By DAVID MARTIN
Warning that anti-light rail TV ads were coming, Councilman Russ Johnson this afternoon stepped up criticism of James B. Nutter Sr., the mortgage banker Johnson accuses of being the "lone financier" of the opposition to the transit question on the November ballot.
Citizens for Light Rail issued a press release yesterday in which Johnson, who chairs the city's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Nutter was hiding his involvement in what Johnson termed a "misleading campaign" against the 14-mile starter route. Billboards have popped up around town calling the plan a billion-dollar "experiment."
Today at City Hall, Johnson called for Nutter to come out from behind the curtain and take responsibility for funding the campaign. "The public deserves better," Johnson said.
Nutter has a history of funding the opposition to light-rail proposals in Kansas City. But this time, other traditional light-rail foes have indicated their support (the Chamber of Commerce) or neutrality (the Heavy Constructors Association) of the current plan, feeding speculation that Nutter is the money behind the billboards. Johnson said today that he's aware of actors who were asked to appear in anti-light rail commercials.
The pro-light rail side is upset that Committee for Sensible Transit, to which Nutter has donated in the past, has filed as an exploratory committee, not a regular campaign committee. Exploratory committees don't have to report receipts of donations of $5,000 or greater within 24 hours, as Citizens for Light Rail has had to do. "The bottom line is, they're not disclosing where they got the money," Johnson said today.
Nutter has denied involvement. He told The Kansas City Star yesterday that he had not given "one dollar" to anti-light rail campaign.
"Yes, he is opposed to light rail," George Lopez, a VP at Nutter's mortgage company, told me today. "But as of now he's not involved."