In one dimly lit suite, Jackson County legislators Victor Callahan and Bill Petrie hunker down in a far corner, sucking on fat cigars. Smoke swirls around them as they swig from sweating cans of Coors. Deeply engrossed in conversation with a few other men, they sit for the better part of an hour.
Close allies, the two have made no secret of their almost rabid dislike for County Executive Katheryn Shields.
Just a month and a half earlier, the two publicly fumed that pro-labor candidates had filed to run against them; they accused Shields of conspiring with AFL-CIO President Bridget Williams to try to oust them. Callahan, president of the legislature, is Shields' biggest foe.
Later, when Shields arrives, she barely even glances into the room where Callahan and Petrie sit. Wearing a matching taupe shirt and pants, her arm in a sling from recent bone surgery, Shields strides into the hotel, her blue eyes glistening. Her husband, attorney Phillip Cardarella, hovers by her side, expertly playing the role of doting political spouse.
The two work the rooms, Shields smiling broadly, shaking hands firmly and laughing assertively at the right moments while Cardarella tosses in self-deprecating humor. Someone jokingly asks Shields whether she broke her arm in a scuffle with Callahan. Someone else asks her husband if he did it.
"Yeah, right! I'd have been carried out on a stretcher!" Cardarella calls out with an impish grin.
Cardarella knows to make light of Shields' reputation for being domineering and aggressive. During disagreements with county legislators, she hurls sharp zingers and laughs haughtily; sometimes she shows her disapproval by folding her arms across her chest and glaring. Shields says she is simply a strong woman and that some men can't handle it. But Shields didn't win two terms as Jackson County executive -- and isn't poised to win a third -- on toughness alone. In Jackson County politics, a good-ol'-girl network is alive and well and working for Democrats.
On November 5, if Shields wins a third term as county executive -- a position she's held since 1995 -- it will be a Jackson County first.
For most of its 175-year history, the county was governed by a triumvirate of judges -- Harry Truman was one of them. In 1970, though, voters did away with that system, creating the elected position of county executive, a sort of CEO for the county. The executive appoints all county department heads and oversees assessments, tax collections, purchasing and other daily operations -- all of the county's mundane business.
But the position is supremely important to local party politics. "County executive is clearly the most important partisan position out there," says Dale Neuman, a retired professor and former chair of the political science department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who still conducts research on American politics, elections and voting. "If she appoints the head of the Jackson County jail, somebody's got to get the contracts for food and the contracts for bed linens. If she appoints the head of public works, somebody's got to get the contract to plow roads in the wintertime ... there's a lot of power there in terms of appointment of key personnel, recommending to the legislature certain plans and programs, guaranteeing that business comes the way of your political supporters and so on."
Although management skill -- not liberal politics -- may be the most important attribute for successfully running a large county day to day, local voters have never elected even a moderate Republican to the position.
But Shields' administration has been fraught with allegations of patronage as well as mistakes and bad press.
Notorious sniping between Shields and Callahan has prompted newspaper columnists to scold the two as if they were children and to beg for an end to petty bickering.
Shields has called Callahan "a sick man" and yelled that he's a "dictator." She's accused the men on the legislature of being "sexist" and has stormed out of legislative meetings in the middle of arguments.
Callahan has called Shields an "organ grinder" and has described a former county counselor as "her monkey."
Shields has been criticized for giving her friends plum county jobs. In her first week as county executive in 1995, Shields clashed with Callahan over her first top-level appointments. Shields had named the manager of her political campaign, Janet Colt, as the county's manager of administration. She also gave Colt's son, Stephen Covell, a job as director of management information systems. Legislative auditors for the county say Covell made a disastrous countywide software purchase that led to major tax-bill problems in 1999 and 2000.
Shields appointed County Counselor Jane McQueeny, who has spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money fighting citizen open-records requests made by the family of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen ("Cemetery Plot," May 16). McQueeny and Shields had become friends when the two worked together in the county counselor's office in the 1980s. In 1998, Shields named her close friend Bob Beaird as county prosecutor, defending her choice by calling him the "best qualified candidate." In 2000, Shields tried to create a position for Renee Paluka, then chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, who had once been represented by Cardarella. Paluka would have earned more than $56,000 to plan Jackson County's anniversary celebration. The legislature put the kibosh on that.
