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TKC is built for campaign season. By early 2007, more and more gossip was finding its way from insiders' lips to Botello's ears. Unburdened by the threat of lawsuits (he has nothing to take) or an interest in credibility (he'll pass, thanks), he ran seemingly every rumor on TKC. But no story established Botello as the town muckraker more than Mammygate.
"That is when I first remember developing a relationship with him, where I was very aggressively watching what he was saying," Ptacek recalls. "He broke a lot of stuff in that Mammygate thing, and the stuff that he said vetted out."
The story caught the attention of more journalists and more sources. By this campaign season, Botello's e-mail address seemed to live in every political strategist's BlackBerry. Dirt on Missouri House candidate Will Royster was particularly bountiful, as Royster's opponents unloaded tip after tip on Botello — stories that, without TKC, would never have made their way out of the campaign minivans. This winter, Funkhouser was the main target, but every candidate had to pick out shrapnel.
"It kind of replaces the old rumor mill," says Steve Glorioso, a veteran political strategist who occasionally feeds Botello story leads. "It's almost like a newsletter for the political class."
Of course, that's a small class. In a place where many suburbanites don't identify with the city from which they've sprawled, the audience for local political news is narrow. And Botello's traffic, while impressive for a one-man show, confirms TKC's limited scope. According to compete.com, which tracks online use, tonyskansascity.com attracted about 15,000 unique visitors in January, compared with about 230,000 for The Pitch and 1.1 million for the Star.
But whatever his stats, consumers of everyday news eventually get a taste of Botello's offerings. In December, when he reported that a nonprofit run by Funkhouser didn't have a business license, the Star investigated and quickly reported that Funkhouser didn't actually need one. But without Botello, readers wouldn't have known about the mayor's business to begin with.
"In the world of opinion leaders and politicos, it's probably read as much as Prime Buzz," Glorioso says, referring to the Star's political blog. "I don't know any media people who don't go back to it all day. That's how, eventually, his impact reaches the citizenry, from the mainstream media who either pick up leads or whose thinking is impacted."
"When bloggers are consistently engaging on a topic, there's a pressure to report on it," adds Jeff Roe, another political strategist. "He's got probably a couple stories that he helped shape the narrative around an issue or a candidate."
Even stories juicy enough to go directly to TV or newspapers sometimes wind up on TKC. Roe, who worked on Funkhouser's campaign, says he reads the site to see what dirt his opponents have shoveled Botello's way. If he thinks the dirt is destined for actual voters, he uses the lead time to shape his candidate's response.
"Your opponent will dump out what they're thinking because human nature doesn't allow them to keep it quiet," Roe says. "Mainly because they can't help themselves. They send him something, and 20 minutes later it's on his blog."
Correction: Before he starts inner-teenager channeling, waving around Uma's business card and offering beverages from his dad's fridge, Botello talks on the phone. He's setting a meeting. Something important-sounding, maybe for the blog or maybe for a side gig.
Lately, he's been leaving the basement more. As sources develop and traffic grows, the world embraces him — at least the shitty little world that Botello and his subjects exist in, a world of finger foods and 8-percent voter turnout, where a gangly auditor can rise to mayor and a lumpy blogger can help take him down.