The Making of the Wichita Mayor 2019
By Karl Peterjohn
There are eight major lessons for Wichita voters when they cast their ballots on or before November 5, 2019, concerning the revelations of favoritism involving the mayor, apparently a majority of the city council, and a number of Wichita businesses and businessmen concerning a proposed massive city water plant contract that is close to half a billion dollars.
The Wichita Eagle’s detailed reporting on this proposed contract, Mayor Longwell’s role deserves scrutiny at several different levels.
Let me begin with full disclosure. Both Mayor Longwell and I are registered Republicans, and also GOP precinct committeemen in our respective west Wichita precincts. The mayor is now one of the most prominent Republican mayors in the entire country. In 2012, then-city council member Longwell ran against me in the Republican primary for the Sedgwick County Commission. He lost. Subsequently, in 2015, Jeff Longwell defeated Sam Williams in the non-partisan general election for Wichita mayor.
Finally Exposing Improper City Contract Conduct
The Wichita Eagle deserves credit for researching city records following an expensive KORA records request. The paper also deserves credit for reporting the story about favoritism, cronyism, and how public-private partnerships” actually have been operating as part of the proposed new water plant at city hall.
However, this story implicitly treats this type of conduct as new. In reality, there is an extensive history of similar conduct going back for years at city hall. That raises the question, why now?
The huge volume of space the Wichita Eagle initially provided to cover this front page, above the fold story on a Sunday paper is remarkable. It was extremely large. I doubt that the 1969 moon landing, the 9-11-2001 Islamist terrorist attacks, or pick any of the presidential campaign election results since the 1960s had as much space with as many words above the fold on the front page, and followed with two full pages inside the Sunday paper, and editorial commentary as this city hall story. As a percentage of the total news hole in the paper, a higher percentage was probably contained within this edition of the paper.
I believe that you would probably need to go back to the JFK assassination for coverage that may have included more space than this Sunday, September 29, 2019 story received.
This is quite a contrast in local news coverage from past examples of city contracts that were handled in a similar way over many years. Let’s look at why this might have occurred.
Weakened Local News Media
The news organizations in Wichita have been decimated by digitization. The digital world has dramatically changed the environment for print and broadcasting, whether it is radio or TV. All of these organizations are smaller, have reduced staffs, and lack the ability to do extensive and expensive research needed to provide any sort of investigative reporting. That is why the Eagle’s reporting on this story is remarkable since the room for news in this shrunken paper is a small fraction of what it was 10 or even just five years ago.
The Eagle’s reporting is also notable because its parent company, McClatchy Corporation (MCN), is in severe financial distress, with a corporate capital base hovering around $20 million while the firm’s indebtedness is many times larger. Recently, the Eagle announced that it was discontinuing daily publication, and will be printed six times weekly beginning in November.
McClatchy Corporation stock is now under $3 a share despite having a reverse stock-split that dramatically reduced the number of shares (1 for 10) in this financially distressed firm. To raise cash, McClatchy recently sold their Kansas City Star building. The details of this transaction that included a 15-year leaseback, indicate a company suffering severe financial difficulties.
Despite these cash flow problems, the resources needed to write this story were provided. The Wichita broadcast news media is now following, and reporting this story too.
However, this type of reporting could have occurred years ago and wasn’t. Why not?
Vote for the Leftist With A Chance
The very liberal Wichita Eagle editorial page is nothing new. When Knight-Ridder owned the eagle, the paper did an in-your-face endorsement of the liberal Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election to its readers in Republican-voting Kansas.
Now the Eagle knew that their endorsement would not matter. Kansas had not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, or before that, 1936 when Kansas’ favorite son, Alf Landon, was defeated by FDR. Despite this, they endorsed a Massachusetts leftist who went on to lose in a national landslide, as well as a Kansas landslide in this state. Even if a Republican loses a national election, Kansans overwhelming voted for Bob Dole every time his name appeared on the national election ballot.
State and local newspaper endorsements are different. This is where the Eagle’s endorsements have had more influence in races where voters may not know as much about the candidates. This is more of a factor in primaries where even less is known about candidates and their positions, than in general elections.
