The Strip hunkered down with county exec candidate Richard Tolbert and local NAACP vice president Rosa James. Suddenly, activist Ron Hunt breezed in. Rings sparkled from the hand in which he held his cell phone. He ordered and stood next to our table to tell a story about his recent trip to Washington, D.C.
To this inquisitive sirloin, Hunt's tale was a value meal of juicy Capitol details.
Hunt went to D.C. for a National League of Cities summit on after-school programs. He had just finished reading Dreams From My Father, by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. So before leaving, he asked U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver if he could hook him up with Obama. "Cleaver has been with me through the darkest hours of my life," says Hunt, a member of Rev. Cleaver's flock. "So I scheduled a meeting with Cleaver for Tuesday, and he was supposed to hook me up with Barack."
But Hunt says he felt unwelcome when he got to Cleaver's office. An aide told him that Cleaver had been called to vote on an immigration bill and then had an appointment to preach. Cleaver finally came out, but the former Kansas City mayor seemed hurried. "So I helped him," Hunt recalls. "I said, 'That's OK ... where's this man's office at?'"
Cleaver pointed to a building on the horizon. "He didn't say, 'Can I take you over there?' or 'You need a [security] clearance to get over there?' So I say, 'Just go on back to Congress or back to church,' and I turned and I walked away.
"I walked over to the Capitol, brokenhearted in my spirit," Hunt continued. "I felt a rock in my stomach. But I refused to be denied." At the building, armed guards told him he needed clearance to get in. He turned to walk away, but one called him back, wrote him a note, and told him to go ahead to Obama's office. There, one of Obama's aides said meeting Obama was impossible without an appointment.
Hunt took an elevator down, but instead of dropping him at the lobby, it took him to a sub-basement. A guard told him that he wasn't where he was supposed to be. Hunt explained that he was looking for Obama. The guard pointed to the subway rail that runs underneath Capitol Hill and said, "If he comes, he's going to come off that rail right there." As Hunt walked toward the rail line, a train approached.
"And Trent Lott walks off the subway," Hunt said.
The Strip had to interrupt Hunt here. The Trent Lott? The Mississippi good ol' boy forced to resign as Senate majority leader in 2002 for lamenting that segregationist Strom Thurmond had never been elected president?
Hunt ran up to introduce himself and told Lott that he liked what he stood for. Hunt explained that he was a community activist from Kansas City and that Cleaver was supposed to introduce him to Obama. Lott said, "Oh, really? Well, come on.'"
Lott took Hunt on the subway. Soon enough, they were on the floor of the Senate. "He told the guards that I'm with him," Hunt said. "I see Sen. McCain. I see all the big boys that's running stuff. The guy took me straight to Barack." Obama invited Hunt back to his office and invited him back the following day. "He and I sat down and had coffee for about 30 minutes." Obama gave Hunt his cell-phone number and a turquoise slip of paper with a gold seal. Security clearance.
"It was like a love affair. I fell in love with him," Hunt said.
And he fell in love with Lott. "Even this right-wing conservative, racist as he is, did something that my own pastor didn't have time to do. I like the guy for that." They may disagree on subjects such as affirmative action, but Hunt said he agrees with Lott that blacks have ignored the Republican Party for too long, Hunt said.
"The Democrat hasn't done nothing for us," Hunt said. "The Democrat has used us. When you look at a pancake, you don't just put the batter on there and when it's done under there, you eat it. It would taste pretty bad. So you flip it over. At least three times. So you listen to both sides of the story. Whoever supports our agenda, which is education, that's who I'm voting for."
When Hunt returned to Kansas City, he brought a snapshot of himself with Obama to the office of Kansas City newspaper The Call. The photo ran on page three of the June 2-8 edition with a caption that read in part: "The meeting was made possible by 'God and Senator Trent Lott, Senator of Mississippi.'"
"Did you pay to get that in?" asked Tolbert, from his seat at the McDonald's table.
"Twenty-five dollars. I paid my money," Hunt said and laughed. He explained that in The Call, "everybody pays for everything, yeah." He added, "That's business, I guess. I don't know too many papers that do those things for free."
This curious cutlet wanted to know more about this pay-to-print policy and rang The Call's managing editor, Donna Stewart. Stewart wouldn't comment, but her assistant explained quickly that the paper charges for community announcements.
Hunt didn't have to pay the Pitch to retell his story. But if he wishes, he can make a contribution to the few open bar tabs around town that this sauced-up steak would like to settle.