"That's what I tell people," says Paul Danaher, who was the ninth child in a family of sixteen. "My brothers were tough older brothers."
Amid so many siblings, Danaher learned early to stand up and fight for what was his -- his fair share of dinner, his shoes, his dignity. On his first day of kindergarten, one of his big brothers ordered him to march up to another kid and punch him in the mouth.
That's the Paul Danaher Kansas City power players have come to know and love to hate.
Paul Danaher, the bare-fisted politician.
Paul Danaher, the "in your face" "anti-tax zealot."
Paul Danaher, the "negative" "parasite" "kook" who, in the words of one politically active business leader, "is basically against everything."
Until just a couple of weeks ago, he was the outsider with an outside chance of beating Mayor Kay Barnes. Many people hoped he would -- he had raised $75,000 from a wide range of people, from entrepreneurs to neighborhood activists to little old ladies north of the river. Even folks who were leery of him wanted him to stay in the race if for no other reason than to give Barnes a run for her well-documented money -- to make her account for a term that has been a disappointment to many of her early supporters.
But in the end, Danaher became the scrapper who would shock everyone by dropping out.
After all, he's the kind of leader who has the gall to take a stand against his own sister and people who live in the neighborhood where they both grew up.
Midway through his first term on the City Council, in 1998, Danaher invited dozens of homeowners from Coleman Highlands to meet with him at the Roanoke Community Center. The topic: a local businessman's plan to expand his warehouse operation near their backyards.
Coleman Highlands is an enclave of three-story stone and stucco houses with broad porches, spread across a bluff just west of Penn Valley Community College. Though quiet, the neighborhood is surrounded on the north and west by such light-industrial operations as the Kansas City Poster Display Company, Boulevard Brewery and Dean Machinery -- the company that was hoping to expand.
What the neighbors wanted was a buffer between their stately homes and all the trucks and beeping forklifts. They had hoped the city would condemn Dean Machinery's property and turn it into a park.
When they arrived at the community center, nestled between two steep, wooded hills in Roanoke Park, they had hoped for a private audience with Councilman Danaher.
Instead, he'd brought along representatives from Dean Machinery and their lawyer.
"His attitude at the time was fairly anti-neighborhood," says Joyce Williams, then-president of the neighborhood association. She and the other Coleman Highlanders in attendance -- including Danaher's sister Rita -- were outraged. At one point, Rita stood up in the back of the room and raised her voice in disagreement with her brother.
For Danaher, the issue wasn't about protecting a quiet community from a wealthy businessman's noisy scheme. He saw it as an opportunity to protect all of America from a small attack on the Constitution. "It's his property," Danaher says of the owner of Dean Machinery. "If I was just a go-along-get-along guy, I probably would have said, 'No, he's just one person. We'll let a vocal few dictate how he handles his property.' But fundamentally I didn't think that was the right thing to do."
Though he came off as callous and aloof, today Danaher says he struggled with the decision.
"I spent 25 years in that neighborhood," he says. "It's not easy to make what you think is the right decision but is maybe not the popular one. But that's the nature of leadership. You're not going to be popular."
That spring, Danaher's colleagues on the City Council approved a plan to condemn Dean's property. It wasn't unusual for Danaher to find himself on the losing side. Throughout his two terms on the council, he has often cast the lone dissenting vote -- a fact he's not at all ashamed of.
"Some of my best votes have been twelve to one," he says.
It's this kind of political will that ultimately snuffed out Danaher's dream of becoming mayor.
Its roots stretch back to the late '70s, when Danaher hurriedly filled college notebooks as a student in a political philosophy class taught by Dr. Leo de Alvarez at the University of Dallas. Danaher took the course his sophomore year, after a trip to Rome and Greece during which he had toured the still-standing foundations of Western civilization. Twice a week, de Alvarez held forth on Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Marx, Heidegger and Lincoln. Danaher would emerge from each ninety-minute class with seven pages of finely printed script.
Not long into the semester, he called Mary Anderson, whom he'd begun dating over summer break back home in Kansas City. He told her that he had switched his major.
"What are you gonna do with politics?" she asked.
"Well, I haven't given that any thought," Danaher replied.