Now the Eagle’s defenders will take exception to this claim about liberal endorsements. Eagle defenders will claim that the paper has endorsed some Republicans, and occasionally even a conservative. It is true, this has occasionally occurred but only under a narrow set of circumstances. These non-liberal endorsements only occur when it was clear that the conservative was likely to win, and usually would win big regardless of who or how the paper endorsed. The Eagle’s editorial endorsement policy is usually to endorse the most liberal candidate with a reasonable chance to win, and has been in place for more than 40 years I’ve lived in Wichita.
As the paper’s financial and news resources have weakened, the ability to endorse has diminished with their diminishing circulation but still has substantial influence in low-turnout elections that especially include primaries, and down-ballot races.
Voice for Liberty Records It
The Voice for Liberty website at wichitaliberty.org pictured former Mayor Carl Brewer, a liberal Democrat, holding a big fish while standing next to a prominent local businessman David Wells of Key Construction Company. Next to this picture Weeks included a Brewer letter on city hall letterhead praising Key Construction Company and identifying it as the special construction company with city hall connections.
Bob Weeks and Voice for Liberty did everything possible to call out this situation. Interest in the local news media, from the Wichita Eagle to the broadcasters can be described in one word: crickets. Nada, nothing, ain’t going to go there was the Wichita news media reaction. But there are more city hall purchase contract shenanigans, and it is more recent.
Wichita Eagle Skews
In July 2012 the city council voted to give a large, nine-figure construction contract to a Michigan company with their select Wichita partners to replace the Wichita Airport terminal. The Michigan company and their local partners, including Key Construction, weren’t the low bidders. The lowest bidder was a Wichita construction company.
The Michigan company partnered with Key Construction and won the city council vote on this contract. Then-city council member Jeff Longwell voted to give this large contract to the Michigan/Key construction group.
The day before the city council and Longwell voted the Michigan construction company’s top management and many of their spouses made maximum donations allowed by law to the Longwell for County Commission Campaign. The day after Longwell voted to give them this $100 million-plus contract more maximum legal level donations rolled into the Longwell campaign from the Michigan company’s management and their spouses.
This all became public record when these were reported on campaign finance reports about 10 days before the election. Naturally, my campaign responded to this outrageous misconduct. Interest from the news media in general, and the Wichita Eagle, which had endorsed the less conservative candidate in this race, Longwell, had no interest in reporting on these outrageous events on their front or editorial pages.
My county commission campaign tried to buy a newspaper ad in the Eagle and publicize this outrageous financial misconduct at city hall. The Wichita Eagle’s advertising staff did everything they could to assist my campaign in this ad purchase. However, the rest of the Eagle editorial, management, and news staff attempted to censor my text, and prevent my ad from running in the form it was being used in our other campaign efforts. Eventually, my campaign did run an ad, but without all of the language that we wanted to use, in exposing this financial misconduct on the city’s airport construction contract.
This story did get to some voters, but only because my county commission campaign successfully mailed this information into voters’ hands, although roughly 40 percent of the voters had already cast ballots before my campaign material could be distributed. I beat Councilman Longwell with over 56% of the vote in the August 2012 GOP county commission primary contest.
However, when Sam Williams tried to raise this issue in the 2015 mayor’s race, it was treated as ancient history and not reported. Sadly, this history of cronyism at city hall wasn’t reported prior to the primary, and I believe that this would have made Lyndy Wells advance to the general election ballot. Most recently, this is especially true in the way the city has handled the destruction of Lawrence Dumont Stadium, and the sale of approximately 4 acres for $1 an acre around the stadium for the ownership group of an out of state, minor league baseball club. Special city favors for special people within the public-private partnership paradigm is the way municipal government operates here.
More Wichita Eagle Skews
This wasn’t the only example of city hall financial transgressions and shenanigans. In 2013 the city was involved in the city-owned land sale for the west bank apartment project, the same sort of financial shenanigans occurred. The city went with their politically favored firm, and Jeff Longwell voted with the majority to go his business buddies, in another example of this “public-private partnership.”
Sadly, Mayor Longwell continues to defend the “public-private partnerships” model for city development in this latest example of how Wichita city hall operates. This did not receive Wichita Eagle coverage like the most recent example that occurred with 3 weeks away from advanced voting in the 2019 mayor’s race begins, and roughly 5 weeks before the November 5 election day.
