"Our community is the laughingstock of the districts," says Quinnetta Fristoe, who signed the affidavit stating the grounds for recall.
McFadden-Weaver, however, does not see community pride welling up behind the movement to remove her from office.
She sees old grudges.
The recall vote is scheduled for February 8. McFadden-Weaver made her first formal defense at a December 14 meeting of the Citizens Association, a political club that endorses candidates, at the Screenland Theater downtown. Fristoe and fellow recall proponent Marlon Hammons spoke first, sitting at a table positioned between the first row of seats and the movie screen. Later, McFadden-Weaver spoke, remembering to smile as she enumerated the city's good deeds during her time in office.
McFadden-Weaver told the Citizens Association that "a small group" wanted to oust her. Speaking to reporters in the theater lobby afterward, McFadden-Weaver whittled the group to two men: Clinton Adams Jr., a lawyer renowned for his interest -- his detractors call it "meddling" -- in the affairs of the Kansas City, Missouri, School District, and former Councilman Ron Finley. McFadden-Weaver described the pair as "longtime political rivals" of hers and suggested that they had manufactured the uprising.
McFadden-Weaver won the seat in 2003 by defeating Finley, who served the 3rd District on the council from 1991 to 1999. Term limits forced Finley to find another office, and he was elected to the Jackson County Legislature in 1999. His wish was always to return to the council, though. McFadden-Weaver dashed that dream, winning the race in 2003 by 18 percentage points.
Finley shares a law office with Adams, whose influence over school business was such that he was said to keep a mailbox at district headquarters, despite holding no job or title there.
The one time Adams ran for the school board, in 1994, he got trounced, receiving the fewest votes of 13 candidates. At the Screenland, McFadden-Weaver noted that she had been the campaign spokeswoman for the candidate who won the race in which Adams had been so humiliated.
The recall, McFadden-Weaver believes, is a visit from the Ghosts of Elections Past. During the City Council campaign of early 2003, she called Finley and Adams "unethical" after Adams circulated an internal record from the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office that purported to show that McFadden-Weaver had bounced a $1,200 check to an auto salvage yard. No charges were brought, and McFadden-Weaver obtained a record showing that the case was "closed/paid."
As McFadden-Weaver sees it, the dirty tricks continue. She said at the December 14 Citizens Association meeting that she'd heard that Diane Charity, who has collected the 300 signatures necessary to be listed as an alternative candidate on the recall ballot, was recruited by Clinton Adams. McFadden-Weaver said that "several people out on the street" obtaining signatures to put the recall on the ballot had told her that Finley paid them.
"I haven't paid anybody," Finley tells the Pitch. "I haven't put in any time on it. I haven't helped organize or anything of that nature. She's trying to make this election, once again, about me and her. And she's trying to play the victim, which she's very good at."
Adams also plays down his involvement in the recall effort, telling the Pitch to talk to Fristoe and Hammons. They are, he says, "people who have been actively engaged in the process."
Adams cannot claim a total lack of interest, however. Documents at the city clerk's office show that he is the circulator of record on 13 of the recall petitions. Adams says he supports the recall because McFadden-Weaver has been ineffective and has lost her credibility. "She's basically not fit to serve," he says.
Adams rejects the notion that he has a vendetta. "I have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies -- just permanent issues."
However it was coordinated, McFadden-Weaver made the recall plausible when she appeared to say one thing and do another in the debate over raising taxes to build a downtown arena. When she ran for the council in 2003, McFadden-Weaver opposed public funding for an arena, which at the time was just an idea. Mayor Kay Barnes offered a plan in early 2004, putting the question on the August ballot. McFadden-Weaver was the only council member to voice opposition -- but she changed her stance a week before the election, explaining that city officials had promised that minority- and women-owned businesses would be suitably involved in the project. Shortly thereafter, a company run by Ricardo Lucas, a McFadden-Weaver ally, received $5,000 from the pro-arena side.
But on Election Day, Barnes' supporters found McFadden-Weaver with the anti-taxers, a coalition of whom had contributed to a political action committee, Partners for Community Progress, that McFadden-Weaver founded in 2004. An angry Barnes stripped McFadden-Weaver of her appointments on the Operations Committee and the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee. "Those were key positions," Marlon Hammons says.
McFadden-Weaver toils today on the Aviation Committee and the Legislative, Rules and Ethics Committee -- where it's hard to show that she's making any difference in her constituents' lives.
