pushing a regional light-rail plan.
He’s right in line with another great leader of the day, according to Squitiro’s February newsletter: “Funk went to hear Barack Obama speak at Municipal Auditorium this week…. Obama’s campaign has many parallels to Funk’s campaign, with the main similarity being that Obama appears to be a man of the people — able to draw support from both sides of the party line. This doesn’t surprise me, as it appears that our country is weary of politics as usual. People seem to want a bold leader who is willing to stand up to the heat that comes when one is making the real changes that citizens are craving.”
Also this month, it’s Squitiro’s birthday. In the personal note that ends the February 15 newsletter, she reports: “Funk arranged for the Barbershop Harmony Society to come serenade me at City Hall yesterday. I am embarrassed when my family sings Happy Birthday to me, so you can imagine how I felt to have strangers singing to me. But it was wonderful all the same. Thankfully though I have been blessed with a husband who makes it his business to let me know that I’m his Valentine every day of the year. We hope that you all have that kind of comforting presence in your life as well.”
Gary White, who replaced Funkhouser as city auditor, issues a depressing report about the city’s finances: The fund balance is dangerously low; tax-increment-financing payments to developers have grown almost 120 percent since 2005 — six times more than the growth in revenue from TIF projects; debt service payments will cost about $120 million in 2009.
Squitiro’s personal note: “We spent a nice evening with Funk’s Chief of Staff [Ed Wolf, who will flee before year’s end] and his lovely wife, Gwen, at the KC Live! Opening that Funk kicked-off Thursday evening. This was the second opening that Funk attended this week. The first was the opening of the new Sprint store downtown. As Funk was walking to the Sprint store, he was agitated that the crowds on the street were so large that it was making him late for his appearance. Or I should say, he was agitated until he realized that there were ‘crowds’ downtown, which was a wonderful sight for him to behold.”
In one proposal to solve the budget problem, Funkhouser suggests cutting the city’s $2 million subsidy to the Kansas City Zoo, infuriating animal lovers across the metro.
From the March 14 newsletter: “Funk will be in the City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Monday at 11 a.m. He welcomes all campaign supporters and volunteers to join him in walking the route. He will also appear in the Brookside St. Patrick’s Day Parade tomorrow at 2 p.m. But if the forecast plays true and it’s only 32 degrees, with blowing rain and snow, he may find this devoted wife tucked safely in her home. There’s only so much one man can expect.”
The council passes a $1.3 billion budget. The zoo keeps $600,000. City Hall is likely to see layoffs. Police Chief Jim Corwin says he won’t be able to hire new officers.
From the March 28 newsletter: “The Mayor held one last press event to stump for the budget Wednesday. He decided to convene it at the corner of 27th and Prospect, as that was the last stop on the campaign trail a year ago to the day. He did a great job, as he usually does when he is passionate about a topic…. We are filled with faith that the city is turning around for the better.”
As debate about light rail intensifies, Funkhouser strips Councilman Ed Ford of his seat as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Ford will later gripe that in Funkhouser’s City Hall, “Every day [is] take-your-wife-to-work day.”
From the May 9 newsletter: “It has been a year now that Funk has been in office. While the year has been as rocky as can be expected with a close election, Funk has been able to stand strong and make great strides in turning the city around for the better. And with the help of your prayers, our family has been able to stand strong amidst the many changes as well. My family will continue to serve our beloved guy so that he may continue to serve the city in the big way that he promised to do. Thank you again for all your prayers. Please know that we feel the power and the protection of them each and every day and are humbled by your efforts on our behalf. Thank you.”
Former employee Ruth Bates sues Funkhouser, Squitiro and the city. In a scandal already known as “Mammygate,” Bates claims racial and sexual discrimination and a hostile work environment. The allegations in the lawsuit are for mature audiences only.
The “On a More Personal Note” section of the June 14 newsletter is uncharacteristically short: “We appreciate the encouraging words of support and the prayers that many of you have sent our way this week. We appreciate them more than you can possibly imagine. Thank you.”
The Kansas City Star takes a poll and reports that several City Council members — Jan Marcason, Sharon Sanders Brooks, Cindy Circo, Terry Riley and Ed Ford — say Squitiro should leave City Hall. Three others — Deb Hermann, Beth Gottstein and Russ Johnson — say Funkhouser should at least rethink Squitiro’s role.
