The race is a bizarre one. Metzl and Cleaver are in a scrap for the seat held by Congresswoman Karen McCarthy, who has famously lorded over Missouri's 5th District in vapid fashion for nearly 10 years. When Cleaver entered the race in February, he seemed preordained to succeed her. Even folks around town who grumbled about Cleaver's tenure as mayor couldn't deny that the prospect of sending him to Washington was exciting. And the Democrats needed a strong candidate because Republicans were salivating over the idea that, for the first time in recent memory, they might have a shot at the seat.
But heading into the August 3 primary, newcomer Metzl wasn't scared. The hometown boy who'd gone on to earn a Harvard law degree and a Ph.D. in history from Oxford, and who'd been working in various foreign policy positions in Washington, had announced his challenge to McCarthy three months before she decided not to seek re-election. Loaded with cash from early fund-raising, Metzl started turning up everywhere: shaking hands at the annual NAACP awards in November; breaking into Broadway show tunes for gay political house-partiers in late winter; importing his former boss, book-touring former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, for an endorsement session at Union Station; and autographing copies of his own novel at Unity Temple in May.
By June 22, he'd corralled enough support that the Penn Valley auditorium was almost equally divided between Metzl and Cleaver partisans, even though the see-and-be-seen Democrats otherwise would have been cocktailing it up together at John Kerry fund-raisers.
Cleaver devotees booed and hissed -- booed and hissed! -- when Metzl threw punches during his opening statement, in which he said he believed the point of going to Congress was "to serve the people who elected you, not yourself." Up in the nosebleeds, people griped about bad sportsmanship. But Metzl kept going. "If you operate around the law in Kansas City, why would it be any different in D.C.?" he asked, referring to that morning's Kansas City Star stories rehashing how Cleaver had obtained an urban redevelopment loan to buy a car wash in suburban Grandview (two years after the Pitch reported that news in Joe Miller's "Clever Cleaver," April 4, 2002) and reporting new revelations that he hadn't provided workers' compensation insurance to cover his employees there.
In Hallmarky Kansas City, it was almost shocking the way the clean-cut white kid stayed in attack mode for the next 90 minutes.
Cleaver delivered answers slowly, faux haltingly, to give the impression of deep thoughtfulness, and he went straight for the heart of his audience. He fell in love with Kansas City, he told this congregation of Kansas Citians. This is a fabulous community, he said. All night, whenever Cleaver spoke, his worshippers called out their "amens" and "mm hmms."
The former mayor took credit for big projects -- the Bartle Hall expansion over I-70, restoring Union Station, reconstruction at 18th and Vine. But it was hard to forget that city leaders have already begun saying that Bartle Hall is outmoded and needs to be expanded again. Or that, except for its grand shell, Union Station needs serious help. Or that, despite massive public investment, 18th and Vine is a long, long way from glory.
As KCTV Channel 5's Dave Helling, KMBC Channel 9's Micheal Mahoney and the Star's Steve Kraske lobbed wonkish questions (was U.S. foreign policy tilted too favorably to Israel? Did they support the White House appropriations bill on missile defense? Where did they stand on reinstating the draft?), the contenders demonstrated big differences in style and approach.