Legislative auditors complain that they've been unable to get their hands on government records. In 1998, the county was late sending out more than 470,000 personal-property-tax bills to Jackson County residents. In 1999, more than 14,000 residents received late personal-property-tax bills. In 2000, the county's assessment department sent out incorrect tax bills to the owners of more than 118,000 vehicles. The county had to pay $450,000 in refunds to residents who had paid too much, and in January 2001 Shields fired assessor Bob Boley -- whom she still has not replaced. This year, more than 20,000 taxpayers received incorrect personal-property-tax receipts.
Also this year, a Missouri Tax Commission report found that, by underassessing commercial and residential properties in eastern Jackson County, the county had shortchanged schools of millions of dollars in expected revenue. The state got involved after acting assessment director Ed Severeid quit his job and released several reports blasting the assessment department. The state's report also criticized Shields for not hiring a permanent assessment director after she fired Boley, saying that without a new director the department faces "a very real risk ... of gradual deterioration."
During press conferences and meetings of the County Legislature, Shields defended herself against criticisms in the Severeid reports. She accused her political opponents of using the former acting director of assessment to discredit her before elections. "The reports are clearly politically motivated," she said at one press conference. "They are filled with inaccurate and misleading generalities. Frankly, it's time for Mr. Severeid to put up and shut up." Then she claimed that Callahan had told one of her employees, "If your boss would get out of the race, these reports would go in the trash can where they belong."
When Shields was elected county executive in 1994, James Fitzpatrick of the Star wrote, "Besides tough and pragmatic, other words frequently used to characterize Shields, the politician, are 'negotiator,' 'communicator,' and 'consensus builder.' If she lives up to those characterizations, relations between the county executive and the County Legislature should be better than they have been in years.'"
That prediction was way off. After eight years, Shields has mostly become known for her feuds with the legislature.
"I think she is unquestionably the worst county executive in the history of Jackson County," says Callahan, who is leaving the legislature after his current term. "The county does some very basic functions: records and tax collections. And she just completely bungled that."
The biggest threat to Shields' reign as county executive, Neuman says, would have come from within her own party. Democrat Callahan and company might have parlayed her administration's cost overruns, computer fiascoes and assessment problems into a successful challenge in the August primary by another highly qualified Democrat. But the only Democratic challenger who came forward, State Senator Ronnie DePasco, was forced to drop out of the race well before the primary, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Shields' Republican challenger in the November 5 election is her political polar opposite. Pat Kelley, who's been term-limited out of the State Legislature after sixteen years representing the 47th District in Lee's Summit, is a United Methodist minister who strongly opposes abortion and belongs to conservative organizations like the Promise Keepers (a group in which Shields' subservient husband, Cardarella, would most likely feel extremely unwelcome).
By most accounts, Kelley doesn't have much chance of winning the executive race in staunchly Democratic Jackson County. But Jackson County voters are annoyed about their incorrect tax bills.
"Something bizarre could happen in the next few weeks," allows Neuman. "My guess is that Shields will remain county executive until she chooses not to be," he says.
Over the years, by passionately championing issues Democrats care about, Shields has been able to win loyalty from diverse groups within the Democratic Party. Her idealistic supporters seem so happy to have a candidate who espouses their political views that they forgive practical matters such as tax mistakes.
As a child, Shields led a sheltered life, growing up on a 30-acre farm in Parkville. The youngest child and the only girl, Shields remembers learning how to stand up for herself in tussles with her four brothers.
"I always had the concept that if you wanted something, you were gonna have to fight for it," she says. But even as scraps with the boys were molding her bulldog personality, she was being schooled in an unspoken family rule: Women don't have careers. "In my family, all the women were teachers, and when they got married, they quit teaching," she says.
The family was Baptist, and Shields watched her mother flit from one church event to another, volunteering in her time off from cooking, housekeeping and raising the kids. Her dad, who worked for U.S. Cold Storage as a stationary engineer -- a technician who regulated the heating and cooling systems in food warehouses -- was a member of union Local 8, and taught his kids about the importance of workers' rights. Before his daughter was born, he'd crushed his hand in a machine on the job, and his fingers never worked properly again. "There was no workman's compensation, but because he was a skilled laborer, the supervisor basically said, 'When you're better, you can come back to work and you'll have a job waiting for you,'" Shields recalls. That made an impression.
