The entrenched powers in Overland Park have resorted to playing hardball to keep a handful of feisty outsiders at bay in this election cycle.
At top of an impromptu ticket, Charlotte O”Hara is challenging incumbent Carl Gerlach. Gerlach is running for his fourth four-year term as mayor, the previous two unopposed. As with several of the challengers for the City Council seats, O’Hara’s number one issue is the city’s reliance on “public-private” partnerships for new development.
These relationships, say O’Hara, are “making Swiss cheese of our tax base.” She cites as an example the $178 million in outstanding tax incentives just on the stretch of 135th St. between Nall and Metcalf. She thinks it “outrageous to be subsidizing retail on the ‘Gold Coast’ of Overland Park.”
O’Hara is a former state rep. She knows how hard the Overland Park Whig set will play to maintain its power. For City Council candidate Gina Burke, the bully boy tactics are something of a revelation.
A 34-year-old mother of two, Burke is challenging Terry Goodman, a textbook good-old-boy, for the Fourth Ward seat. A former volunteer on the Overland Park planning commission, Goodman has held his Council seat unchallenged since 2001.
In one of the more self-destructive campaign moves since Anthony Weiner resumed sexting during his run for NYC mayor, Goodman has tried to harass Burke out of running. Fed up, Burke sent a letter to Fourth Ward residents outlining Goodman’s unique campaign strategy. What follows are some excerpts from that letter:
I filed for office in late May, just a couple of days prior to the deadline. Within just a few hours, I began to receive numerous calls on my work number from Mr. Goodman. He then attempted to call my cell phone. My first reaction was, “This can’t be normal,” but I ultimately picked up my work phone, just to get the calls to stop.
Councilman Goodman asked why I was running. Not desiring to give my opponent my entire platform, I simply responded, “to get more involved.” He didn’t particularly like that answer and wanted to meet that night. I refused.
The next day, the unsolicited text messages started. You can see the screenshots on my website, ginaburkeforop.com. At first, he expressed frustration when I initially refused to meet:
“I regret that you are not willing to meet.”
Then it was exasperation that I desired to run, with an assumption that I had been recruited, which I wasn’t:
“Just still curious why you are so committed to running unless you have been recruited – especially when there are so many other ways to serve, become involved & learn about the city.”
The texts kept coming. He ranted about a candidate for Mayor before proceeding with a lecture:
“To the best of my knowledge, you have not reached out to the Mayor, City Manager, Chamber of Commerce, etc. – nor have you been attending City Council meetings as the other candidates have been doing. As I said, it’s unfortunate that you did not call me before filing to express your interest, and that at you are unwilling to meet tonight.”
Interestingly, I didn’t know I had to seek permission from anyone to run for office, nor that calling those in power was a prerequisite to running for office, including the man I was seeking to unseat. Perhaps most humorously, he said:
“Gina, I’m not afraid of losing. It’s just such a hassel (his spelling) and unnecessary expense when you draw a last minute opponent who is running “to be involved.”
Then, more phone calls. Another Councilman – Dan Stock from Ward 6 – called me. Mr. Stock said that it would be nearly impossible to beat Terry, but I should consider what I could get in return if I didn’t run. That very night, Mr. Goodman tried to call me two more times. In between, a THIRD councilman – Fred Spears from Ward 4 – tried to call, as well. So now I had 1/4 of the Overland Park City Council attempting to contact me – and all I had done was file! Amazingly, Councilman Goodman also showed up at my house. Yes, that’s right – the day after I filed, I also found Mr. Goodman’s card on my door. What in the world?
* * *
Much more pestering followed. Ms. Burke picks up the story:
To put an end to the pestering, I decided in the phone call with Councilman Stock to relent and agreed to meet Mr. Goodman for breakfast at First Watch the following morning – June 1st, the filing deadline. To my surprise, Mr. Stock was also present. During this meeting, I was told twice that I didn’t have a chance. They wanted me to drop out.
I was told that Mr. Goodman had influence over Mayor Gerlach, who has the power to appoint people to boards and commissions. They also said Mr. Goodman could take me under his wing for a future election, with the implication being I should drop out of the race. I told them I would think about it. Soon after the meeting concluded, the texts started again:
“Should you opt to take the road that Dan and I have recommended, I have already reached out to Mayor Gerlach on your behalf.”
When Burke chose to pursue her campaign, Goodman continue to pursue his harassment campaign against her. Finally, Burke just texted, “Please stop texting me.”
Goodman could not have anticipated the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In its wake, the Kansas City Star has taken up Burke’s cause, seeing Goodman’s behavior as anti-female “bullying” and part of larger campaign to keep Overland Park “homogeneous.” This is a line of thought that Goodman has unwittingly fed.
Goodman told the Star that he never harassed Burke, but his texts and emails suggest otherwise. “At one time I thought you truly might be a future leader for OP,” he wrote to Burke. “Not anymore. In fact, I now view you as a threat to the tremendous City that I and so many others have worked to build.”
In truth, Goodman’s campaign against Burke has less to do with sex than it has to do with solidifying the power bloc that has thwarted conservative reform in “tremendous” Overland Park for at least the last generation.
The campaign has been sufficiently strange that the Star–mirabile dictu!–finds itself sympathizing with the conservatives.