At the Screenland, recall proponents accused McFadden-Weaver of failing also at the workaday aspects of being a council member, such as responding to messages and showing up at scheduled meetings. Fristoe said the 3rd District suffers from high crime rates and low property values and cannot wait until the next regular election for new representation. McFadden-Weaver's term, Fristoe said, has been "a disappointment and an embarrassment."
When it was her turn to speak, McFadden-Weaver apologized for messages that hadn't been returned. She said she came to City Hall with limited computer skills, though she disputed the assertion that 3,000 e-mails went unanswered. To err is human, she said, and to forgive divine -- a maxim with added salience given that McFadden-Weaver is an ordained minister.
Members of the Citizens Association were most concerned with allegations of corruption -- the "indictable offenses," as one of them put it during the question-and-answer period. McFadden-Weaver acknowledged that Partners for Community Progress paid her $5,333. She said she was paid for her work on behalf of Demo- cratic candidates Claire McCaskill and Emanuel Cleaver -- not arena politicking -- but that she nonetheless returned $3,164.
Michael Fletcher, a lawyer and McFadden-Weaver supporter, says that because Partners for Community Progress received "not one dime" from the pro-arena side, the charges of double-dipping are unfounded.
Still, Adams, for one, is highly critical of the way McFadden-Weaver handled herself during the arena debate. "I respect her right to change her mind," he says. "I don't respect her right to be on both sides of the issue."
Adams spoke to the Pitch after the December 3 meeting of the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, a citizen panel that makes recommendations to the council about how to allocate the city's public improvement money. Each council member appoints a PIAC representative; Adams serves at the pleasure of Troy Nash, the 3rd District's other representative.
PIAC is another source of frustration for recall proponents, who complain that McFadden-Weaver's original appointment, Ricardo Lucas, lives in the 5th District. McFadden-Weaver said at the Citizens Association event that she believed that Lucas lived in the 3rd District at the time she appointed him. (Lucas resigned from the position on October 1.)
The December 3 PIAC meeting took place on the tenth floor of City Hall, where Adams looked like a creature in his natural habitat as he bartered for budget dollars and quizzed city staffers about projects. When the meeting concluded, he argued politely with fellow PIAC member Nelsie Sweeney about the need for an aquatic center in the Northland. On the elevator to the ground floor, he invited another PIACer, Janet Blauvelt, to a future lunch meeting.
The recall effort does not flatter the man who allows Adams to roam City Hall in an official capacity. Fristoe contends that the district is "in crisis" -- a condition for which Nash, who is serving a second term, would seem to bear greater responsibility than McFadden-Weaver. Adams says Nash (who did not return the Pitch's messages) is opposed to the recall. During the PIAC meeting, Adams joked that he could not let an item slide, because he may not be back next year. "Troy and I don't get along," he said.
Adams says he is proud of the people who signed the recall petition. Proponents gathered more than 2,700 signatures, though they needed only 1,300. In the past, east side voters have tended to rally around beleaguered black politicians. But, Adams says, "The people in the 3rd District went beyond that."
Voters who wish to recall McFadden-Weaver will choose her replacement from a list of candidates who have until January 11 to file. Diane Charity, a former aide to 5th District Councilman Terry Riley (who says he does not support the recall), says McFadden-Weaver is an excellent minister and sings well. "But everybody wasn't given every gift," Charity says. "I don't sing, and I don't preach, but damn, I'm a hard worker."
In addition to Charity, Ronald Williams, a contractor, has collected enough signatures to be on the ballot. Serial candidate Richard Tolbert and school board member Marilyn Simmons have told the Pitch that they intend to run. "My race has nothing to do with Saundra," Simmons says. "It has everything to do with giving the residents of the 3rd District a viable candidate."
Finley resigned from the county Legislature on January 1, but he says his name will not be on the February ballot. Instead, he will serve as the chief of staff for newly elected state Senator Yvonne Wilson.
McFadden-Weaver has begun making the case that she remains the best choice. She and her staff members have contacted all of the people who signed the petitions, she said at the December 14 meeting. "Most of the people who have responded to it said they had no idea what they were signing."
At the Citizens Association event, McFadden-Weaver, who was hospitalized in September after a car accident, seemed to draw energy from criticizing her critics. "Once you get into office, who's ever out front takes the heat," she said. "And I went to City Hall with asbestos britches."