Shields never wandered far from home. In the early 1960s, she enrolled at UMKC, where she worked toward a bachelor's degree in history. Like her female relatives, she was planning to become a teacher. She joined the debate team, where she partnered with young Cardarella, a fellow Kansas City native.
Cardarella -- who would become her husband thirteen years later -- was drawn to Shields' intellect. "She was very quick and very smart," he says. "I think brains are sexy."
Cardarella was a card-carrying ACLU member and Shields an uncompromising feminist. Along with other friends from UMKC, including fellow debater John Williams (now a Kansas City municipal judge), the two would later become players in Jackson County's Democratic political machine.
Shields received her master's degree in 1968. She joined the National Organization for Women and the local chapter of the Women's Political Caucus. She took a job at Planned Parenthood, then located in Kansas City's urban core at 30th and Troost. She traveled around the community giving talks on birth control.
The following year, she accepted a position with a federally funded job-training program at an office just down the street at 30th and Prospect. In the five years she spent working there as a counselor, Shields says she "grew up a lot."
Two clients in particular taught the naïve yet book-smart 22-year-old about life.
Shields was assigned a client who worked as a prostitute. She talked to Shields about how her pimp controlled her life and how she wanted to find another way to make a living.
The woman heeded Shields' urging and stopped selling sex, but then her pimp murdered her. "She made a pretty dramatic decision to change her life, and she paid a very high price for that," Shields recalls. "And when I was sitting there talking to her, with my background, I just had no idea of what the consequences might be for her. And so I think it made me aware that you can't, in a frivolous way, toss out platitudes. You can reach out and offer help, but you really can't even begin to know what kind of situation somebody might be in."
Another client, a young thief, gave Shields a spiel about wanting to go to college and better himself. But as he grew to trust Shields and open up to her, he admitted he didn't want to change. "He basically said, 'Look, I'm happy with my life. If I want fish, I go steal fish. If I want a steak, I go steal a steak. My life is good. I'm only here because my parole officer says I have to.'" Shields talked to him about avoiding jail, but he bragged that he could "do two years standin' up." She had to accept that he wasn't going to turn his life around. A few years later, she found out that the young man, startled by a night watchman while holding up the New York Bakery & Delicatessen, had murdered the guard. He went to prison.
Those situations -- opposite sides of the same dilemma -- taught Shields about the difficulties of solving social problems but strengthened her politics as a progressive Democrat. "You can give people opportunities, but it's up to them whether they take it or not, and then you never know what will result from somebody following in the direction you're trying to lead them," she says.
In the political climate of the late '60s, amid the civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements, Shields got fired up. She became vehemently pro-choice.
In 1972, Shields and other members of the Women's Political Caucus took pro-Equal Rights Amendment lobbying efforts to Missouri legislators. "I had my little knit dress with my little collar that I thought was so very appropriate for going to Jeff City," she says, laughing.
But when she and other just-out-of-college women visited the hotel bar at the Ramada Inn and other political hangouts, earnestly trying to sell equality for women, their prim attire didn't dissuade some lecherous legislators from hitting on them.
"There was this assumption that if you were there, it was because you were interested in becoming physically involved with elected officials," Shields says grimly. "The men were very much an old-boys' club and very sexist in their opinions of what women ought to be doing. From that experience, I realized we needed a different type of elected official. They needed to be people who saw women as equal participants in American society."
To that end, in 1974 Shields worked on the campaigns of three women who were running for State Legislature -- Della Hadley, Dottie Dahl and Doris Quinn were known as the Three Ds. Though it was still unusual for women to run for office, all three were elected. Filled with twentysomething optimism, Shields was convinced that passage of the ERA was near.
Karen McCarthy -- who is now a U.S. representative -- was also in her twenties and working to get women elected. "We go way back," McCarthy says of her friendship with Shields. "We started with really grassroots work -- registering voters, working the polls. Even within our own party, we really had to make our own way." In 1976, a 28-year-old McCarthy was the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Missouri General Assembly, and she ended up serving with the Three Ds in the State Legislature. "Katheryn, as she came forward, dealt with the same things," says McCarthy. "We were really breaking new ground for women."
