There are certain things not discussed in official Kansas City - one's salary, one's dalliances and indiscretions, one's exclusions from certain club memberships, and - oh, yes - vote fraud.
In the inner city, however, people talk about it openly. I caught a whiff of this when I moderated a debate between the two Democratic candidates for Jackson County Prosecutor, the incumbent Bob Beaird and the challenger, Pat McInerney. The event was held at a central city church and hosted by the indomitable activist couple, Leroy and Anna Hyrne.
What surprised me - and I think what surprised the candidates - was the desire of the largely minority audience to put the issue of vote fraud on the table. One questioner after another made highly specific charges about the machinations of a certain inner city "political club."
After a few such questions, Beaird responded matter-of-factly, "I presume you are talking about Freedom, Inc." He was referring to the celebrated political organization whose moral fervor has, to say the least, shown real signs of entropy since its birth in the civil rights movement. Yet he showed no surprise or outrage or even real concern at the questions. It struck me, as it did the audience, that he had no particular interest in taking Freedom on.
With good reason. As Beaird admitted, he had himself sought Freedom's endorsement (and would eventually get it.) I then asked him and McInerney, who also sought the endorsement, "If what these people say is true, might not one of your victories be attributable to dubious practices your campaign helped pay for?" There was no good answer, and they ventured none.
The Greed Within Them • Two years ago, the Hyrnes wrote and published a book that deserved much more attention than it got. Called The Greed Within Them, the book details the follies of the Kansas City School District from 1991 on, climaxing with the Anna Hyrne's gallant run for the 5th district seat in a 1996 school board race. In the book, the Hyrnes speak as openly and fearlessly as they do in real life. The subtitle of the chapter on the school board election, in fact, is "The Unadulterated Truth."
The Hyrnes relate with stunning detail how Freedom Inc. seemed to have affected the outcome of this particular election. "The truth about all of you has been known for years," write the Hyrnes of Freedom Inc. "You have done the community a great injustice. And to think, when Freedom Inc. was founded by Leon Jordan years ago, it stood for democracy."
Call me naïve, but I did not know that such stuff even allegedly went on Kansas City. I have never seen a hint of the same in the local mainstream media. True, a few Freedom luminaries have had some unfortunate problems - like, say, getting sent to the slammer. In fact, they have had enough such problems to net Kansas City a top ten ranking last year in George Magazine's "ten most corrupt cities" contest. But for all these peccadilloes, Freedom presents itself to the world as a do-gooder organization not unlike, say, the League of Women Voters, and the media generally buy in.
The Hyrnes--and those at their forum - have a different take on Freedom. I will recount some of their allegations. If not accurate, I would invite Freedom Inc. to come forward and set the record straight. If accurate, I would challenge the good citizens within Freedom, as well as Bob Beaird, to get off their collective duffs and do some- thing about it.
Unsolved Mysteries • Anna Hyrne first began to suspect that something was less than straight up in the school board election when many of her senior friends asked for their absentee ballots. Traditionally, the seniors told her, a representative from Freedom Inc. would give them a form to request such a ballot. The building manager would then collect the absentee ballots from the mailman and hold them all until the Freedom rep arrived.
In several of the building, Hyrne reports, a large sign had been posted over the elevators reading, "John Jones (pseudonym) will be here (on this date) to help you fill out your ballot in the recreation room. Be there!
As Hyrne relates, the rep would give a list of Freedom Inc. candidates to each senior. If the seniors didn't come to the meeting, the rep would go to their apartments. He would tell them that the Freedom candidates were the only ones running. If the seniors asked about others, he would dismiss those candidates as "Republicans," even if they weren't. After the selections were made, the Freedom rep would take the ballots with him and not let the residents mail them as required by law. "The seniors told us," writes Hyrne, "that this has been happening for many years."
It gets weirder still. As the Hyrnes tell it, the reason many of the seniors participated, perhaps most, could be summarized in one word. Fear. According to the Hyrnes, one woman "told us how scared she was just talking about it." She was afraid that if she talked too much, she "would be out on the streets." This threat, the Hyrnes report, was inferred by building management who seemed to be at least passive participants in the scheme.
Another charge the Hyrnes make bears scrutiny. In fact, the Hyrnes themselves would like to know themselves what actually happened on Election Day at St. James Paseo Church. According to the Election Board, the only school board candidates on the ballot that day at that location were the at-large candidates. The in-district candidates, Anna Hyrne and Terry Riley, her Freedom-backed opponent, were not supposed to be on the ballot.
But according to the Hyrnes, witnesses told them that Riley was hanging out at the church a good part of the day, passing out campaign literature, and bragging that it was "his church." The Hyrnes soon started getting frantic calls from voters telling them that Riley's name was indeed on the ballot and, stranger still, Anna Hyrne's was not. To this day, the Hyrnes have never gotten a satisfactory explanation as to what happened.
As the Hyrnes report, all ballots from all the other districts arrived at the Election Board on time except for the 5th District's, which arrived three hours late. As the vote tallies were announced on TV, the 5th District reported only the absentee ballots which showed Riley ahead.When the 5th District's ballots did arrive, an eye-opening number of them had been double punched and thus had to be invalidated.
When all was said and done, Anna Hyrne had lost by 136 votes. The Hyrnes were discouraged from seeking a recount. One hopes that the Hyrnes somehow misinterpreted what they saw, or that if their reports are accurate, that this election was an aberration. Freedom, after all, does have a proud heritage and continued good press.
But if these seniors are truly "tired of being used by Freedom Inc." as the Hyrnes report, and as the crowd at the forum seconded, official Kansas City really ought to do something about it. Lord knows these folks have seen enough injustice in their lifetime from without. They don't need any more from within.