It's a bona fide romance. Local Dems don't just woo the senator with compliments; they shower him with gifts.
Last year, major Democratic leaders hosted a fund-raiser for Bond. Mayor Kay Barnes, past and present City Council members Mary Williams-Neal, Alvin Brooks and Troy Nash as well as state Reps. Melba Curls and Yvonne Wilson lent their names and liberal reputations to the affair.
Last month, Barnes and Brooks joined local African-American leaders the Rev. Wallace Hartfield, the Rev. Earl Able and Freedom Inc. President Mark Bryant in hosting a "Community Appreciation Reception" in Bond's honor at the Peach Tree Restaurant in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. The event's invitation included a solicitation for funds.
And a week before that, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the mission of which is to improve the quality of life for African-Americans, named Bond "Difference Maker of the Decade" -- a significant honor for anyone, let alone a Republican. "They've only done that one other time," says Jason Van Eaton, director of Bond's Missouri office. The other winner was William Clark, a longtime Urban League director.
"The senator is somewhat of an anomaly," Bryant says. "African-Americans generally will vote a straight [Democratic] ticket. But in one way or another, all of us have been touched by the senator's good work. And if we were ever to split the ticket, Senator Bond ... would be at the front of the line in terms of earning that support."
But with Democrats in Congress out of power and outmaneuvered on key pieces of legislation such as the recent Medicare bill, is this any time for local liberal leaders to help a Republican return to Capitol Hill?
"We're all on needles and pins," says Wilson, who had a hard time hiding her discomfort about her appearance at Bond's fund-raiser when the Pitch asked her about it. Despite her participation, she doesn't want anyone thinking she's lost her allegiance to the party she represents. "We're concerned about the leaders of our country. Not only at the White House level but at the Congress level. We need our party to get back in control," she says. "The more Democrats we lose in government, the worse this country becomes."
But when Bond's people asked Wilson to lend her name to a fund-raiser last spring, she agreed. For her, it was just part of doing business as a state representative.
"Bond has been [in Washington] long enough to know what's under the rug," she explains. "If you are politically involved, you use the people who represent you. I use the people who are in those positions. I'm looking out for my constituents.
"Of course, he is, you know, a true Republican," Wilson adds.
Is he ever.
Though local Democrats like to think of Bond as a moderate, his record suggests otherwise. Conservative groups that rate elected officials on their floor votes regularly give high marks to Bond. The Christian Coalition has found that Bond has voted its way 80 percent of the time. The American Conservative Union is even happier with the senator (82 percent), Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum rates him at 87 percent, and the National Right to Life Committee considers him flawless (100 percent).
Meanwhile, left-leaning special-interest groups have repeatedly given Bond low grades:
· National Education Association: 27 percent
· American Civil Liberties Union: 25 percent
· AFL-CIO: 17 percent
· Americans for Democratic Action: 10 percent
· National Abortion Rights Action League: 0
· Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Congress Watch: zero
· Sierra Club: zilch
· Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: zip
· NAACP: nada
Bond cultivated these scores by spending years pushing a conservative agenda in Congress, including such recent battles as opposing measures to fully fund provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act, being among the first to rally public support for the invasion of Iraq, opposing the lifting of a long-standing ban on privately funded abortion services for women in the military, and leading the fight against tougher clean-air standards.
Local Democratic leaders, however, tend to overlook Bond's voting record and focus instead on a different statistic -- his ability to bring home money for local projects.
Across the city, one finds monuments to Bond's generosity. Downtown's Ilus Davis Park. Operation Breakthrough's dazzling, newly expanded day-care facility at 31st Street and Main. Cute, new split-level homes in blighted neighborhoods. Money for the Negro Leagues Museum and other projects in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. Money for the Samuel Rodgers Community Health Center. Money for the East Meyer neighborhood. For Blue Hills. For Vineyard. For the Mt. Cleveland neighborhood.
For years, Bond has brought home the bacon, finding millions of dollars in the federal budget to spend on urban projects in Kansas City. And that largesse has resulted in the kind of Democratic support -- particularly among African-American leaders -- that other Republicans can only envy. In his last election, Bond garnered an estimated 33 percent of the black vote in Missouri.