Bad feelings about the Power & Light District’s racist dress code escalate. Wal-Mart announces plans to take its $8 million annual convention elsewhere, citing the lack of a 1,000-room hotel near the convention center. The council passes an anti-metal-plate ordinance.
From the June 24 newsletter: “This was an incredibly busy week, with yesterday winning the prize for the most exhausting day of the week…. The Mayor started his day yesterday with a two-mile walk and then attended a meeting close to home. Then he had his typical appointments throughout the day, with the last formal gathering being a tense meeting regarding regional transit. After that, he raced up north to kick off a swim competition, then raced down south to do a town hall meeting, and then raced to midtown to honor the Alvin Ailey Campers, who were having their final performance at Paseo High School. He didn’t make it home until 10:00 p.m., at which time he answered emails until after 11. The day reminded him of the long hours he spent on the campaign trail, yet it was just another day in the life of a Mayor….
“On a More Personal Note: The other night I asked Funk where the man that used to change the light bulbs disappeared to as one of our hallway lights has been out for about a month now. He feigned no knowledge of the man’s whereabouts, until I threatened to fire the freeloader. I’m anticipating being able to see in the hallway again by the weekend.”
Kansas City loses out to Montreal when Bombardier Aerospace announces it won’t build its $375 million C Series jetliner assembly plant here. The City Council decides to put a $600 million light-rail plan on the November ballot.
On August 14, the council proposes an ordinance that would ban Gloria from working in Funk’s office.
On August 15, Funkhouser writes the newsletter instead of Squitiro.
“This ordinance is a bald-faced, mean-spirited political attack on me.
“To understand this, you only have to ask yourself one question: Why now?… You have to take into consideration everything that is happening in this administration, the progress that is being made.
“In just 14 months, we have adopted a fiscally prudent budget, a debt policy and an economic development and incentive policy, which the city never had. We’ve passed two important sales taxes — one for infrastructure and another for transportation — by historically wide margins. We’ve placed on the November ballot the best light rail proposal this city has ever seen, and we’ve made so much progress toward a regional transit system that I predict we’ll see portions of that system up and running before my first term is complete….
“Since May, I have been working with leaders from across the city to develop new ideas for economic development in the most distressed areas of our city….
“With this ordinance, some of my colleagues on the City Council are diverting attention and energy away from these efforts and toward something that has very little impact on our city.”
Squitiro, he writes, “has been essential to all of our successes” and is “the primary reason why we’ve pushed all of these big initiatives in such a short period of time. Because the biggest, most unique contribution she makes is to constantly push me to keep moving forward on my agenda.”
He calls her “your standard elected official’s spouse: the driving force behind the leader. What makes us most unique is that we don’t hide it. We don’t pretend that she’s just an adornment to my public life, someone who surfaces now and then to smile at a banquet. Instead, we are who we are: a man and woman who have been deeply in love and partnership for 29 years, and who will continue to be so for 30 more, should we have the grace to live so long.”
A week later, in the August 23 newsletter, Squitiro sniffs out the real cause of the furor: “It would appear that a lot of people are asking the question of why Funk and I would choose to have me serve as Funk’s personal assistant at City Hall instead [of] having me do the same work for him from home, but the reality is that most of the ordinary people aren’t the ones asking the question, the media are.”
For most regular folks, she writes, “It doesn’t matter to them whether the First Lady is at City Hall serving their Mayor or doing the same work for him from home. They just want their Mayor to get the work done. They just want him to right the ship that they call home, just like he promised them that he would do. Just like he is doing, every day of the week.”
After 21 homicides in just this month alone, it starts to look like this year might be as violent as 2005 (the worst so far this decade). Funkhouser, Corwin and other leaders hold a press conference.
The volunteer ordinance passes. Funkhouser vetoes it. The council overrides his veto. Squitiro files a response to Ruth Bates’ lawsuit, denying each allegation. Funkhouser holds a press conference to emphasize his main priorities for the rest of the year: crime prevention, economic development, transit and education. Chief of Staff Ed Wolf throws in the towel.
From the September 15 newsletter: “Just to be clear: I do not ‘volunteer’ for the City of Kansas City. The title of First Lady was handed to me the moment that my husband was elected Mayor. My only role in his office has been to serve my husband as his personal assistant, so that he can better serve the residents of our city….