To Mary, this seemed out of character for her young suitor. He had gone to college intending to follow his dad's path and become an accountant. By then, Danaher had learned the value of a nickel. To clothe himself and pay his way through high school at Bishop O'Hara, he had flipped burgers at Norm Zesto's on Westport Road, bussed tables at the Sizzler, sorted mail at the post office, packed trucks for UPS and hung siding for his brother's construction company. He has often bragged that he was too frugal to buy even a candy bar.
Danaher's new major seemed to offer just two career choices: navel gazing or politics. There's money to be had in the latter, but it tends to be reserved for deal makers. And though he could stand his ground, Danaher had mellowed since his violent first day of kindergarten. A longtime neighbor, Paul Smith, remembers him as "a quiet kid." It had taken Danaher two years to build up the courage to ask Mary for a date. "He thought I was too pretty for him," she explains.
Danaher had done some political work before college, as a volunteer grunt passing out handbills in midtown neighborhoods for Councilman Bob Hernandez. But it was little more than well-intentioned busywork -- far different from the landscape of government de Alvarez painted in his lectures.
"We look back to the founding principles of an American ideal," de Alvarez says of the class he's been teaching for 37 years. He describes this ideal as an "enlightened self-interest" or a set of "immutable principles" that place the common good above the desires of individuals. He teaches that societies can attain such ideals only through "great political virtue or prudence, the capacity to see the right thing to do in a particular situation." The ideals are shaped by leaders who understand that "in the end, there's only one right way."
Amid such talk, Danaher says he sensed a "high calling."
In retrospect, the connection seems obvious to those who have known him most of his life. Two of his siblings, Anne and Charlie, say his Catholic upbringing -- weekly mass and confession -- primed him for the moral underpinnings of de Alvarez's lessons.
Besides, leadership had been thrust on him at a young age. A few weeks after his fourteenth birthday, Danaher's father died of a heart attack at age 44. This left Danaher the oldest male in the household. In addition to his various jobs, Danaher helped his mother care for his younger siblings, rising early each day to fix oatmeal and toast for the family.
Though he attended just one of his son's basketball games at Redemptorist before he died, John Danaher remained an enduring influence on Paul. From the sidelines of his own children's Little League games all the way to the campaign trail, Danaher has repeatedly invoked his father's credo: "Can't means won't."
Danaher says that these three words have been the driving force in his life. "If anybody tells me I can't do something, that's what drives me most to be able to do it. You know -- I'll prove them wrong."
"Can't means won't" was the unofficial slogan for Danaher's first campaign for City Council in 1987. His opponent, Bob Hernandez -- the politician for whom he'd worked as a boy in the mid-'70s -- had the backing of the business community and three times Danaher's budget. But by hitting the streets and knocking on doors, Danaher managed to pull within 200 votes of unseating the three-term incumbent. "We worked our tails off," he says.
The campaign arose from a grassroots political career that had begun after Danaher graduated from college in 1980. He served for a while as president of the Westport/Roanoke Community Council and joined forces with various anti-tax organizations, throwing himself into the work with the fervor of a man who had too much time on his hands -- which he was not.
He had graduated from college a married man with a daughter named Julie. His second daughter, Katherine, arrived a year later. With two kids, Danaher enrolled in law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1982. Though the school's faculty advised him to devote all of his attention to his studies, he started a small boss-pounds-the-nails-too construction company. He and Mary also had a third daughter, Angela, and a son, Phillip, before Danaher graduated with honors on his last day in the construction business. "We finished the job about noon," he says. "I had to get down off the ladder, go home, shower and change, and go to graduation."
Corporate welfare, high taxes and "unresponsive city government" were the primary focal points of Danaher's activism. Throughout the '80s, politicians and business leaders backed projects that have left a lasting impact on Kansas City, such as the downtown Vista Hotel (now the Marriott) and the skyscraping One Kansas City Place and Town Pavilion. These grand additions to the skyline came into being with the aid of generous subsidies -- which, Danaher and his contentious fellow activists believed, were delivered at the expense of basic city services such as street and sewer repairs.
When city leaders presented voters with multimillion-dollar tax initiatives -- to fund everything from routine bridge maintenance to a new factory for a Fortune 500 company -- Danaher became a de facto spokesperson for the opposition. What The Kansas City Star would call his "in your face" approach resonated with many citizens. But it irked politicians and the people who fund their campaigns. The Civic Council, a politically active consortium of the city's top corporate executives, gave money to both of Danaher's opponents in the 1987 primary.
