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Bully Pens

We're still recovering from a campaign of fear and loathing.

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It was back in December at the Heartland Muslim Council's annual dinner that Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields gave a speech on fear. The speech got more play when the National Catholic Reporter reprinted it in early February. The 1,646-word diatribe on the current culture of terror criticized TV crime shows for making murder look too common and quoted Ben Franklin, who warned that we cannot sacrifice liberty for safety. Shields was talking about society's response to terrorism, but she said something that the Strip remembered weeks later, after a measly stadium vote.

"We need leaders who will exercise political courage," Shields preached, "leaders who will calm unwarranted fears, not encourage them or capitalize on them, grandstanding for votes."

Yet fear was the No. 1 strategy that Shields, the teams and their hired guns in the Save Our Stadiums posse used to convince voters to pass a tax for stadium upgrades.

As you'll recall, the Strip wavered until the last minute on whether to vote for the stadium tax. This cranky cutlet was ready to vote no, despite unsubstantiated threats that the teams might leave. Let Las Vegas have the damned Royals, the Strip wrote on March 30. But then this meat patty melted when three guys in tattered Royals caps walked into the neighborhood bar where the Strip was drowning its disgust over the whole campaign. The town loves its teams, the Strip figured, so let 'em have their rolling roof — to hide the Royals' shameful performance on the field.

So the Strip watched last Tuesday's election results with mixed emotions.

Then it got pissed off.

You see, this bemused burger followed along in fascination as the highly strategized and titanically funded Save Our Stadiums campaign scrapped with sports talk radio and a handful of essentially broke rabble-rousers, most of whom were just average citizens with creative ways of expressing their opinions. The stadium-tax opponents weren't massively organized, and one of them — ten-time bankruptcy filer Richard Tolbert — might not be the best spokesman for an issue involving finances. But the Strip likes to watch an epic David vs. Goliath showdown as much as the next guy. Moreover, this skeptical sirloin had heard lots of regular folks complaining about the stadium deal and figured the race would at least be entertainingly close.

So when it saw the final numbers, with the $575 million tax winning by a sizable 10,254 votes, the Strip knew exactly what had gone wrong. Jackson County voters had done exactly what the Save Our Stadiums campaign had hoped.

They'd become scared.

Campaign manager Pat Gray and spokesman Steve Glorioso had used scare tactics from the very beginning, when "keep our teams" became the campaign's rallying cry. These guys were so shameless that, by the end of the campaign, they didn't even seem to mind exploiting children in an effort to scare people: "For our kids, for their kids, for the community. Keep the teams," read a big ad in The Kansas City Star on April 3, the day before the election. But the teams never said they would leave, and probably wouldn't have if the tax had failed (KC Strip, March 30).

What was it that Shields had said about calming unwarranted fears and not using them to grandstand for votes?

This meat patty guesses she was only being sarcastic with that anti-fear hooey.

Other late-in-the-game efforts to scare up support?

Near the end of the campaign, Glorioso went into overdouche to make sure the tax didn't fail. At the last minute, he tricked the press into believing that opponents were arguing that voters couldn't wear Chiefs or Royals gear to the polls. In an e-mail to the media on the Friday before the election, Glorioso reported that Shields and Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes were asking for clarification from city election officials because, he claimed, opponents "have insisted that voters displaying any insignia of either team should be blocked from voting on April 4."

He turned up the heat: "This is an outrageous suggestion by opponents of the issue that voters who may unknowingly attempt to walk into their polling place on Tuesday with a team hat or jersey be turned away. We expect election officials to respond to the Executive and Mayor by the end of the day so voters are given clear direction on what they will be allowed to wear when they vote on Tuesday."

The Star, radio and TV news stations dutifully reported that Shields and Barnes had gotten their clarification, and voters could wear their stylish Chiefs jackets and Royals T-shirts.

The funny thing was, the top sirloin of local media had spent weeks listening to endless arguments by the opposition. The Strip kept its car radio locked on sports talk. It had received plenty of "Inquiring Minds" e-mails from Craig Davis of the No! I Can't Afford It! committee as well as every installment of the Neighborhood Action Group's electronic newsletter.

And the Strip had never heard a word about any stupid team gear.

When we called up Glorioso to ask him exactly who had dared to make such an outrageous suggestion about team attire, he told the Strip that it had been anonymous callers to Shields' office and the local election board.

So the Strip called the election board, where Bob Nichols, the county's director of elections, told us what really happened: Back on March 13, one of the volunteers being trained to work a polling center asked election officials whether voters would be able to wear team insignias. In response, the election board asked its attorney for a ruling. Of course voters could wear team logos, the attorney said.

When the Strip called Glorioso a second time, he justified the last-minute logo hysteria by saying he heard a talk-radio DJ say that voters shouldn't wear logos.

"I make it a habit not to lie to the media," he said. "I might spin 'em, but I won't lie."

