KANSAS CITY, Mo. – KCUR is running a series of conversation with candidates in the race for Kansas City Missouri Mayor. We're asking them about crime and how to balance the city's budget during tough economic times. Maria Carter caught up with the incumbent, Mayor Mark Funkhouser, at his campaign headquarters in the city market.
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser's campaign headquarters is called by the mayor and his staff the triple wide a reference to the double wide trailer that housed his first campaign four years ago. But the airy space in a century old building in the City Market is more likely to be mistaken for an art gallery than a trailer. Funkhouser says he feels at home in the city market. He throws on his coat for the short walk a few doors down from campaign headquarters to Antonio's Pizzeria.
Funkhouser: Hey John!
John: Hey, Mayor!
Funkhouser: This is John. John owns this place. John, how long you been in here?
John: We've been in here approaching two years.
Funkhouser: This is the kind of stuff John and his little shop here of what makes
Kansas City unique and original. This isn't some big chain. This is one guy and a little store, making a neighborhood unique.
The Mayor's on first name basis with many of the shop and restaurant owners in the neighborhood. Funkhouser spent almost two decades crunching numbers as the city auditor and says the element of celebrity people yelling HEY FUNK! -on the street, came as a surprise.
Funkhouser: Frankly, being an odd-looking 6 foot 8 man with a weird name is a very useful tool it turns out to be the mayor of Kansas City. But I didn't know it while I was running.
Funkhouser says that's something he's used to get know the city's people and their issues as he dealt with the city's finances.
Funkhouser: We're now in the best shape we've been in in the past 10 years, and this while a recession is going on.
One trial whoever's elected will face right o ff the bat is the vote on the city's earnings tax. Funkhouser supports extending it with one qualification.
Funkhouser: They need to renew earnings tax one time, and then we will sit down and redesign our tax structure for the 21st century. But they have to give us an opportunity to do that. We need some time to do that. They need to understand that the earnings tax represents the largest single share of our operating revenue. It is a regional resource. It's 200 million, and 100 million paid by people who don't live in Kansas City.
Funkhouser says if voters repeal the earnings tax. He'll respect the their wishes and figure out where to make cuts. He says after making sure the city's finances are in order--public safety and making Kansas City safer is his top priority.
Funkhouser: You have to focus on stuff like homicide case clearance rate. That's how often police catch someone they think committed the murder, and they provide the prosecutor enough evidence the prosecutor says yeah that's right we can take this to trial. Right now that rate's a dismal 42%.
Funkhouser says quality of life types of crime things like burglaries and car thefts are just as important to getting people to move back into Kansas City. But he acknowledges fixing up neighborhoods and paying for more police officers can be expensive. Funkhouser says he'd start by cutting subsidies.
Funkhouser: If we need more money for public safety, we can't raise taxes, then we have to cut other places. Now, I have argued for years, and I will continue to argue until it happens that we cut stadium funding. To me this is a no brainer. We're not required to do it and we shouldn't do it. I mean we paid 250,000 to the downtown Community Improvement District, but we're required to, so let's stop.
Funkhouser's term as mayor has had its share of controversies missteps. Initially, accepting a free car from a dealership. An attempt to appoint someone to the Parks Board with ties to Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. His wife's work in his office, leading the city council to pass ordinance barring such volunteer activity. Butting heads with the city council over firing the city manager. And a lawsuit against the city and his wife after an employee of the Mayor's office says Funkhouser's wife Gloria Squitiro used a racial slur.
Funkhouser say-s part of the problem he's offended powerful interest.
Funkhouser: There are people who want you to keep writing these checks, but you have to say no. What the citizens of Kansas City have in me is a mayor who is absolutely willing to stand flat footed and look at the people and say, "No!" Now the people get furious, and they attack you in the newspaper and on television. And they do it in a frontal way and they do it in a sneaky around the back way, but they're doing it because I'm taking your money away from them. They want $2 million here a quarter million there.
Funkhouser points to this kind of spending for things like for study of a downtown convention hotel as part of the problem in Kansas City. Funkhouser instead says the city should look to small businesses like Antonio's pizzeria to promote development and growth. Funkhouser will be one of seven candidates on the February 22nd ballot.