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The baggage that Glorioso mentions can be found in any cursory records search. Tolbert's name turns up in dozens of court cases in everything from city municipal court to federal appeals court.
On August 11, Tolbert filed for bankruptcy for the 11th time, according to federal court records. The previous bankruptcy filings have been dismissed or withdrawn because Tolbert has refused to file a plan to reorganize his debts. Tolbert seems to use bankruptcy filings as a delay to prevent the city from seizing his dilapidated properties. Once that purpose is served, the cases languish. Tolbert filed his most recent bankruptcy on August 19, 2005, but he withdrew it eight months later.
Documents that Tolbert has filed in the bankruptcy cases illuminate his fragile way of life. He lists his only income as $56 a month from pay phones he owns. He also has claimed income from twice-weekly plasma donations. Documents filed in 2004 state that he made no payments to creditors, even though he owed $34,713 for mortgages on 20 pieces of real estate. He also owed $102,566 to Jackson County and Kansas City, Missouri, for back taxes and judgments.
Unsuccessful lawsuits that Tolbert has filed since 1990 reveal that he is no model employee. In 1990, he worked for three months at the U.S. Census Bureau as a supervisor before being fired; he sued unsuccessfully for discrimination. After he was dropped from his guest-role gig at KPHN 1340, Tolbert sued the station and talk-show host Mike Shanin, accusing them of employment discrimination. He lost that case and the appeal. In 2001, Tolbert sued an organization called the Center for Inquiry Midwest, where he'd worked as a "director of special projects," claiming he was fired because of his race, age and religious views. Tolbert withdrew the case in February 2002.
While Tolbert doesn't have a job, he's got a steady hobby. He runs regularly for assorted state and local offices. His only recent victory landed him an unpaid position in 2004 as trustee on the board of Metropolitan Community College. This year, he filed as a Democrat for county executive. But early on, Tolbert came up with a plan to be sure that he could continue campaigning even if he lost last week's primary. (He did, coming in third with 4 percent of the vote.) Earlier this year, he had his brother, Ellsworth Tolbert Jr., file as a Reform Party candidate for county executive. His brother plans to withdraw from the race so that Tolbert can take his place on the Reform Party ticket.
It gives him something to do until the next election.
Tolbert attended Central High School just after the desegregation of the Kansas City, Missouri, School District. Central had a long history of sending students to Yale, and the college counselor at Central treated Tolbert just as she had her previous students. Tolbert says he had high test scores but low grades because he didn't do his homework; nonetheless, he became one of seven African-American men to enroll at Yale in 1962. He graduated in 1966 with the likes of FedEx founder Fred Smith and Sen. John Kerry.
After his first year at Yale, Tolbert was introduced to Leon Jordan, co-founder of Freedom Inc., which was registering Kansas City's black voters and mobilizing them as a united political force. Tolbert says he immediately took to Jordan in a father-son kind of relationship, "much to the annoyance of my biological father, with whom I was living." Jordan mentored Tolbert through college, and in the summer of 1970, Tolbert says Jordan pressured him to return to Yale for a master's degree in sociology.