“While the Mayor’s hours are long, Funk knows exactly how to get the job done. His Policy Agenda is taken directly from his 18 years of work while serving as the City Auditor. And while my hours are long as well, I too know exactly how to get my job done as I’ve got 30 years of experience being married to him….
“Even with the added burden of this ordinance, Funk has never stopped working on the real issues that matter to you the most: streets, codes, cops and kids…. Funk is aware that this type of turmoil is not only normal, but is to be expected any time great changes are taking place. Because of this knowledge, he is not discouraged and he hopes that you aren’t either. He could choose to sit down and shut up. That might make a little of this ugliness go away. But if he did that, the opportunity for great changes would also go away.
“The good news is that Funk has already gotten much accomplished — the foundation has been laid for many of the changes that both you and he want to see come to fruition. Even with the darkness that surrounds the intent of this ordinance, it is an exciting time for Kansas City. Great things are being accomplished rapidly….
“Thank you for hanging in there with us. Thank you, too, for all the love, prayers and support that you have showered our family with. We couldn’t have gotten by without it. As always, Funk promises to stay true to you.”
Funkhouser, once no fan of a light-rail starter line, campaigns full steam for the starter line on the November 4 ballot. News breaks that the Funk-Squitiro Brookside home is now an occasional City Hall annex, allowing the banned Squitiro to take part in staff meetings.
Obama wins. Light rail loses. Citizen-satisfaction survey scores, which measure Kansas Citians’ happiness with city-provided services, plummet. Funk sues to overturn the volunteer ordinance. Against Squitiro’s will, her insurance company settles her part of the Bates lawsuit.
From the November 13 newsletter: “On a More Personal Note: I have been reading a book that my husband read 40 years ago — the story of Malcolm X. It is strange to be reading this now with President-Elect Obama having just won the election. Malcolm X was a visionary change-maker, who in his day was hated by the establishment, but loved by the people. I cannot help thinking that if Malcolm X caved to the intense pressure that he received in his time — pressure to sit down, shut up, play nice and come across more appropriately — then President-Elect Obama would not be standing where he is today. There have been many occasions in my lifetime where I have silently said a prayer of thanks to the women who came before me. Because it is only through their efforts that my daughter and I enjoy the rights that we have today. Today, I find myself saying many silent prayers throughout the day to people like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi [sic], and Malcolm X, for they are some of the change-makers that made it possible for this country to have made history last week.”
December 1: Funkhouser and Squitiro defend their love to a curious nation on Good Morning America. Squitiro says she’s an Italian from Long Island, New York, “and that’s a little different to the more reserved people here in Kansas City.”
December 2: Funk and Gloria defend their love again on FOX & Friends. Funk calls the volunteer-ordinance controversy a distraction that his opponents are using to keep him from moving forward. Gloria adds: “I think it’s maybe even a little bit more than that. Hillary paved the way for Michelle in office, so that Michelle can sit where she wants to sit in the West Wing. Maybe it just hasn’t filtered through to the Midwest that political wives are out of the closet now.”
December 5: After giving a sworn deposition in the Bates lawsuit — and being, in Gloria’s words, “finally free to provide you with an explanation of his side of the story” — Funk issues a very long press release that slams Bates, saying her lawsuit was “sensationalized beyond any of the merits of the case.” He adds, “Gloria and I have been victimized by this unfortunate situation,” and blames Bates for “an abuse of a friendship.”
From the newsletter: “On a more personal note: Thank you for waiting, over a full year now, for us to make it through the judicial process and to at long last be able to explain this situation to you. We have been fortified by your prayers and your continued faith in us.”
Official word comes that the country is in recession.
From the newsletter: “Thankfully, the Mayor saw this coming and has been preparing for it…. [T]he Mayor feels that right now, nothing matters more to our government than our City’s financial health. He knows that if we don’t take care of city finances, then we can’t deliver on city services. This is one of the main reasons that he ran for mayor, to shore up Kansas City’s finances and to help guide us through the anticipated tough times.”
The city’s budget for ’09 looks worse than this year’s. Funkhouser convenes a forum on financial preparedness with community leaders, the council and other experts.
On a more personal note, Squitiro writes, “We hope that the upcoming holiday season is filled with the love of family and friends.”
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