But similar generosity elsewhere -- namely St. Louis -- hasn't resulted in the same kind of aisle-crossing gratitude. Though Bond has also brought millions home to Missouri's eastern metropolis, he hasn't convinced Democrats there -- particularly St. Louis African-American leaders -- to look past his legislative agenda.
In fact, the Pitch has found that St. Louis Democratic leaders openly wonder: Have Kansas City folks lost their minds?
Democratic leaders in St. Louis are mystified by their Kansas City colleagues' faith in Bond. Several seemed genuinely shocked when the Pitch informed them that leaders here are not only paying Bond lip service but also helping him get re-elected by attending fund-raisers.
St. Louis community leaders appear to have an entirely different take on the man.
Repeatedly, the Pitch was told that for St. Louis black leaders in particular, one image of Bond is seared into their memories -- that of the stocky senator, then 61, pounding a podium at a suburban St. Louis hotel on election night 2000 and shouting, "It's an outrage!"
Bond was upset that a local judge had held open St. Louis polling places three hours later than usual to address a massive blunder with voter registration records. Errors purging voting rolls of inactive voters had resulted in thousands of registered voters being turned away from the polls in an area that was largely African-American.
"There was a near riot," says St. Louis Rep. William "Lacy" Clay Jr., the then-state representative who convinced Judge Evelyn Baker that legitimate voters were being turned away.
But Bond was livid, and he ridiculed the judge's decision to hold the polls open. "Can you believe that anybody would say that a Democratic election board, appointed by a Democratic governor in a Democratic city, dominated by Democrats, would try to keep Democrats from voting?" he bellowed. (Actually, by law the board is split evenly between Democrat and Republican appointees, and the board's director at the time was a Republican. And Bond himself had appointed Baker in 1983, when he was governor.)
Within days of the election, Bond urged the FBI to investigate "a major criminal enterprise designed to defraud voters."
But even if St. Louis historically is known for voting irregularities -- the dead and even pet dogs have been known to make their way onto the rolls -- Bond's histrionics struck locals as unseemly, and his accusations of widespread fraud seemed tinged with bigotry.
"I have asked him ever since then to apologize to the people of St. Louis. He never has," Clay says.
Then there's Ronnie White.
While running for re-election in 1998, Bond, black leaders in St. Louis say, privately promised them he would support the appointment of White, a prominent black Missouri jurist, to a federal judge position. (Bond later denied that he'd made this promise.) Then, shortly after he was elected with unprecedented support from black voters, he joined forces with then-Senator John Ashcroft to cast a key vote that sank White's nomination.
"He did not mislead us," the Rev. B.T. Rice, president of the St. Louis Clergy Association, told the Associated Press at the time. "He literally lied to us."
"If you lay down with snakes," declared the Rev. Earl Nance of St. Louis, "you will get bit."
Former state Rep. Louis Ford of St. Louis said, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."
"African-Americans are very upset at him," says Bernie Hayes, a columnist for The St. Louis American. And it's easy to see the difference in the newspapers that cover the black communities in the two cities. Whereas The Kansas City Call tends to run verbatim Bond's press releases crowing about the various projects he supports here, the American often sounds skeptical in its coverage of the senator's good deeds. Recently, the paper referred to him as a "highly partisan, sometimes shrill Republican."
"Yes, he has done quite a bit for [local housing projects]," Clay concedes. "But what about the other side? What about the tax cuts for the rich? What about the waste of billions of dollars to fund a war based on lies and deceit and deception? [The Republicans] have given away this country's future."
"We know his track record, and he's not fooling anybody," Hayes says. "He leaves a really bitter taste in everybody's mouth. I don't believe you're going to see any turncoats this election."
Former mayor Emanuel Cleaver told The Kansas City Star at the time that he was ³stunned² by the Ronnie White affair and that his ³spirit has been dampened considerably.² But within months, he was calling Bond ³a friend.²
Others in Kansas City believe it's counterproductive to turn against Bond because of a few disagreements.
"I respectfully disagree with those people [in St. Louis]," says Kevin Smith, Cleaver's former chief of staff, "because of the tremendous value he has brought to this state. And because of the position that he holds. I think it is something that should not be ignored.