Yet by the time Danaher ran for office again in 1995, distrust of City Hall had gone mainstream. Robert Hernandez's successor, Michael Hernandez (no relation), had to leave office after accepting bribes from a developer -- one of several political scandals in the early '90s.
So when candidate Danaher rang voters' doorbells in 1995, he faced a lot of anger. People would tell him they were fed up with City Hall.
"I'm fed up, too," he'd reply.
Danaher won easily. (The victorious campaign was sweetened by the birth of his daughter Mary Kate, named after a character in Danaher's favorite John Wayne movie, The Quiet Man.)
Stepping off the elevator onto the 24th floor of City Hall on his first day in office, Danaher noticed several giant waste bins full of perfectly usable manila folders and hanging files his predecessors had thrown away. He told his assistant to retrieve the folders and fold them back so they could be used again. Though Kansas City government spends nearly a billion dollars every year, Danaher couldn't help treating it like a small business or a family unable to afford new folders all the time.
He applied the same theory to more costly matters, such as tax breaks for the Country Club Plaza and for Centertainment's failed Power & Light District. On each of those issues and others, Danaher found himself standing alone with his one little vote and a growing reputation as an obstinate zealot.
"He's not a consensus builder," says George Blackwood, who served as mayor pro tem during Danaher's first term. "When I was on the council, he was always against everything."
But at City Hall, the art of compromise rules.
Recently, City Auditor Mark Funkhouser coined a name for what happens when compromise goes bad at 12th and Oak. Last summer, Funkhouser convened a roundtable discussion at which city administrators, business leaders and officials from nearby cities pondered the causes of Kansas City's current budget crisis. They found the city to be utterly leaderless -- not a hierarchy beholden to the voting public but a matrix of competing departments and special-interest groups, each with its own agenda and constituents who could exert political pressure or dole out favors to get what they wanted. As a result, Funkhouser wrote in a September report, Kansas City is ruled by "cul-de-sacs of power."
Amid such an environment, lone dissenting votes earn little more than alienation. Danaher's discouragement grew as his first term wore on. Then, as he neared the end of his term, 4th District Councilman Evert Asjes handed Danaher a book that made him realize he "wasn't alone in the wilderness."
Written by Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, 21st Century City begins with a common tale. A large American city has been caught in a downward spiral. For years, leaders have raised taxes to pay for such basic services as road repair. Meanwhile, the riprap roads have inspired citizens to move to the suburbs, taking with them tax revenue that could have paid to fix the roads. But the tax increases also cause people to move, and the cycle continues.
Goldsmith's book goes on to explain how he made his city workers think more like entrepreneurs, made them figure out how to get things done without going into debt. He forced them to become capitalists by putting scores of city services up for bid. Facing competition from the private sector, city workers and managers -- who previously had been able to trim, at most, 5 percent from their budgets -- suddenly were coming up with ways to save 20, 30, even 50 percent. All the savings were then reinvested in the city.
Goldsmith's actions didn't please everyone in Indianapolis' political circles, but he didn't seem to care. "He liked to offend people," says Russ Pulliam, a member of the Indianapolis Star's editorial board. "It cost him a high position in the Bush administration because he was so blunt."
But it's hard to argue with the results. In just two terms, Goldsmith's leadership gave Indianapolis more than a billion dollars' worth of smooth roads and sidewalks, new water and sewer lines and even -- with the help of business investors -- a downtown basketball arena and baseball park.
A week before Goldsmith stepped down on January 1, 2000, a front-page headline in the Indianapolis Star declared that he'd already left "a lasting legacy."
"He's my mentor," Danaher says.
In the summer of 1998, Danaher received a call from Kay Barnes. She had been involved in Kansas City politics years earlier, serving on the Jackson County Legislature in the late '70s and then the City Council into the early '80s before falling in the primary on her bid for a second term. Most recently she'd done a stint as chair of the Tax Increment Financing Commission. She was now running for mayor against Blackwood.
They met for breakfast at Tippin's on North Oak. Barnes asked Danaher if he would support her campaign. She presented herself as an opponent of the status quo at City Hall, he says, a mayor who would find ways to make government work more like a business. "Her message four years ago was very persuasive," he recalls. "She was an agent of change. She was the one that was not going to go back to the same old process where you see a problem and throw money at it."