An academic at heart, Shields was physically and emotionally exhausted from her five years at the job-training program, and she decided in 1975 to go to law school at UMKC. School had come so easily to her in the past; this time it would provide a break from working life. In law school, she befriended the similarly fiery Marsha Murphy, who would later precede Shields as county executive and have similar conflicts with the County Legislature. The two became chums.
As she was nearing graduation, her then-boyfriend, Cardarella, had returned from law school at Notre Dame and was working with close friend Bob Beaird at the powerful downtown Quinn & Peebles law firm, which was notorious for defending mob boss Nick Civella and other underworld characters. Cardarella secured Shields a clerkship at the firm, where she worked for less than a year before passing the bar exam. Shields became close friends with Beaird as well and would later appoint him county prosecutor.
After graduating from law school in 1978, Shields worked on the campaign of an associate-circuit judge. It was the last year circuit court judges were elected in Jackson County. She remembers being considered "rogue" by the Committee for County Progress (an influential Democratic political group formed in 1964 with the goal of reforming Jackson County government) by campaigning for the underdog candidate -- who went on to win his election.
Shields and Cardarella half-jokingly say they reserve their personal life for nonelection years -- such as 1979, when they finally married. Although Shields insists Cardarella loves to "play politics" as a form of male bonding with his buddies, he has honed his public image as an endearingly devoted husband and campaign worker to Shields. He explains the couple's drawn-out courtship with a modest chuckle, saying, "I guess I had to be molded into something worth having."
In 1982, while her husband was busy with a county-executive race to elect Bill Waris (who is often linked politically to Callahan and former Independence City Councilman and felon John Carnes), Shields found herself involved in an issue that would begin to define her as a political player: the campaign of Alan Wheat for U.S. Representative for the 5th District.
It was an exciting race that attracted a slew of candidates from both parties. The retiring congressman, Dick Bolling, had been in office for more than thirty years. No African-American had ever prevailed in such a large white-majority district, and Wheat was young and unprepared, Shields recalls. But she loved his progressive politics and wasn't happy with the other candidates' positions on the issues, so she urged Wheat to hurry up and create brochures and signs and start shaking hands.
"He asked her to help," Cardarella says. "And she thought, well, we'll go see if we can lick a few stamps, seal a few envelopes. And within a few weeks, she was running a congressional campaign. She was putting in eighty-hour weeks. The only person working harder on that campaign was Alan Wheat."
Shields' strategy was a simple one. An outgoing and forward person, she called all the progressive Democrats she knew in the district and asked them to hold teas, cocktail parties and brunches for Wheat. When Wheat won by only 1,000 votes, he invited Shields to move to Washington, D.C., and work on his staff. But she preferred to stay in Jackson County political circles.
Meanwhile, Cardarella's candidate, Waris, had won the county executive seat, and he had named as county counselor John Williams, Cardarella's and Shields' close friend from their days on the UMKC debate team. Williams called Shields and asked her to work for him in the counselor's office. After a failed bid for the City Council, Shields worked in the county executive's office for a few years before joining Cardarella in private practice.
After that stint, she decided to make another try for City Council, running from the 4th District At Large. Her opponent was Jerry Fogel, whom Cardarella calls "the anointed candidate of the establishment." Others were not eager to run against him. Fogel was a former Hollywood actor whose credits included the role of a military commander in the 1970 World War II movie Tora! Tora! Tora! and, among other bit television parts, Police Officer No. 2 in an episode of the '70s sitcom Chico and the Man. After coming to Kansas City, he became an AM talk-radio host. "He was sort of our local Ronald Reagan -- a very articulate, charismatic guy," Cardarella says.
Working with volunteers, Shields and Cardarella dispatched 80,000 pieces of targeted mail from their living room. With Cardarella and her brother Don Shields working on the campaign, Shields swept by with more than 60 percent of the vote in that 1987 election. Shields would win a second term in 1991.
Serving on the City Council, Shields found a showcase for her liberal politics -- and that helped her start winning loyalty from Kansas City's progressives as well as from traditional Democrats.