"I'm through with partisan bickering," he adds. "I'm too old for that. That's not the way things get done today. We can agree to disagree."
To Dems in Kansas City, Bond doesn't seem like such a bad guy.
A sixth-generation Missourian, Bond was born in St. Louis in 1939 and raised in Mexico, Missouri, where he still owns property. Educated at Princeton and at the University of Virginia Law School, Bond joined then-state attorney general John Danforth's staff in the late '60s. Danforth's office was like a farm league for power -- Danforth went on to an illustrious career in the Senate, and Bond's fellow assistants John Ashcroft and Clarence Thomas climbed even higher.
Bond has lived in Kansas City several times, and his wife, Linda Pell, a political consultant for the GOP, is a native Kansas Citian.
"He gets it," says Dan Barnett, spokesman for Swope Health Services, a Bond beneficiary. "He understands it. He's a supporter of the urban core."
In the mid-'90s, Bond found $4 million in federal funds to help Swope Health Services build an impressive new Blue Parkway facility a block east of its old one. The health center provides services to low-income Kansas Citians, half of whom are on Medicaid. Most of its other patients have no health insurance. Prior to the new building's construction, Barnett says, the center was "at a standstill," unable to keep up with demand for its services.
"We're grateful," Barnett says. "And we've come through for him.... We like to think we provide him with success stories so he can turn to his fellow congressmen and say, 'This is money well spent.'"
Last year, Bond helped lead Congress to act on the Bush administration's goal of doubling the capacity of the nation's community health centers by 2005. In April, he and Sen. Ernest Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, wrote their Senate colleagues a letter urging them to support a $225 million increase to the federal budget for community health centers. The full Congress ultimately agreed on an increase of $113 million. But the money was folded into a massive appropriations bill that Congress, distracted by the energy bill, Medicare reform and the continuing war in Iraq, was unable to pass before adjourning last month.
"Kit Bond has been our hero," says Dan Hawkins, vice president for policy at the National Association of Community Health Centers.
And Bond has done more for Swope Health Services than fund its sprawling building and keep its shelves stocked with supplies. He has helped the nonprofit expand what officials there call a "holistic approach" to community health. This strategy includes rebuilding the communities where Swope's patients live.
In the early 1990s, Swope Health Services launched a redevelopment subsidiary called Community Builders of Kansas City. Today, one can see this organization's crowning achievement from the front steps of Swope Health Center: The H&R Block Service Center located a block east on Blue Parkway. This facility brought 300 full-time jobs to the southeast part of Kansas City. H&R Block is the first Fortune 500 company to locate a major facility in this predominantly black part of the city. Community Builders is now working to complement the center with 150,000 square feet of retail space.
Just to the south of Swope Health Services stands a row of attractive new town houses that sell for more than $100,000 -- an impressive development for an economically depressed area where homes typically go for less than $50,000.
Community Builders of Kansas City relies heavily on federal funds that are appropriated through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And Bond is well-positioned to help Community Builders and similar organizations get their share of this dough; he chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that shapes HUD's budget.
For the immaculate town houses south of Swope Health Services, Bond found $1.5 million.
"If there's a pot of $50 million for housing [in Washington], he's going to try to get as much of it as he can for Missouri," Van Eaton says.
That's why local Democrats are so crazy about him.
Bond has a particularly strong relationship with Cleaver, who once served on the National Democratic Committee. "The two of them are very close," says Warren Erdman, vice president of corporate affairs at Kansas City Southern and Bond's former chief of staff. "Kit puts very, very heavy weight on Emanuel Cleaver's recommendations."
During Bond's last run to reclaim his Senate seat in 1998, Cleaver, while still serving on the national committee, talked up the senator from the pulpit of the St. James United Methodist Church at 55th Street and Paseo, where he is pastor. His sermons were broadcast on the radio across the metro area.
Erdman recalls, "Mayor Cleaver said, 'I don't care if he's a Democrat or a Republican. I'm going to reach out to him.'"
"When I was working for Cleaver, they formed a strong bipartisan, nonpartisan partnership," Smith says.