After the breakfast meeting, Danaher called an old friend, political consultant Pat Gray, whom Barnes was paying to work on her campaign strategy. In the early '90s, Danaher and Gray had formed Stop Taxing Our People NOW! to oppose a City Hall scheme that would use tax revenue to build a production plant for McDonnell Douglas. The group quickly became a feisty player on the Kansas City political scene, with a habit of running negative attack ads at the end of campaigns -- often too late for opponents to respond. Gray had also helped Danaher on his 1995 campaign -- for free. "I never paid him a dime," Danaher says. Gray was apparently so loyal to Danaher that he was arrested after a fistfight with Danaher's opponent in the 1995 primary, Peter Dreyfuss.
Danaher told Gray he wanted to record a radio ad for Barnes. So they went to a studio and produced a spot that, by all accounts, was unprecedented in Kansas City politics. In his own words, with his own voice, Danaher urged voters to back Barnes because she offered an alternative to the status quo at City Hall. Danaher spent almost $10,000 of his own campaign money on airtime. "We ran the hell out of it," he says. Barnes supporters say the ads made a huge difference in her successful campaign -- especially north of the river.
At first, things appeared to be going Danaher's way. Barnes rewarded his support with a couple of plum committee assignments. And Barnes went right to work on her plans to improve city services.
In May 1999, barely a month into her term, she announced that the Water Services and Public Works departments would be scrutinized for ways to make them more efficient. A couple of weeks later, Danaher cosponsored a resolution with Asjes -- Barnes' chief ally on the council -- directing the city managers to look into privatizing an array of city services, including the water department.
Then, on May 28 of that year, the Star revealed on its front page that, while working on Barnes' campaign, Gray had been paid by a private water company in St. Louis to devise a strategy for taking over Kansas City's water department. The story had all the trappings of a full-blown scandal, complete with conspiratorial schemes and Gray's refusal even to look at the documents on which the story was based.
The news sent the Barnes administration skidding headfirst into one of the city's most sacred cul-de-sacs of power. With nearly a thousand employees, Water Services is among the largest departments in city government (itself one of Kansas City's largest employers). Fearing a full-scale shake-up, city workers stormed City Hall in protest. "We [couldn't] stand by and allow these things to happen," says Robert Gillis, president of Local 500, the city workers' union. "We're for the working class. These employees work very hard to make the city better and better."
The department also provides sorely needed job opportunities to the black community. Its top manager, Gurnie Gunter, is African-American, as are more than half the workers. So black leaders, such as the Reverend Wallace Hartsfield and Councilman Terry Riley, fanned the protests, which filled the hallway outside of council chambers on the 26th floor of City Hall.
When Danaher arrived at 414 East 12th during the second week of protests, a security guard asked if he wanted an escort to council chambers. "Why would I need an escort?" he asked.
"Well, it's a pretty hairy situation up there," the guard replied.
"I said, 'I've been in African countries where they settle this stuff with the barrel of a gun,'" Danaher recalls. "'This is a democratic process. They're entitled to be there and we're entitled to represent the people of Kansas City.'"
But he was worried about how the mayor might handle the situation. He feared she might sneak into council chambers through the back door to avoid the crowd. He called her office on the 29th floor. "I said, 'You've got to walk in there and face 'em down,'" Danaher recalls.
Then he rode the elevator to the 26th floor and worked his way through the crowd. A Star columnist covering the event later told him that the protesters shouted loudest after he'd arrived.
Then the mayor showed up -- through the back door.
A week later, she told the Star, "The water department may be fine just the way it is."
For Danaher, it was the "defining moment" of Barnes' first term. "Politicians do not like confrontation," he says. "It's easier to go along, get along than it is to stand up and try to stop the flood."
One year into Barnes' term, Danaher cast what he calls "the best vote [he's] ever made." In April 2000, he alone voted against a plan to offer a million-dollar contract to HDR Engineering of Omaha. City managers wanted to hire HDR to help City Hall become more competitive -- but no one was making HDR compete for its contract.
Danaher knew a little about the folks at HDR, and he didn't like them. A year or so earlier, he says, he had met an executive from the company. When he asked about HDR's position on competition, Danaher remembers the executive saying, "Our job is to keep the status quo. If anybody wants to come in to privatize, we're hired to kill it. We will kill it wherever it raises its ugly head."
"I have never heard them say that," counters Rich Noll, the assistant city manager who oversaw HDR's contract. "What they were about was trying to change the overall business practices at City Hall."