Besides, it was the radio jocks who really incited fear in the campaign, says Gray, the emperor to Glorioso's Darth Vader. Gray tells the Strip that local sports radio went on a daily crusade to defeat the tax. He argues that radio hosts gave opponents free air time that far surpassed the Save Our Stadiums ad buys. The worst of it, he says, was when WHB 810's Kevin Kietzman continued to claim on the air that it would cost $20 million every time the rolling roof moved between Kauffman and Arrowhead. "I don't consider Craig Davis and those guys the opposition. It was sports talk radio," Gray barked at this curious cutlet. "The only fear injected into this campaign was Sports 810 radio. They were the fearmongers."

After Kietzman's on-air complaints about the stadium tax being a bad deal, the Royals took away 810's private booth at Kauffman. But the Strip is sure that had nothing to do with hard feelings.

Gray defended his if-you-don't-vote-yes-the-teams-will-leave strategy, complaining that critics of his campaign weren't seeing the possible future. "If the tax failed today," he said the day after the election, "people would be upset that the Chiefs could be announcing they're moving to Los Angeles. They'd say, 'Oh, you didn't tell us.'"

If the opponents had talk radio, the pro-tax warlords had the Star, argues Bob Gough, a candidate to replace Shields and one of the anti-stadium voices. The problem, he laments, wasn't that the Star's editorial page endorsed the plan or that the paper's front page seemed to proclaim daily a new return-of-Jesus-like event if the tax passed. The real problem, Gough says, was that the Star continually claimed that there was no organized opposition to the tax. "The Star was wretched to us," Gough says.

Earlier this year, Gough says he and half a dozen other stadium opponents called for a meeting with the Star's metro editors to convince them that there actually was an opposition. The Star agreed to give Gough an "As I See It" guest column.

But Gough and other critics also point to the mass e-mail that the Star sent to readers a day before the April 4 vote as evidence of the paper's bias. The e-mail contained no news, just an ad with a rendering of the rolling roof and words that screamed in giant orange letters: "Vote Yes! Tuesday, April 4."

Publisher Mac Tully tells the Strip that the e-mail didn't follow the paper's guidelines on political advertisements and that the Star is reconsidering sending out such ads in the future. "Our support for the teams and the initiative was strictly on the editorial page," Tully says. "I'm proud of our coverage on the issue."

OK, then. Back to the fear campaign. In addition to everything that went on in public, the Strip was privy to plenty of behind-the-scenes bullshit; it witnessed parties on all sides behaving badly.

Not among the idiot set, however, were the three guys who went by the pseudonyms William Bucksworth, Fenton Crackshell and Wallace T. Hardcopy, the proprietors of the hilarious Save Our Owners Web site. The three dudes sarcastically pleaded with Jackson County taxpayers to send Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Royals cheapass David Glass a million mittens so that they could stay warm in case the tax failed ("Well Done, We Do Say," March 16).

They were three guys with a Web site and an opinion about the stadiums. In other words, the right to free speech and a method of expressing it. But Glorioso sent out a scary media advisory: "There is a clandestine anti-stadium group campaigning against passage of Jackson County Question #1 & 2 that refuses to identify themselves and now appear to be in violation of Missouri campaign disclosure laws," he wrote on March 13. "Are they local or maybe a group of political hit men from Los Angeles or San Antonio who covet the Chiefs?"

Ominously, he continued, "It was discovered this weekend that their opposition website was set up through a company in California. If they are local opponents then one would have to assume they know our local state laws. ANY form of organized campaigning by a group must be transparent and they must file a campaign committee no later than 30 days before the election. That deadline has passed. We cannot find any trace of them in Missouri Ethics Commission filings.... Who are they? They appear to be violating state law."

Glorioso tells the Strip he filed a state ethics complaint against Save Our Owners. And, he reveals, one of his henchwomen was able to track down the true identity of one of the three kids and called him out one night. "She went over to him and said, 'We know who you are.' He just turned around and left."

Two days after the tax passed, Save Our Owners got a thank-you message from Glorioso. "Thanks for helping us win the election," the e-mail boasted. "Public dislikes [sic] nothing more than gutless wonders who do not have the courage of their convictions and will not come out of their caves."

Apparently, winning wasn't enough. Glorioso had to throw in a little post-victory attack, too.

On election night, the piss-poor opposition gathered at a McDonald's on Prospect. Gough says they met there because it's Tolbert's regular hangout and because it sent a message about the tax going to the rich. But when TV crews showed up, the night manager refused to let them in. The crews were forced to broadcast their live shots from the parking lot of a car wash across the street.

Meanwhile, stadium tax supporters gathered for the cash bar and free ham-and-cheese sandwiches in the yurtlike Arrowhead Pavilion building at the Truman Sports Complex. Missing from the party, however, were Gray, Glorioso, Glass and Hunt. They gathered in a VIP room hidden behind thick curtains. After the results were announced, Glass and Hunt were ushered into the main room for short speeches and interviews with the TV crews. Then they were whisked away.

It was almost as if they were afraid.

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