The two would talk often by phone. Whenever Cleaver traveled to Washington, D.C., as mayor, he would first visit Bond.
Mayor Kay Barnes has fostered a similar relationship. "I just can't say enough good things about him," says Greg Williams, the mayor's assistant. "He and his staff do an excellent job. I talk with his local people once every couple of weeks. [During] the appropriations process, it's about once a week."
Bond's biggest score for the Barnes administration came last March, when he announced that he had secured White House support to locate a $300 million IRS facility in the old Main Post Office building south of Union Station. This will mean 6,000 new jobs in the urban core. "That kind of progress is measured in the billions," Van Eaton boasts. Cash layouts in Kansas City and St. Louis aren't enough to make some Democrats take their eyes off the big picture. "I do find it peculiar," Clay says of Kansas City Democrats' appearances at Bond's fund-raisers. "He's a key player in the Bush agenda as well as a key player in pushing more conservative positions. I'm totally opposed to the position he took on the tax cuts. They favor the rich, and they're paid for by future generations, by cutting programs our community needs."
Other St. Louis Democrats say they wonder if Kansas City leaders forget what happened to African-American communities the last time Republicans were in control and combined tax cuts with deficit spending.
Between 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected, and 1992, when George H.W. Bush was voted out (a period in which taxes were at their lowest levels since World War II), the number of blacks living below the poverty line increased 26 percent. After Bill Clinton's eight years in office, however -- during which the country experienced some marginal tax increases -- that number decreased by 26 percent. The number has been growing again since George W. Bush became president.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, African-Americans -- who, on average, earn 64 percent of what whites make -- saw their average incomes rise 10 percent while whites' incomes rose 12 percent. During the Clinton years, however, blacks' incomes rose 27 percent (compared with a 21 percent increase for whites).
"That's why Bill Clinton is so beloved by African-Americans," says David Bositis of the Washington, D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an African-American think tank. "That had never happened before."
Bositis warns that the current Republican spending spree -- "Right now, they're spending money like water" -- is about to run out. And he adds that it's no accident.
This mission is most clearly articulated by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist is widely touted as one of the nation's most influential and well-connected conservatives. He's a close friend and associate of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political advisor. Some say he's the mastermind of Bush's economic plan.
The goals Norquist has laid out in his writing, speeches and numerous encounters with the press fit perfectly with the policies that have been coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- though they aren't expressed in quite the same way.
"I don't want to abolish government," Norquist has said. "I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
He wants to reduce by half government spending as a percentage of the gross national product. What that would entail, of course, is a severe reduction of the entitlement funds Bond brings to Kansas City, for which he's so loved by local Democrats.
During the early Clinton years, conservatives such as Norquist pointed to the federal deficit, which mushroomed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, as a reason to cut government spending. With the help of a resurgent economy, Clinton and the Democrats not only eliminated the deficit but also created a budget surplus.
So conservatives switched tactics. A massive federal deficit suddenly became a good thing. "If we had a little teeny government and a big deficit, I wouldn't care," Norquist recently told The New York Times.
It's called a "starve the beast" philosophy: Cut the funds coming in until the deficit reaches a crisis. Once that happens, "the appropriators," as Bush likes to call Democrats, will be forced to choose between raising taxes (political suicide), allowing Social Security to go bankrupt just as baby boomers start retiring in 2008 (political suicide) or cutting programs for the poor.
Publicly, Bush puts a different spin on the tax cuts, calling them a way to kick-start the ailing economy. Once things improve, according to his model, plenty of money will be flowing into the U.S. Treasury, and no drastic cuts will be necessary.
Bond shares this point of view. His staffers deny that his support of tax cuts is for the cynical reasons Norquist endorses.
"He voted for the tax cuts to leave more money in people's hands," Van Eaton says. "And now we're seeing the economy bounce back. You'd be hard-pressed to find an economist who doesn't say the tax cuts had a lot to do with that."
But Peter Peterson, former commerce secretary under President Richard Nixon, recently told The New York Times Magazine, "Since 2001, the fiscal strategizing of the [Republican] party has ascended to a new level of irresponsibility."
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has warned that the spiraling deficit, which will reach $400 billion this year, will most assuredly lead to higher interest rates, which would hurt the economy more than tax cuts can help it.
