Steve Glorioso, a fixture of the Kansas City political scene for four decades, has died after shepherding his final campaign to victory in April.
Glorioso oversaw this year’s successful campaign for an $800 million bond package that will be used to upgrade Kansas City’s roads, bridges, animal shelter, flood control facilities and more. He suffered health problems after the election and died Thursday at age 70 at Research Medical Center.
The longtime Democratic consultant was mourned by friends on both sides of the political aisle.
“Steve spent his career working on behalf of a better Kansas City,” Mayor Sly James said in an email Thursday evening. “For that, we should be grateful and appreciative of his work and commitment to our community. Personally, my thoughts are with Regina (Glorioso’s wife) and Steve’s family.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a former Jackson County prosecutor and close friend of Glorioso, recalled his intelligence and love of politics.
“Steve was whip-smart, incredibly loyal, and could always see around corners when it came to any public policy issue. He loved politics because he cared deeply about his community and his country. He has been a go-to source for guidance and historical context for many elected officials for decades. I will miss my dear friend terribly,” McCaskill said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City also lamented the loss. “There are few major elections in Jackson County and or Kansas City where the fingerprints of Steve Glorioso cannot be found,” he said.
Glorioso played key roles in the 2004 campaign for the Sprint Center, former Mayor Kay Barnes’ administration, and multiple Democratic campaigns in the Kansas City region. He also traveled the world to work as an election observer to ensure fair elections in Ghana, Macedonia and other countries.
Barnes called Glorioso a “a political icon in our region and beyond.”
“He was an invaluable confidante and mentor for me in so many ways. Steve has been responsible for so many successes in Kansas City and beyond through his wise counsel on campaigns, both for individuals and issues in the community. He will be sorely missed by so many of us who have treasured his humor, knowledge, and genuine caring personality,” Barnes said in an email.
His opponents sometimes described him as a “master of distortion,” but Glorioso embraced his role as a spin doctor for local politicians.
“ ‘Spin’ is another way to say ‘persuasion.’ There is an art to it,” he told The Star in 2004. “I got involved and stayed in politics because I believe it is a way to contribute to the community and country for the greater good.”
Jeff Roe, a Republican political consultant, recalled how his battles with Glorioso in a 2008 congressional race resulted in a friendship after they went out for post-election beers.
“He was a committed liberal who never wavered from his principles. He was my favorite liberal,” Roe said Thursday. “He was a tough competitor. He was as tough as you’d find on the battlefield. But he always left it there. ... He became a good friend. He’s a good man.”
Glorioso’s sister Patricia Bradley said in an email that he “was a great brother and an A-plus Uncle Stevie to my three children.”
“We are all heartbroken,” she said.
Bradley said Glorioso passed on his love for travel to her and her daughters.
“You know he never had his own kids, but he loved my girls like they were his (even though we are conservatives!). He always went the extra mile to do something thoughtful for them. When they were studying abroad, he would make sure to pass through wherever they were studying to spend time with them,” she said.
Glorioso was born in Kansas City’s old Northeast neighborhood, attended Catholic schools and helped stump for his stepfather, who was a Gladstone councilman and mayor.
But the late 1960s radicalized him. He attended Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia from 1966 to 1970, and then traveled the world, spending two months in India. Those experiences opened his eyes to poverty and racial tensions.
While in graduate school, he worked part-time for Kansas City’s longtime 5th District congressman, Dick Bolling, who instilled in him a fervor for reform.
Glorioso’s graduate thesis dealt with the Committee for County Progress’ efforts to get rid of the Pendergast machine’s remnants, abolishing ward bosses and political factions.
Quinton Lucas, a first-term Kansas City councilman, said he would remember Glorioso for his willingness to help newcomers to the Kansas City political scene.
Lucas initially hired Pat Gray as his political consultant in his run for the city’s 3rd District at-large seat in 2015. When Gray passed away in the middle of that campaign, Glorioso offered to help Lucas the rest of the way on an informal basis.
After Lucas won his race, Glorioso hadn’t requested payment, but did mention to Lucas that his wife had been interested in buying a piece of furniture. In the end, Lucas’ campaign sent Glorioso a check for about $1,500 so he could get the furniture.
“Far less than what his value would have been,” Lucas said.
Lucas credited Glorioso for an array of civic and political causes, ranging from helping push downtown Kansas City’s renewal to advocating for a host of good government city charter reforms.
“He always made time for people and made political opportunities for people,” Lucas said.
In 1974, Glorioso helped Jackson County Executive George Lehr defeat John Ashcroft for state auditor. He worked for Jackson County government and the federal government until Ronald Reagan became president.
Then he worked for a firm that helped commercial property owners appeal their tax bills. The company was sold, and Glorioso made a lot of money, which he used to buy The New Times, an alternative newspaper.
That led to radio and television commentary jobs. “I had an abiding interest in shaping public opinion,” he told The Star in 2004.
But it was on his “Friendly Fire” radio show on KMBZ in 1996 that Glorioso made an incendiary comment that landed him in court.
Angry that the national media were bashing President Bill Clinton, he told a caller that the focus should also be on allegations that Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole had had an affair with a woman who, with Dole’s consent, got an abortion.
The woman sued for defamation. A judge in 1999 fixed damages at $1 million. Glorioso’s insurance company contested the ruling and eventually won.
“It was summarily dismissed,” Glorioso said. “I never paid a penny.”
Years later, Glorioso wound up serving as a fellow at the University of Kansas’ Dole Institute of Politics, where he worked with former Dole aide Bill Lacy, the institute’s director.
“Steve was exceptionally talented and served as a Fellow at the Dole Institute,” Lacy said in an email. “But what I remember most about Steve, especially in today’s political environment, is how friendly he was despite our partisan and philosophical differences. It’s hard for people in politics to maintain that today. Steve will be sorely missed.”