One battle endeared her to gays and lesbians. During her first term, members of the Human Rights Ordinance Project approached her with a proposal to change the city's human-rights ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and disability. The activists wanted to include sexual orientation and HIV status. Shields bluntly told them she didn't think there would be enough support on the council. But they assured her that then-Councilman Emanuel Cleaver had promised them it would pass.
Kansas City residents hashed out their feelings about the amendment in a grueling public-comment session. Shields remembers that most of its proponents were "loving, rational people," while many opponents came across as either bigoted or mentally unstable -- like the woman who showed up with a frying pan with its lid stuck on, claiming that "the gays" had chased her from San Francisco and broken into her house, and that the pan lid proved it.
Difficulties arose, Shields says, when other African-American ministers showed up and "really beat up on Cleaver." She says Cleaver asked her to let the amendment die quietly in committee. "I said, 'You know, Emanuel, you are the one who told them it would pass. You were the one who got their hopes up. I'm not going to let it die in committee. If you want to kill it, you kill it.'"
Cleaver voted the amendment back to committee, where it died. After the next election, though, human-rights ordinance backers were able to drum up enough support to get the new council to amend the ordinance. They had Shields' backing, something they haven't forgotten a decade later.
"Katheryn Shields was our staunchest supporter," says Jon Barnett, who served as codirector of the Human Rights Ordinance Project. "She never backed out or backed down."
Shields' supporters in the gay and lesbian community consider her outspoken support of their issues far more important than tax-bill snafus. "It is rare for a politician, especially in the Midwest, to be so consistently outspoken, to be such a voice for equality in issues that affect the gay and lesbian community," says Calvin Williford, vice president of KC Pride, a gay and lesbian Democratic club.
Shields also ingratiated herself to the arts community by championing enforcement of a little-known city ordinance calling for 1 percent of the money for any city building project to be spent on art. At the time, the city was in the process of expanding the American Royal and Bartle Hall and building the new police communications center.
As a result, Robert Morris' striking "Bull Wall" depicts steamy beasts stampeding in front of the American Royal, R.M. Fischer's space-age "Sky Stations" hover atop Bartle Hall, and Terry Allen's "Modern Communication" -- a statue of a man with a tie blowing over his eyes, fingers in his ears and a shoe in his mouth -- sends a message to everyone walking past the police department's communications center at 11th and Locust. The latter two works were highly controversial when they were installed in the mid-'90s, but the "Sky Stations" have since become intrinsic to the downtown skyline -- symbolizing, at the very least, hope for a futuristic Kansas City.
"Katheryn really pushed that 1 percent for art. We have the public-art project because of her," says Richard Nadeau, an art collector and Midtown psychotherapist who served on the city's Municipal Arts Commission until earlier this year. "Kansas City is a city that is stuck. We are stuck in post-World War II art. Katheryn is one of the few leaders who will risk contemplating contemporary art."
Shields also built up strong support among union members. "She is very pro-labor," says local Teamsters leader Duke Nabors. "Katheryn Shields has got all of labor's support behind her, as far as I know." Nabors, a close friend of Ronnie DePasco, acknowledges that the state senator's early plans to challenge Shields caused much debate -- and a sharp divide -- within organized labor.
"DePasco was a dear friend of labor, but many felt we had to go with her because she was the incumbent and she had been good to us. She had always made sure workers got fair contracts, and she was a supporter of the little person," he says. After DePasco decided not to run, "all of labor rallied around Katheryn Shields," Nabors says. "We were there when she announced her candidacy, and we will be there on election day."
Despite all the problems that have frustrated taxpayers and caused scathing editorials calling her a "lousy" county executive, Shields maintains that she has done a good job.
"I'm proud of all that my administration has accomplished," she says.
Shields says her accomplishments include working with designers of the county jail-annex project to pare "millions of dollars" from the cost of the annex proposed by her predecessor. (The jail still came in three months late and at least $3 million over budget.) She won an award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for adding a "mental health pod" to the annex to serve the 15 percent of inmates who are mentally ill, and she established the first mental-health court in Jackson County and increased funding for medications.
"Before she increased funding for drugs, the patients in the jail were using old meds like Thorazine," Nadeau says. "I told Katheryn, 'You need to triple the budget so they can be given current-generation meds.' I thought maybe she'd double it. She tripled it."
