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Chicago isn’t the only big, blue city with a mayoral primary tomorrow, Kansas City has one, too, in which about 15% of us will go to the polls and decide which two candidate of the six in the primary will appear on the general election ballot in April.

For me, tomorrow morning and the polls opening can not get here fast enough, because voting for someone NOT named Mark Funkhouser will be, for me, an act of redemption. I literally wrote a post* on November 8, 2006 laying out a case that if he didn’t run, the people of the city should draft him. Then I busted my ass to get him elected.

I quickly learned that he was in over his head and I have spent the last three-plus years apologizing to Alvin Brooks, who I knew personally, professionally and politically long before that election, for backing his opponent four years ago. He has long since forgiven my transgression, but I can’t forgive myself until I vote against that arrogant sumbitch. I am fully expecting the heavens to open up and a choir of angels to sing when I put my ballot in the optical scan machine tomorrow morning. I have had one standard line that I have used for about three-and-a-half years whenever anyone asks me about the mayor: “Ugh. Please. Funkhouser was the biggest political mistake of my life, and I voted for Dukakis…in the primary.”

With the primary tomorrow, all six candidates gathered today at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library for a live debate/candidate forum that was moderated by Steve Kraske, political reporter for the Kansas City Star and host of KCUR’s Up to Date for a special 90-minute edition of the show that broadcast the forum live, as it was conducted in front of a live audience of about 250 people. (If you missed it, but live in KC and want to listen before you vote, you can do so at the link.)  

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They had the press sequestered over by the wall, but the person in the audience closest to me takes her civic responsibilities seriously and took great notes.

With the polls opening in less than twelve hours, I don’t have time to do a transcript of a 90-minute broadcast, so I will just give my overall impression of the five candidates challenging the incumbent — Sly James, Jim Rowland, Mike Burke, Deb Hermann, Henry Klein — and let my remarks so far stand on their own as what I think about him and his leadership of the city I love and call home.

I really wanted to like Deb Hermann and muster some support for her, but today’s forum just left me cold. Before the event got underway, they drew names, with the intent of asking a question of the opponent whose name they drew. When Kraske asked her whose name she drew and to ask her question she informed the room that she drew Mayor Funkhouser’s name, but since she has been on the council and asking questions of him for three-and-a-half years and she would just pass. Hmmm. So will I…

I get a definite Dennis Kucinich vibe off of Henry Klein. He says the right things, he’s bright and charming and engaging, gives a damn about public safety and local control of our police department, knows the issues cold…and is probably only going to finish fifth, just in front of Funk, when the votes are tallied tomorrow.

Mike Burke is a development attorney and definitely a top-tier candidate. He has a long history of service to the community, including serving in the administration of the much-loved and missed three-termer Dick Berkley, who served from 1979 to 1991. His experience and his history of service make him a solid choice that you wouldn’t regret voting for all day every day for three-plus years when he proved to be in over his head, because he wouldn’t be.

Jim Rowland is a civics teacher by training, he has served on the city council and he oversaw the rehab of the Truman Sports Complex and there was no drama, labor disputes, scandals, kickback schemes, accounting chicanery, cost overruns, missed deadlines…He joked during today’s event that maybe he should have messed up just a little in order to get his name in the paper and raise his name-recognition a bit.

And finally, Sly James. Sly is a retired Marine, a trial lawyer and a community activist. When we tried to recall Funkhouser a little over a year ago, he is who we wanted to replace him. He has the legal background, the leadership experience and the vivacious personality, quick wit and oratory skills to make a great mayor for our city.

I walked in with an “anyone but Funkhouser” feeling, and I moved Deb Hermann into that category about thirty minutes in. I got the same feeling off her that I get from Funkhouser — they seem to think they are doing me a favor by offering their services. I wanted to tell them both not to do me any favors — we’ll handle it ourselves and not trouble you poor vexed and put-upon souls.

When it was over, those two were out of there like a shot from a gun, it was as if they couldn’t get away from the rabble fast enough. The other candidates were shaking hands and talking to the people who came out to hear their ideas in a 90 minute forum on the Plaza, knowing that those people will sure as hell take five minutes to go to their neighborhood polling place and vote tomorrow.

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Sly James and Jim Rowland — the two who act the most like they actually want the job, talking with voters in the hallway after the debate. As long as there were voters with questions, they were there to listen and answer.

* Unfortunately, the post in question, which appeared on the original Blue Girl, Red State blog was lost to the ether during an upgrade of the Blogger platform, so I can’t link back to it.