Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Politics as usual? Isn't that an Oxymoron?

“All Politics is Local”

Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil quoting an old political aphorism.

Well, the dust has settled and KC voters have actually passed bond initiative to re-vitalize downtown Kansas City by building a new arena. This will be a corner-stone to other development, including an entertainment district, performing-arts center and restraints.

My parents have related stories of how downtown was when they first arrived here in 1959. I can remember traveling to the downtown Macy’s for shopping trips. I can also remember going to the 31st and Troost area, where major department stores had retail outlets. The Plaza and Ward Parkway shopping centers existed near the MO-KS border and THE MALL (the Blue Ridge Mall) was available to us ‘Eastern Jackson County’ shoppers. That was it. Now-a-days, the shopping opportunities are multitudinous. Johnson County KS, just across the border, boasts the second-highest per-capita income in the US, or at least did until recently. The lack of infrastructure to support the traffic loads in recent years are one of many reasons I prefer to live where I do, but a quick trip in to partake in the preferred ‘retail opportunity’ of the day is quite satisfactory.

Meanwhile, and, to a certain extent because of, these ‘outlying’ outlets, the inner-city has suffered. Years ago, while in the market for a ‘new’ used car, I had occasion to test-drive a vehicle in the area adjacent to College Blvd. in Overland Park, KS where the new Corporate Woods office park was just beginning to take shape. I drove the car on the newly paved roads of these new offices. I remember thinking to myself, “Are these people crazy? Who in their right mind is going to drive out here to the middle of nowhere to go to work?” (Less than three years later I was a newlywed and applied for a job at the fledgling Innovative Software, located in one of those very buildings at the time…)

31st and Troost had declined long ago, to the point that today one has to know exactly what and where to look to even catch a trace of it’s former days.

Downtown KC has taken a slower decline. By the time I started working downtown full-time, the Macy’s had closed. Last of the full-line department stores was Jones. Across from it’s empty shell is the façade of the old Jenkins music store. Many is the hour during my college years I spent lusting in my heart for various guitars in it’s basement. There was one Alvarex model that was a particular favorite… (Ahhhhhhhh…. ;->)

Now, walking anywhere east of Main Street is just depressing. From afar, the city skyline is still impressive, but the old girl is suffering when you get up close. The area West of Main still has some activity, mostly due to my present employer. They have made a concerted effort to rehab buildings and remain downtown. New condominiums have been built and many loft-dwellers are beginning to move back into the downtown area.

Still, as the client’s I have arrive here in KC can attest, the side-walks are rolled-up at 5pm as we all go home to the sub-urbs.

Now, with the help of the new attractions, perhaps downtown will once again attract shoppers/diners from the outskirts into the core.

And OH! What a time it was during the campaign. Enterpriace Rental Car decided they had to take a stand somewhere to dissuade cities from the kind of tax-increase proposed by this measure. The tax-increase, (remember, we are talking government here) was levied on out-of-towners coming to use/visit the new attractions. In outer words, hotel and rental-car tax levies. Enterprise, who does the bulk of their business not at the airport, but out of neighborhood store-fronts, would see a direct increase in fees and a corresponding decrease in bottom-line. (As one observer pointed out, much of the Enterprise business is apparently fixed-cost contracts with insurance companies, so they would be unable to pass the expense on.) I, for one, never give Enterprise a first, let alone a second-thought when arriving in a destination airport. As for local rentals, I have used and attempted to use them on occasion, but their local operation is so small that the selection of cars is lacking. (One time too many waiting for an economy-size car when I ‘reserved’ a mid-size has put me out of the mood to try them again.) That said, one can understand their opposition from a purely financial perspective. They have, in my opinion, overlooked an un-intended by-product of this opposition. Lest it sound as if I am picking on Enterprise, I have NO opposition to a company looking out for their bottom-line. In fact, PROFIT is not just a good word, it is a GREAT word. Besides, I already stated, I am less then enamored with Enterprise. And, at least according to the representative of the California-based management-firm who will be part of the development and management of the new Arena (an admittedly biased source) Enterprise CHOSE KC as their battleground for this fight. They liked the proximity to their HQ and thought the market size in KC would make for an easier engagement than a Dallas or Denver. Assuming the truth in that statement, and this was purportedly openly admitted at an industry dinner just a day before the electon, I have no qualms about what the pro-arena forces did to combat the onslaught. Faced with literally millions of dollars of advertising and organizing money, they went on the offensive with their General at the forefront. Mayor Kaye Barnes, came out strong with ads criticizing the company for their ‘outside’ status. The real kicker was the very location of the HQ that was part of Enterprise’s very decision to oppose this measure at this time.

You see, Enterprise just happens to be located in St. Louis.

For those not from Missouri, the significance of this may be lost. For many, nay most states, there is one main city. One nexus of attention, at least in this modern world of rapid-transit. But in MO there are, and for the longest time, have been, two. Each with a unique commercial, cultural and political history. And ever since the railroad bridge crossed the Missouri at the point it turns North and KC began to form, they have been at logger-heads. St. Louis is an Eastern city. Kansas City, the true gateway to the West. (They just have a big concrete half-circle.) Given it’s peculiar political history and a larger population-base through time, they have exercised more political power and garnered more state funding.

And so, the her Honor’s television and radio spots explaining how the ‘St. Louis-based’ Enterprise is throwing millions of dollars (true) to keep KC down struck a deep-seated resentment. And the issue passed overwhelmingly.

In the process, I think Enterprise has managed to BUY more bad publicity than would have occurred if they had actually set out to do so. Their CEO could have been caught inflagranto with a city-councilwoman; nay councilMAN and it would have had less impact on public sentiment.

We shall see what measures they take to address this in the future.

On another note, I noticed with interest a sign in my local polling place:

“You must be a resident of this voting district to vote in this district.”


Given the history of politics, both here and elsewhere, I thought to myself, perhaps there should be a sign just below reading:

“You may only vote once in any given district.”

One thing still fresh in the minds of voters in KC that are Paying Attention(tm) is the voting ‘irregularities that took place in that self-same St. Louis during the 2000 election. So much attention was concentrated on Florida at the time that the Missouri issues were not pressed. There was a well-publicized legal manipulation to keep the polls in St. Louis city open well after the official 7:00pm closing. Less well known were the other efforts of the Democratic machine made to assure that every St. Louis voter got to the polls. This included the voters from East St. Louis, IL…

If he was not the gentleman that he is, incumbent Senator John Ashcroft could have and probably should have challenged the voting irregularities that sent Mel Caranahan’s widow to the Senate.

As it was, we gained a unique, though dubious distinction.

Other states, being mere slackers, have had incidents of dead people voting.

We, however, are the only one to actually ELECT a dead guy.

Of course, we did at least have a junior Senator that was a experienced as New York…

Ah, Politics!

If it weren’t so serious, I could die laughing.




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