Kansas City Strip

A crisis of the constitution: Who had the worst manners on election night? From among the many, many candidates, we’ve selected Kansas Representative Dennis Moore, who took his concession phone call from challenger Phill Kline live on television.

KMBC Channel 9’s cameras had doggedly pursued Moore as he made his very poky way through the crowd — but when Moore reached the podium he was called away to take a phone call. Channel 9 kept broadcasting while Moore stood at the edge of the stage and the crowd shushed itself — was it Kline conceding, as everyone there (and at Channel 9) assumed, or was it just some campaign lackey calling to say that the pizzas would be late, as we at Pitch Weekly hoped? Still holding the phone to his ear, Moore arrogantly strolled back to the podium, said, “Thanks, Phill,” into the microphone, then launched into his victory speech — waiting until the end to note that the call had in fact been from Kline.

By contrast, the best election behavior had been the previous Sunday night at the Cabaret, where a whole slate of Democrats, fresh from a gospel rally at St. Stephen Baptist Church, danced around in the audience collecting money for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Among those instructed by the drag queen Flo to shake their booties for dollar bills — and gay votes — were Congresswoman Karen McCarthy and Missouri House candidates Meg Harding, Jenee Lowe, and Marsha Campbell (all of whom won their elections).

Who cared about etiquette on Tuesday night, anyway? We’re just sore we lost the limelight to Florida. Sure, Missouri made history by electing a dead man to the United States Senate. But a mere 40,000 votes (out of 1.3 million) kept the satellite trucks out of our state. Just think what would have happened if Al Gore had squeaked out a Missouri victory by only a couple hundred votes. It would have been chaos in the streets — with a crazed and venomous Kit Bond leading the fray.

“I’m here to tell you I’ve seen this fraud before!” Bond howled at a Republican rally at the Marriott West hotel near St. Louis, shortly after learning that Democrats had successfully lobbied a judge to extend the polling hours. “This election is too important to allow the Democratic machine in the city of St. Louis to steal!” He pounded the podium, grimaced, and mussed up his hair like some angry pol from the 1930s. “We are not going to stand for it!”

Our suddenly rage-aholic senator had a point. Cheating the clock is far more threatening to democracy than a bunch of bronzed geezers who were confused by their ballots. But the rest of the world will never know. Our fellow Americans could barely muster a chad’s worth of interest two days later when Bond followed through on his promise by calling for a federal investigation into voting irregularities in St. Louis. It seems Jim Talent versus Bob Holden is hardly the stuff of a national super-scandal.

The loss of our turn in the media circus is all the more painful when we consider how Gore could have won here. Knowing Missouri is a bellwether state, he and his famous supporters paid numerous visits to Kansas City in the weeks leading up to the election. On the day before the voting booths opened, Martin Sheen, Rob Reiner, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus flew in for a Democratic call to arms at the Uptown Theater. Earlier that day, former housing secretary Henry Cisneros showed up with Bianca Jagger. Apparently, she’s still pining for the White House lawn.

But this last-minute rush was best defined by the person who didn’t show up until the last minute.

A little before 10 a.m. on election day, KPRS 103.3’s receptionist, Pam Caponetto, got a call from the White House. The person on the line said Bill Clinton wanted to be patched through to preach about the importance of voting. She was starstruck: “I was thinking, ‘Wow!'”

Sean Tyler, star of the station’s Breakfast Brothers and Company morning show, fielded the call. He says he wasn’t nervous — after all, that same morning he’d taken a similar call from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who sang along to DMX‘s “Party Up.” Tyler tried to get the president to do the same, but all Clinton wanted to do was chat. “He was just a nice, genuine guy,” Tyler recalls.

So Tyler flipped on the mic and made the introduction, telling listeners the president was on the line to encourage Kansas Citians to get out and cast their votes for “Democrats or Republicans.”

“We DJs are not allowed to voice an opinion,” Tyler explains, “so I had to be nonpartisan.”

But Clinton was stumping for his man. He rambled off a litany of his administrations’ accomplishments over the past eight years — the creation of 22 million jobs, an unemployment rate that’s been cut in half, the lowest unemployment rate for African-Americans and Hispanics in history, the lowest inflation and highest wage increases since the ’60s. “If you want this to continue,” he said, “then you have to vote for Al Gore.”

The speech caused the crew at KPRS to pause and wonder. “We had a conversation afterward,” Tyler says, “and we were all saying if Bill Clinton had been allowed to be up front and go out and speak on behalf of Gore we probably wouldn’t have been in the situation we’re in right now.”

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