Shields also says she's proud of saving taxpayers "more than $700,000" through the county's workplace recycling program and of winning city, county, state and national awards for recycling (including the 2000 Governor's Pollution Prevention Award, which recognized her for saving 17,000 trees) and being named Outstanding Elected Official of the Decade by the Mid-America Regional Council Solid Waste Management District. This month, Jackson County was one of two governments across the country to win the Environmental Protection Agency's Waste Wise Award, which recognizes governments for waste reduction.
She says she secured "long-overdue" pay raises for county employees and linked pay raises to performance. And she worked with business and nonprofit groups to initiate a strategic-growth planning process for the county.
And earlier this month, the local American Muslim Council gave Shields an award for promoting "diversity and acceptance" after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Although it is unclear whether any concrete benefits will result, Shields has created a diversity task force and asked its members to compile a list of local hate crimes and make recommendations for promoting "understanding among various populations" in the area. The task force issued a report in time for the first anniversary of the attacks. One member of the task force, Syed Hasan, a professor at UMKC and faculty adviser to the university's Muslim Students Association, praises Shields. "She has been a real friend to the Muslim community," he says. "She has spoken out to encourage tolerance and respect."
A few months ago, Shields waved her hand dismissively when the Pitch asked how great a threat Republican Pat Kelley posed to her chances for re-election.
"Not much," she said derisively. Now, with Election Day just weeks away, her lax campaign seems to indicate little has changed.
Instead of campaigning heavily for herself, Shields is piggybacking on Jean Carnahan's U.S. Senate bid, figuring she can use her clout to promote Carnahan -- and counting on a win for herself if Carnahan prevails.
Kelley, a straight-laced United Methodist minister, lives in Lee's Summit -- one of the few conservative enclaves in stolidly Democratic Jackson County.
"It's time to get back to good, efficient government and put and end to the bickering and squabbling," Kelley says.
Kelley says his business background has given him a strong foundation in management and leadership that is essential to performing the county executive's duties. After graduating from Liberty's William Jewell College with a bachelor's degree in math in 1970, Kelley's first job involved supervising workers at a local construction company. After the owner died, he took over management of the company, finishing all its outstanding jobs and selling off its assets. Then he worked as a building-supplies salesman for a few years.
In the late '70s, Kelley founded his own company, Energy Expositions Inc., which presented expos showcasing energy-conservation products. He built a Home of the Future at the 1982 World's Fair. He left that business when he went into the ministry. Now, he continues to preach, and he and his wife own and manage a Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchise in Lee's Summit.
Kelley says his business acumen would serve the residents of Jackson County. "Good business practices are essential for managing people and managing money. [Running a business] helps develop leadership -- you have to have a vision, you have to have a plan and you have to work hard," Kelley says.
But if Jackson County residents want Kelley's business background, they'll also have to choke down his conservative, religious politics.
Every Sunday, Kelley drives from his home to the First United Methodist Church in Holden, Missouri, about sixty miles southeast of Kansas City. In the small town, most of the locals drive pick-up trucks, and horse trailers are parked on the street. A giant American flag nearly covers the window of the senior citizens' center. Kelley's church is in a modest, white-wood building. On a recent crisp, sunny Sunday, the church's pews were only half-full, with about fifty worshippers attending.
A mild-mannered man in a soft, gray suit, light-blue shirt and patterned tie, Kelley evokes a sectarian Mr. Rogers with his slow, deliberate speech. He makes his way up and down the rows, warmly shaking hands and greeting members of the congregation. After announcing meetings of the Methodist Women and the Methodist Men and joining the congregation in hymns and prayer, Kelley gathers the children around him at the front of the church and proclaims, "Good morning, everyone!"
He asks the children a question. "What is the church?" One little girl shouts, "It's God's house!" A boy says, "It's where we can learn about Jesus." Then Kelley leads the children in a song, warbling I am the church/You are the church/We are the church, together.
After he sends the kids off to "children's church," he poses the same question to the adults. The United Methodists are a dying denomination, he says. The average age of the church's 8.5 million members in the United States is approaching sixty. The problem, he tells the congregation, is that the worshippers have lost their evangelistic enthusiasm.