HDR led the city through a process called Kansas City Government Optimization, or KC-GO. Its goal was to find ways to make City Hall function more like a business. Hundreds of city workers and managers sat down for brainstorming study sessions. They came up with ideas, which they then vetted using industry experts and volunteers from the business community. The process focused on key city departments: Public Works, Human Resources, water, information technology, purchasing and fleet management -- basically everything the city does.
Contrary to what Danaher had wanted -- immediate competition with the private sector to spur instant efficiency and savings -- KC-GO showed the decision makers at City Hall what it would take to make departments strong enough to compete with for-profit businesses. It's not hard to see why Danaher's uncompromising position was unpopular at 12th and Oak. For one, it threatened the myriad cul-de-sacs of power. But it also put essential services such as water and the livelihood of hundreds of African-Americans into the hands of a private sector that -- in the Enron era -- didn't necessarily have the public's best interest in mind. Not surprisingly, virtually all of the KC-GO studies came to the same conclusion: City Hall would need to invest more money before it could really start saving.
The folks in the water department complained that city leaders had for years refused to pay for new pipes and pumps. As a result, city workers now waste most of their time running around patching holes. Public Works staff members pointed out the same thing -- they'd save money, too, if they could pave a bunch of miles of road instead of scrambling all over town to shovel asphalt into chuckholes. Human Resources said it needed a new computer system and a slew of new employees to serve as liaisons to other city departments. Purchasing wanted new software, too, as well as the authority to spend more money with fewer time-wasting restrictions.
KC-GO seemed to show that City Hall didn't really need any competition. "Ain't no private company that can come in and do better than we can," says union leader Gillis, who was deeply involved in KC-GO. "We just need the resources to do our job better."
Problem is, ain't no resources available. When KC-GO started, the economy was at a zenith. Now city leaders are pulling their hair trying to figure out how to cut tens of millions of dollars from next year's budget.
KC-GO did ferret out some unnecessary costs, about $4.5 million. That's a healthy savings, but it's not nearly enough to solve the looming budget crisis -- let alone pay for all the investments KC-GO has proposed. Last week, city officials put $300,000 worth of planned KC-GO studies near the top of a list of expenditures that could be axed.
Now that Gillis' union members are facing possible layoffs, Gillis concedes there might be one place where the city could find some savings. "You've got layers and layers and layers of managers," he says. "You've got dozens of people up there [at City Hall] making ninety, a hundred thousand dollars a year."
An April audit backs him up. Of all the cities Funkhouser's department reviewed, Kansas City had the most layers of managers and the fewest workers reporting to those managers. The water department -- which Gillis boisterously defended against competition -- has the densest management structure, with eight layers of supervisors overseeing an average of 3.4 underlings each.
Yet the KC-GO reports don't even suggest reducing the number of bosses in city government.
In Danaher's opinion, the workers will have only themselves to blame when the pink slips start coming in. He believes they are caught between union leadership and city managers, all of whom work together to maintain their various cul-de-sacs of power. "Management is protecting the union, and the union has agreed to protect management," he says. "So we get this charade called KC-GO, and HDR comes in and says, 'We'll make privatization the bad guy. We'll stir up the employees to oppose it. And you'll get the status quo. And we want a million dollars for doing it.'" (Gillis and Noll deny any such collusion.)
Danaher scoffed at the findings. The water department's KC-GO plan stalled in a council subcommittee for several weeks because Danaher was absent or tardy. "I wasn't ducking it," Danaher says. "But I certainly wasn't going to be part of it."
This deepened his reputation for being perpetually negative. "Paul's basically against everything," says Sean O'Byrne, a businessman who volunteered to help with KC-GO. "If there's an issue, he's going to come out on the other side. He just does that so he can come to light."
Having lost on the HDR matter, Danaher continued stumping for competition, turning his attention to the American Royal Complex and the city's convention facilities.
Both are falling short of their potential, according to a $35,000 study the city commissioned from Convention Sports & Leisure International of Minneapolis. The study revealed that the facilities lost more than $7 million in fiscal year 2000 -- even though in other cities, facilities like Kemper Arena and the American Royal actually make money for citizens.