If Bush and his fellow Republicans are successful in their campaign to keep the tax cuts in effect long into the future (Norquist has repeatedly said the administration intends to add more tax cuts every year Bush is in office), the deficit will become a crisis in the very near future. That's because baby boomers will begin to retire and draw on Social Security in 2008. To pay them the money they're owed, Congress will have little choice but to cut from elsewhere.
Local Democrats, however, believe that Bond will do everything he can to keep that from happening. "I think he's the type of guy who will go down fighting for the things he believes in," Smith says. "I don't think anybody can predict what's going to happen years down the road. Four years ago, you never heard the words homeland security."
Bond has already begun to fight. When he felt the budget begin to tighten this past summer, threatening the urban-development funds he hoped to deliver to Kansas City, he complained to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the numbers were too small. "We face a very tough crunch in the [HUD] allocation we've had," he told the paper. "It's the toughest situation we've faced."
As his 2004 re-election bid nears, Bond's efforts to woo Democrats will only have to intensify.
Redistricting has taken the competitiveness out of most House races, but senatorial elections continue to be very close affairs. This is especially true in Missouri. To win, Bond will have to navigate a very diverse political landscape. "Missouri is a pretty evenly divided state," Van Eaton says. "Really, it comes down to an urban-rural thing."
One of the keys to victory lies in a politician's ability to maintain a public courtship with the African-American community.
But winning black votes isn't necessarily the chief benefit of attracting the black vote. These efforts also pay off in the suburbs, where elections are really won and lost, according to Bositis.
"To win over suburban whites, particularly suburban white women, you have to appear more moderate," he explains. "And one way to do that is to reach out to the black community.
In the burbs, moderates are more open to Republicans' fiscally conservative positions. But, being for the most part college educated and enlightened, they're leery of the party's image of insensitivity regarding matters of race, Bositis says.
"Republicans don't know race," Bositis says. "Generally speaking, they can't connect with African-Americans. But they do know race in terms of how it looks to whites."
Bositis offers an example of how this works in Missouri: Jim Talent's successful run against Jean Carnahan for the Senate in 2002, a race that finished in a near dead heat. Although Talent was not popular with black voters -- less than 10 percent of African-American ballots went his way -- his highly visible courting of black votes with campaign stops in inner-city churches did pay off somewhere else -- in the suburbs, Bositis says.
"I followed that campaign very closely," Bositis says. "You'd think he was a Democratic candidate, going to all these black places."
The campaign stops drew publicity, and images of Talent glad-handing blacks were broadcast across the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas. When suburban moderates saw these images, Bositis says, they thought, He must not be a bad guy.
St. Louis leaders expect to see Bond doing the same thing when the 2004 campaign heats up.
"He'll have his hounds out probably," St. Louis American columnist Bernie Hayes says. "He thinks the key is the black preachers. He'll go to them and say we're a forgiving people."
Told of the skepticism of their St. Louis counterparts, some local leaders admit that their support for Bond is somewhat thin.
"The issues Lacy Clay has identified are good illustrations," says Mark Bryant, president of Freedom Inc. "We recognize the Republican Party gave us the tax breaks ... [but] a $200 check from the federal government [is] no substitute for state budget deficits, higher property taxes, higher sales taxes and an increasing federal budget deficit that will laden young people of color with the responsibility of pain."
State Rep. Yvonne Wilson, meanwhile, admits that she's wondered if the local appropriations Bond lavishes on Kansas City might come with strings attached. The contradiction between Republicans' recent spending on urban issues and the party's usually unfriendly stance on social programs "gives the impression that they really don't care about you, that they're not sincere."
Bryant points out that Freedom Inc. itself has not endorsed Bond. "We recognize he is a leader of the Republican Party, which, as a whole, has not been sensitive to the needs of the African-American community," he says. "I'm not sure any of us can afford not to look at the big picture."
However, Bryant still showed up at the Peach Tree Restaurant a week before Christmas. There, a slew of Kansas City Democrats were celebrating Bond, who is working toward another return to Washington -- where he would go on pushing policies that only trouble leaders like Bryant. "Sometimes small."