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KC mayor fails to advance in primary

KC mayor fails to advance in primary

February 23rd, 2011 by BILL DRAPER, Associated Press in News

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - First-term Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser became the first incumbent since the 1920s to lose a primary election Tuesday, ending a four-year tenure marked by lawsuits, controversial appointments and accusations of nepotism.

The 61-year-old former city auditor conceded the seven-way, nonpartisan primary slightly more than two hours after the polls closed. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial returns showed Funkhouser third with 21 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Sly James and 26 percent for Mike Burke, both attorneys. James and Burke will compete in the general election on March 22.

James has no previous elective political experience but has held several civic leadership roles and ran a campaign strong on fundraising and efforts to get out the vote in the usually low-turnout primary.

Burke, a former City Council member, won endorsements from three previous Kansas City mayors - Kay Barnes, Richard Berkley and Charlie Wheeler, who had dropped out of the primary but remained on the ballot and finished with 1 percent of the vote.

Funkhouser won his first bid for elective office when he ran four years ago and entered the mayor's office pledging an end to business as usual at City Hall.

He spent much of Tuesday visiting polling places around the city and said he has no doubt that he would be one of the two candidates who made it past Tuesday's nonpartisan primary.

"I am confident in the wisdom of folks, and I think we'll be fine," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday afternoon.

But just hours later, he told supporters that he had called Burke and James to congratulate them, adding, "I'm looking forward to working with them in any way that they choose to have me."

Funkhouser's campaign strategist, Jeff Roe, had said he considered James and City Council member Deb Hermann to be the mayor's biggest competition. Hermann finished fifth with 11 percent of the vote, behind Jim Rowland with 13 percent.

Funkhouser's image problems began soon after he took office, when he appointed a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an anti-illegal immigration group, to the city's parks board.

Then came complaints about his wife, Gloria Squitiro, who volunteered in the mayor's office and was accused of racial discrimination and lewd language around the office. The couple denied the accusations, but the accusers settled a lawsuit against the two for $550,000.

The City Council followed up with an ordinance that banned Squitiro from working in the mayor's office, but Funkhouser sued and a judge eventually ruled that parts of the ordinance that banned Squitiro were unconstitutional.

Among those the outgoing mayor thanked Tuesday night was Squitiro.

"This is the toughest, strongest, most beautiful, smartest woman I ever met," Funkhouser said. "Thank God I married her."