Most other cities use private companies to run their arenas. Because of this, they tend to get more and better concerts and events, because the management companies operate facilities all over the country and can offer them as a package to touring acts. For example, if Paul McCartney, who bypassed Kansas City on his celebrated recent tour of North America, were to make another pass through the Midwest, his managers might have only one date to offer Kansas City. If Kemper were booked for a Comets game on that day, Kansas City would lose. But if Kemper were managed by a private company with an interest in securing as many McCartney dates as possible, that company could trade the night of McCartney's Kansas City stop with another town and host McCartney here the next night. Moreover, arena-management companies tend to have sophisticated marketing operations that can push their venues to the front of the line for big tours.
Virtually everyone at City Hall thinks that the facilities should be privatized. "I totally agree," says Noll. "I think managed competition would be good for the whole [American Royal] complex."
"We ought to be out of the entertainment business," says Councilwoman Becky Nace, "because we're not good at it."
From the beginning, Mayor Barnes has been open to the idea of privatizing the facilities, according to one of her assistants, Greg Williams. In June 1999, she told the Star's editorial board she favored a "review of the feasibility" for such a move.
Danaher says Barnes told him she wholeheartedly supported the idea. "We sat in her office last November, and she said, 'Let's privatize Kemper Arena,'" he recalls. "'Let's privatize Bartle Hall. Let's do it.' Great! I was thrilled!"
Through the winter and into last spring, Danaher says he checked with Barnes' chief of staff, Joe Serviss, on a weekly basis, asking, "When we gonna get that resolution? When we gonna get that resolution?"
Danaher recalls Serviss saying, "Oh, we're working on it."
"Nothing ever happened," Danaher says. "So finally, I was told by one of her closest advisors -- her closest advisor, I can't tell you his name -- 'Paul, the hell with it. Do it yourself. It's not gonna happen.'
"He said, 'They're not gonna do it. Can't you tell? They're not gonna do it. You're gonna do it.'"
So he did it. And as Danaher's plan wound its way through council meetings, the only opposition came from city workers in Water Services, Aviation and Dangerous Buildings -- not a single employee from the arenas spoke against the idea. The naysayers were all union members complaining that the KC-GO process was being undermined.
Which was just plain untrue. Danaher's early September resolution called for a sixty-day timeline that would let KC-GO proceed -- ample time to get the job done, according to the public testimony of Noll, the city official in charge of KC-GO. The city's managers and workers were moving through the process. The only force that could stall momentum was a City Council led by Barnes.
And on September 11 of this year, that's what happened. At a meeting of the full council, Barnes rose to quash the deadline. "I think it is unnecessary," she declared. "I think it is placing restrictions."
Danaher stood up and reminded her of their earlier conversation in her office, when he remembered her telling him, "Let's privatize Kemper Arena."
"I'm trying to figure out," he said, "I'm trying to reconcile the difference between the, um -- "
"Well, Councilman Danaher -- " she interrupted him.
"And I, I -- " he tried to break back in.
"I would encourage you not to talk about conversations that were held in private, because we would probably go some places you would not want to go."
He stammered for a second, then continued his attack.
"Eventually, we gotta move out of study hall and take the exam," he said. "We've gotta stop sitting at the desk and saying, you know, 'We're still studying, we're still studying, we're not ready to take the test yet.' I'd say, you know, it's been three and a half years. It's time to take the test."
Though Danaher was on the losing end of that vote, this time he wasn't alone. Three other council members joined him. The next week, Councilwoman Nace, who had cosponsored the resolution with Danaher, was quoted in the Star as saying, "Political will is getting in the way of progress."
To the Pitch, Nace later explained, "The politics behind it are: Paul is a candidate for mayor, and it's his resolution. It's been one of his core initiatives."
Less than a month earlier, Danaher and his family members had hung a campaign banner across the Lewis and Clark statue at 9th and Washington and turned to face a phalanx of TV cameras. "We have had four years of missed opportunities," he told the reporters. He reached down and lifted his daughter Mary Kate. "I don't need the job. I had hoped Kay could do it. But this is our future. If you want the status quo, do not vote for me."
For months, while the press had speculated on his entry into the race, Danaher had mulled over with his family whether to run. The deciding factor was the city's new contract with the firefighters' union. In spite of clear warnings of an impending budget crisis, Barnes voted in July with a council majority to give the firefighters a raise that would cost the city $2.2 million. Danaher felt it was another instance of Barnes' yielding to yet another cul-de-sac of power. To exert political pressure, firefighters often send their huskiest representatives to stand on the perimeter of council meetings, with their bulging arms crossed. If need be, they can rally for a raucous protest or, as happened last spring, take a day off en masse at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars to the city. During the Kansas City firefighters' strike of the '70s, several buildings went up in flames. True or not, city legend blames strikers for the fires, raising the specter of fear should the firemen ever grow unhappy again.