For many Wichitans, “public-private partnerships” is just a politically correct phrase describing cronyism, for ethically conflicted projects, for the special favors for special people environment in Wichita’s city government. Profits are privatized while loses land in taxpayer’s laps. This is what happens without clearly specified bidding, and without procedures for selecting, and protecting the low, winning bidders who meet clear project specifications.
City Purchases and City Scandals
Government scandals aren’t limited to city hall. Purchasing scandals have occurred at all levels of government.
After I joined the Sedgwick County commission in 2009, I was informed about past purchasing scandals in Sedgwick County government. These had all occurred in the last century. This occurred as I began officially reviewing county financial operations. County staff was proud of the protections and safeguards built into the county’s bidding and bid board process.
That is why almost all county bids were handled as routine, often consent agenda items. That’s how the county had created its bid board, and how there was a major effort to protect taxpayers. This transparent process treated all potential bidders fairly, whether they were local, or not; whether they knew or didn’t know county officials; and it was an open, transparent process. The city needs to move to a clear, transparent, and fair model like the county has enjoyed for several decades.
Conclusion With a Warning for the Future
Financial shenanigans have a long history in Wichita city hall. Lack of detailed news coverage of these shenanigans is a hidden story that this non-reporter is going to try and disclose for if nothing else, the historical record now. This is sad that this history has to be provided by a frustrated, non-media, Wichitan who, while I did enjoy an elevated county courthouse observation position for eight years, could only observe these city crony cases from the other side of Central Ave.
Additional details about these crony stories mentioned here are contained in the Voice for Liberty archives. This information is accessible to everyone on this site. Even the news media.
Now, this most recent example of city cronyism has received a large amount of well-deserved, and in fact remarkable, huge coverage by the Wichita Eagle. While I am a major critic of the Eagle, I will state that this paper deserves credit for breaking this story.
This must be placed in the context and contrast with often the lack of interest in the past, especially if the Eagle’s politically favored officials were involved. The major news story is not the continuing cronyism at Wichita city hall but the fact that cronyism was exposed, received major negative news attention, and now continuing news coverage.
Sadly, I expect that the bottom line is that little or nothing to change the public-private cronyism model that is encased in political concrete in city hall. This model also seems to be encased in Wichita media concrete too. Sadly, this defective economic model enhancing cronyism is likely to prevail regardless of who wins in the mayor’s election contest, or the other city council elections, November 5.
The cronyism in Wichita and news media flaws that are discussed above are relevant but tiny compared with the egregious corruption nationally in our country. The outrages from the Clinton Crime Foundation, the recent revelations concerning the Biden overseas money schemes, the misuse of government FISA surveillance in the Russian collusion hoax, outline national abuses and governmental scandals that far exceed local government’s defects in Wichita.
My sources for these national assertions include but are not limited to the financial revelations about misconduct by both Democrats and Republicans in Peter Schweizer’s outstanding books: Secret Empire, Clinton Cash, and Extortion, are excellent. News media flaws nationally are documented by the .
Are We Rome? by Lawrence Reed is a brief, pamphlet sized outline (see Foundation for Economic Education) of our national financial and governmental challenges. Those who want to explore our national fiscal and institutional problems, I would recommend Dinesh D’Souza’s and Mark Levin’s numerous books. If we don’t get this right, Mark Steyn’s After America: Get Ready for Armageddon moves from a yellow warning light to a hideous, Venezuelan reality.
Fighting the good fight within government will be tough. Scott Walker’s Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge describes the Wisconsin battle in exquisite detail. It is a valuable, but cautionary reality defenders of liberty can find incisive examples of the challenges ahead. Levin’s proposed constitutional amendments in the Liberty Amendments is also valuable reading.
Sadly, there aren’t any books like this for Kansas, let alone Wichita. Greg Jarrett has left Wichita and gone national with his excellent books. This essay is a report for the legacy of those interested in local government in the early 21st century. This also provides a report for anyone interested in the governmental legacy left for our heirs who will follow us in south-central Kansas.