"God wants us to have a passion about Him! God wants us to be like the early church and to be on fire for God, a fire that just consumes us! We need to be on fire -- somebody needs to put a spark in our hearts. Folks, it'll be like the burning bush! The Lord will add daily to our numbers -- you don't have to worry about that. We will grow beyond all of your wildest imagination!"
Kelley's religious fervor extends to his personal life and politics. His résumé lists his affiliation with the Promise Keepers, a controversial male-only Christian group. The Promise Keepers' leaders have publicly stated that women should "submit" to their husbands' leadership. The group's official position is that homosexuality is a "sin," and its leaders have taken a vehement stance against abortion.
Kelley says his ultratraditional views would not affect the way he would do his job as county executive were he elected.
In his sixteen years as a Missouri state representative, Kelley pushed a family-values agenda and advocated legislating morality. A bill Kelley introduced in 1998 would have paid couples who were 21 and older $1,000 to marry, provided neither had been married before, had a child or a sexually transmitted disease, and that the woman sign a statement swearing she had never had an abortion. The bill also would have ended no-fault divorce and would have made any man and woman eighteen or older who had a child together common-law spouses.
In 2001, Kelley joined a group of anti-abortionists in front of hundreds of white crosses at the state capitol to pray that Congress would confirm John Ashcroft as Attorney General. The Associated Press quoted Kelley as saying, "One of the best places Ashcroft could help us is the bully pulpit to make people aware of why we oppose abortion."
Neuman, the retired UMKC political science professor, says Kelley's far-right politics make him even less likely to win the race than a moderate Republican would be.
"You wouldn't want somebody who's off the spectrum," he says. "You wouldn't want somebody who's on the other side of the issues from all those disaffected Democrats."
On a recent rainy Saturday morning, Katheryn Shields suited up in a red, white and blue windbreaker and sneakers and, with a baseball-cap-wearing Cardarella at her side, joined a determined group of Democrats at Westwood Park.
After a breakfast of doughnuts and coffee, the group split up for a door-to-door "Walk for Carnahan," talking to voters about Carnahan and the importance of getting out and voting.
Later that morning, Shields popped in at a Teamsters for Carnahan rally. More than 100 workers filled the Teamsters Hall on Kansas City's east side, boisterously cheering Carnahan's speech about the economy and the need to "remember the working people" as they smoked cigarettes and chowed on mustard-laden kielbasas. After the speech, Shields smiled as she, Carnahan and McCarthy posed for photos with workers and their children.
That afternoon's Carnahan fund-raiser was at the home of Alan and Yolanda Wheat, a tastefully decorated quasi-mansion off Ward Parkway. By then, Shields had stopped at her own nearby home and changed into a black suit with a pink blouse and matching lipstick.
Wheat, who now owns a political consulting firm, joked that he had randomly pulled a neighbor off the street to introduce Jean Carnahan.
"She might be a little nervous," he told the room full of moneyed Democrats. "She's never done this before." The fifty-plus people crammed into the Wheat living room chuckled indulgently, swirling white zinfandel in their glasses as they snacked on Brie and gourmet crackers.
Shields stepped to the front of the room, barely visible over the sea of heads.
"I went somewhere about a month ago," she began, "and someone said to me, 'I think of you as taller.' I said, 'That's OK! I think of myself as taller, too!'" The crowd again laughed politely. Then, after a short talk, Shields proclaimed proudly, "I give you our senator, Jean Carnahan!"
For at least the third time that day, Carnahan gave her stump speech. She recounted the same joke about how her TV ad guy had told her it was important to ask constituents which details they remembered about her ads: She asked one man which commercial he had seen, and he said, "Oh -- it was the one where you were wearing the red suit and your hair looked good!" More laughter.
Then Carnahan told a story that has risen to urban-legend status. Once, at a Special Olympics race in Texas, three disabled runners were nearing the finish line. One stumbled. Instead of racing onward, the other two turned back. They each took the hand of their fallen comrade, pulled him up and dusted him off. All three crossed the finish line together.
"So you see," Carnahan said, finishing her speech, "some of us know why we're Democrats! If we can just hold each others' hands and cross the line together, just imagine what we can accomplish!"
Shields was clearly moved by the sentiment. She applauded, tears filling her eyes.