"[The raise] was about all I could take," Danaher says.
With Danaher's forthright kickoff speech, the race commenced in an air of nastiness. It was clear that he intended to cast Barnes in the image of a hand-wringer who failed to deliver on her promises and had caved under several high-profile confrontations.
Her victories at City Hall had gone largely unheralded. The most significant of these have occurred during her Thursday morning Service First meetings, where she has consistently tracked progress in several departments that offer critical public services -- snow plowing, street repair, abandoned-car removal, trash pickup, storm drainage and codes enforcement. The last of these made the biggest impression on the public when images of slumlords being hauled off in cuffs were broadcast on the news. Barnes also earned some credit last winter when the city began making money by hauling away abandoned clunkers. This summer, she stood her ground against a plan to cut the number of hours snowplows would spend digging the city out of its next blizzard.
To counter the Danaher offense, Barnes sought a front-page victory. She found one in a $35 million bond issue that a majority of Kansas City voters approved in August and again in early November.
Earlier this year, Barnes and Danaher had each flip-flopped on how to spend that money. Barnes had initially wanted to use it to pay for the city's long list of unfinished chores, such as fixing sidewalks, streets and bridges. Danaher, along with five other council members, had hurriedly signed a memo offering a variety of budget ideas -- including one that would devote $30 million of the bond to downtown.
But after months of behind-the-scenes finagling at City Hall, Barnes chose to support the city's business interests -- as expressed by members of the Civic Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Council, many of whom had contributed to her campaign. They wanted half of the bond money to "jump-start" their own, and City Hall's, newfound interest in reviving downtown.
Danaher ended up siding with a group much like those he had joined during his "in your face," "anti-tax zealot," pre-council days. The Neighborhood Action Group wanted more of the money to be spent by the Public Improvements Advisory Committee on neighborhood improvements ("Money Changes Everything," July 25).
Barnes' campaign strategy -- which she had bought from Danaher's old friend Pat Gray -- was to claim a $35 million victory for herself and attach its defeat to Danaher. The tactic seemed wise. Most voters had supported the bond issue in August; it failed narrowly because it required approval from 57 percent of the voters to pass. So by siding with NAG, Danaher stood among the minority. To kick off her own re-election campaign, Barnes had Mike Burke, one of her closest associates, engage Danaher when the bonds came up for another vote in November. A former City Council member, Burke had contributed to Barnes' first campaign, and she had named him chair of PIAC shortly after she was elected. And even though PIAC had sided with Danaher and NAG on the bond issue -- by unanimously passing a resolution urging the council to divert less money to downtown -- Burke nonetheless had agreed to serve as the spokesperson for the bonds' passage ("The Eternal Question No. 1," October 24).
The venue for the Burke-versus-Danaher debate was KCPT Channel 19's Kansas City Week in Review. Host Nick Haines had planned to devote part of his October 27 broadcast to the bond issue. He had lined up NAG member Dennis O'Neill as the voice of the opposition. To find someone to speak in favor of the $35 million question, Haines called Steve Glorioso, a consultant who was being paid by business leaders to help get the bond issue passed. Glorioso was also working for Barnes' campaign, as a volunteer, he says.
Glorioso offered Burke. But, Haines says, there was a condition. "They said he would not do it unless there was somebody decent on the other side. They said Burke wouldn't waste his time with Dennis O'Neill. They said, 'Get somebody with true credentials.'"
"That wasn't my statement," Glorioso says. "I didn't feel that way." What he wanted, he says, was to steer the bond debate toward the mayoral race. "We wanted to debate Paul. Period."
It wasn't hard to do. When Haines called, Danaher immediately agreed to appear. Once the camera was on, Danaher leaped at the opportunity to stump for better business practices at City Hall and beat up on the mayor.
"We're financing ongoing expenses by taking out a mortgage," Danaher said. "The mayor dealt us this hand by making fiscally irresponsible decisions."
Then he called Burke's allegiances into question by reminding him that his PIAC colleagues had voted unanimously against diverting half of the $35 million downtown.
"This is all give and take, and it's all compromise," Burke answered. Then he used one of Danaher's rare compromises against him. "In March, Councilman, you signed a letter and sent it to your colleagues where you stated ... $30 million should be earmarked for downtown."
