Dave Helling

Politicians passed, and missed

Updated: 2013-12-13T02:26:12Z

By DAVE HELLING

The Kansas City Star

Sarah Snow’s passing last weekend adds another sad entry to the roster of Kansas City politicians and public figures who have left us so far this year.

Snow was the first woman to run for mayor in Kansas City. Irene French, who served as Merriam’s mayor for decades (and faced controversy over the city’s use of eminent domain), died just a few days ago. So did Neale Peterson, Fairway’s long-serving former mayor.

Ike Skelton passed away this fall. Madeline Wrobley, who once led Kansas City’s League of Women Voters, died in June. Adele Hall — one of the city’s defining figures — died in January.

I had the good fortune to meet some of these important public servants. But Evert Asjes III, the former Kansas City Council member who died in late November, was a friend.

Like many council members from the 4th District, Evert lived a relatively comfortable life. He might have spent his retirement years quietly, tending to his home, family, neighborhood.

He did some of that, of course. But he did more: He worked to make Kansas City better. And because he didn’t really need elected office to make a living, he felt a certain freedom to pursue policies that might cause him political headaches in the short term but that could yield an improved community over decades.

At the same time, though — and this is crucial — Asjes never considered himself too good for politics. Unlike others of a certain well-to-do type, he didn’t run for office from a sense of sacrifice or noblesse oblige. He wanted to win. He counted votes. He helped former Mayor Kay Barnes in countless ways.

Like all politicians, he had a few missteps. His was one of the first voices urging Mark Funkhouser to run for mayor, a decision he grew to regret.

But he knew that voters, not politicians, ultimately run a city. It’s hard to imagine Evert Asjes endorsing a medical research sales tax without at least talking to a few constituents first.

Many people think political reporters are cynics — disillusioned, distrustful of the people they cover, dismissive of dysfunctional government.

The exact opposite is the case. Most political reporters are romantics, always upbeat about the next vote, the next election, the next inauguration. Like almost everyone else, political reporters are sometimes disappointed by the people they cover, but they rarely doubt the actual relevance of small “d” democracy. You know, government of the people, by the people, all that stuff.

Evert Asjes was for the people. Kansas City will miss him.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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