Government & Politics

Steve Kraske: Pat Gray had a profound impact on Kansas City

Kay Barnes, conferring with campaign manager Pat Gray, was all smiles as mayoral election results trickled in.
Kay Barnes, conferring with campaign manager Pat Gray, was all smiles as mayoral election results trickled in. The Kansas City Star

You may never have heard of Pat Gray, the Kansas City political operative who died Thursday at age 69.

You may not have known anything about the life and times of one of this city’s most colorful political insiders.

You may not care.

But here’s what you should know about Gray, who masterminded one local campaign after the next with all the finesse of a 2 a.m. barroom brawler: His impact on this city was simply profound. His punch might even approach that of any of Kansas City’s recent mayors.

Think about it. That big, gleaming downtown arena where you saw Garth Brooks perform? That building was erected not because Kansas City was eager for a new arena.

Rather, the Sprint Center became one of the most successful arenas in the nation because Gray and his longtime partner, Steve Glorioso, figured out a way to sell what had been an unpopular concept to voters. They seized on the opposition of St. Louis-based Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which quite naturally opposed the idea of higher rental fees, to awaken a moribund campaign.

In a stroke of political genius, Gray and Glorioso told voters that St. Louis was out to undermine Kansas City again by stopping us from building the same kind of gleaming downtown jewel that the big city to the east had.

Fueled by this manufactured civic pride, voters passed the fees, and Kansas City got its arena.

Gray’s list of accomplishments hardly stops there. A few years before, in 1999, Kay Barnes had no business winning election to become the city’s first woman mayor. She had lived out of state for years. The logical successor to Emanuel Cleaver was Councilman George Blackwood, who had the popular Cleaver’s backing and that of so many insiders.

But in the hands of Gray, Barnes was transformed into an unstoppable front-runner.

A sweeping renovation of downtown Kansas City followed. So did the entertainment district and so many new downtown residents that you can hardly rent a place downtown.

Upgrades to the Truman Sports Complex and capital improvements all over the city — he waged campaigns for those too. He worked for funding for indigent health care and helped re-elect Mayor Richard L. Berkley.

Don’t mistake any of this for sainthood. It made Pat Gray a comfortable living. He’d be the first to tell you so.

But don’t use your lack of familiarity as an excuse not to know something about him. He had impact.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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