"Where was your mayor on that?" Danaher interrupted. "That was part of an entire budget package." Danaher tried to explain that he'd compromised in an attempt to persuade the mayor and others on the council not to fill a vacant municipal judge position at a cost of $250,000. But Burke raised a hand and cut him off.
"OK, OK, we're not debating the mayor's race," he said, smiling.
Haines stopped the squabble and gave Burke the final word. "It's a give and take," Burke said.
A week later, Danaher agreed to speak at a NAG anti-bond-issue press conference staged at the foot of the Lincoln statue on the steps of City Hall. The message Danaher and the activists had hoped to convey was that a no vote would mean lower tax bills for homeowners.
But the Barnes camp already knew the savings would be negligible. They had obtained the figures from a manager in the finance office. Data in hand, Glorioso had talked with members of the press earlier that day. When he showed up at NAG's moment in the limelight, he brought along a handful of invitations to a counterpoint press conference to be held immediately after NAG's.
At the podium, Danaher faced the toughest question: "How much more will this tax cut be?"
His answer -- "I don't know" -- wound up on KMBC Channel 9's news.
Meanwhile, Glorioso whisked reporters up to Burke's office, where Burke was waiting with accurate tax figures.
"It's a cup of coffee a month," was his politically salable comment that day.
On Election Day, after it was clear that the bond issue had passed, Barnes used the victory to trumpet her skills at consensus building.
"I was particularly disappointed," she wrote in a blatantly political news release on City Hall letterhead, "that the leader of opposition to the bond issue, Councilman Paul Danaher, chose to abandon his previous support for the redevelopment of downtown and instead pushed a misleading message that sought to divide our city, north against south, neighborhoods against downtown."
Ironically, Barnes' statement has fueled resentment among the members of NAG, who see it as evidence of Barnes' own divisive efforts. "It seems that the mayor has a prespective [sic] of 'you must be for me and my ballot questions or you are negative and divisive,'" NAG members wrote in a recent newsletter. And though the results of the November 5 election showed that the group is still in the minority, publicity generated by the bond issue allowed NAG to expand its network of connections and sympathizers. Politicians ignore the group's sentiments at their own peril.
On November 12, Danaher and his family set up a podium in front of the Children's Fountain at the junction of Burlington and North Oak. In the distance, downtown's skyscrapers glistened in the fading autumn light. Danaher had called members of the media to this spot to hear "an important announcement about the mayoral campaign."
He thanked his family. And he thanked his supporters. And then he dropped out of the race.
Even his family was shocked when he'd broken the news to them a day earlier. "You mean he's just going to give the city to those people!" his nineteen-year-old daughter, Angela, had exclaimed.
With his wife, Mary, and his youngest daughter at his side, Danaher -- who had promised his family he wouldn't go into debt to campaign -- admitted that "money is the mother's milk of politics. And it's not flowing."
For weeks, he had met for breakfast, lunch and dinner with business leaders, trying to loosen their pocketbooks. Many had expressed dissatisfaction with Barnes, Danaher says. But he won't name them, and they were unwilling to let their names show up as donors in his campaign files.
In the end, these individuals constitute the most influential cul-de-sac of power in Kansas City. They are "the proponents of the 'big idea' or sexy idea," auditor Funkhouser had written in his September report. They're the people with the money to get people elected and the connections to get things done at City Hall. Against them, neighborhood leaders have only marginal influence, according to the auditor's report. Yet Danaher consistently opposed the former in favor of the latter -- even when doing so squashed his hope of becoming mayor.
With the TV cameras looking on, a reporter asked Danaher if he would support Barnes or anyone else in the race. He said he hoped someone else would step up and take his place. A few days later, Barnes' chief of staff, Joe Serviss, called the Pitch to cancel a scheduled interview with the mayor. The Pitch had sought the mayor's response to issues Danaher had been raising since well before his run for her office, issues that show no sign of going away anytime soon. Serviss' voice-mail message said Barnes didn't want to revisit the contentious history between her and Danaher. "In spite of how it might seem," Serviss said, "we're all friends down here."
As the sun angled off toward Kansas on November 12, Danaher looked down at his blond-haired daughter, Mary Kate, who had been born during his first successful run for office. His eyes grew red, and he forced a deep breath. The man who had spent his whole life living up to his father's motto -- "can't means won't" -- finally admitted that he couldn't.