The Buzz

December 13, 2013

Woman who gave birth to KC’s push for 2016 GOP convention is now off the team

Will the departure of Cathy Nugent hurt the city’s chances of landing the megameeting of Republicans?

The Buzz

The facts, faces and hum of local politics with Steve Kraske and Dave Helling

People once laughed at the idea of Kansas City hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention.

It was a joke.

The naysayers were everywhere. Kansas City lacks enough hotel rooms. We don’t have a slick mass transit system — not yet anyway. We aren’t major league enough.

“Nobody believed in it,” said Cathy Nugent. “Nobody.”

Long before the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa, the veteran Republican insider was noodling around with the idea. She networked with her GOP buddies hither and yon. She raised money. Then she staged an eye-catching reception at a Republican meeting last August in Boston and in a flash, Kansas City was hailed as a front-runner.

Fast forward to today and the latest development hits like a left hook out of nowhere. Nugent is off Kansas City’s 2016 convention team, and the organizing responsibility has shifted to the office of Mayor Sly James and Troy Stremming, chairman of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.

Nugent is angry, frustrated, even bewildered.

“I’ve been the face of this,” she said this week. “And now, all of a sudden, where is she?”

So what happened? Officials all over town praise Nugent for giving birth to a once-crazy idea that no longer seems crazy. They acknowledge Kansas City would be nowhere without her. They say the city offered her a contract, then backed away.

Insiders say the project had grown far bigger than one person’s capabilities. There’s ongoing disagreement over how flexible Nugent was. Now lots of money is on the line. Lots of groups stand to gain big time if Kansas City pulls this off.

The Nugent case is probably power struggle No. 1 in what will become a long line of power struggles as this bid moves forward. What matters most is if the conflict undermines Kansas City’s bid in a heated competition with Denver, Cleveland, Las Vegas and other cities.

Many Republicans insist it won’t. They point out that it’s still way early and that Republicans still haven’t picked members to their convention site selection team.

Nugent, they say, was important, but others are filling the void. Now officials on both sides of the state line, including former senator Kit Bond of Missouri and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, are all pulling for KC.

But some disagree. Former Kansas congressman Todd Tiahrt, a GOP national committeeman, said the turmoil doesn’t look good. Kansas City, he said, has taken a “huge step backward.”

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