Dave Helling

Political consultant Steve Glorioso was the essential Kansas Citian

Longtime political consultant and activist Steve Glorioso died Sept. 14. He changed Kansas City forever, making it a better place to live.
Longtime political consultant and activist Steve Glorioso died Sept. 14. He changed Kansas City forever, making it a better place to live. The Kansas City Star

The call would come once a week — sometimes once or twice a day during a campaign.

“Hellinger!” Or “Kraske!” he would say. “It’s Steve.”

What followed was always astonishing, a heady brew of political chat: fact, rumor, spin, analysis, argument and a touch of self-promotion. Steve Glorioso knew your phone number, what you covered, what you needed for a story, what he needed from your story.

That voice left us Thursday when Steve died unexpectedly at 70.

To say Glorioso changed the face of Kansas City is to understate his influence. He ran the campaign to remake the Truman Sports Complex, keeping two major league franchises here. He led the effort to pass the taxes needed for the Sprint Center — a victory he always considered his greatest feat.

He helped keep the city’s one percent earnings tax. His final campaign, to pass tax hikes for city bonds, was a triumph.

But his work as a counselor and adviser was equally important. Glorioso was especially committed to helping women candidates succeed: The career of Sen. Claire McCaskill would have been quite different without him.

He worked with Jackson County Executives Marsha Murphy and Katheryn Shields. Former Mayor Kay Barnes relied on his encyclopedic understanding of the city she served and acknowledges she wouldn’t have been elected without him. Countless businessmen and businesswomen, over three decades, turned to him for public policy advice.

Redrawing Kansas City’s council districts? Steve was there, with data. Conducting an election? Glorioso traveled the world, watching election processes and offering tips. Passing a bond issue? He knew every precinct, every likely voter, every door that needed a knock.

And he was a constant media presence. He was a regular on KCPT-TV, always willing to engage lesser mortals in political debate. All four commercial stations interviewed him routinely. He became a local radio star in the 1990s and worked as a pundit for KCTV.

He bought and published an alternative weekly newspaper, the New Times. His voice, at times, seemed to be everywhere — there was so much Steve Glorioso in this newspaper, it temporarily banned him from its pages. He was simply in too many stories.

That didn’t last long.

He was not unanimously loved. No one that influential, or public, escapes without critics. Firefighters and police often tangled with the irascible Democrat. Younger political activists distrusted his easy access to influence and sometimes lucrative paydays.

There were times Steve used tactics many considered too aggressive.

Some African-Americans were also leery. For a time, during the Mayor Emanuel Cleaver years, Glorioso often found himself outside the tent, looking in.

He responded by leading the opposition during that period, conducting campaigns against tax hikes, aligning himself with anti-tax activists. He defeated enough proposals that the city’s hierarchy finally relented and invited him back in.

In all of this, Steve Glorioso made himself essential: a reformer, a fixer, a nudge, a lobbyist, a critic. Every important reporter in Kansas City knew him or called him regularly for news and advice. He provided it. Naturally.

All great cities need people like Steve. They provide the lubricant in the gears of public life, easing connections between elected leaders, business interests, the media and the public. Until his final hours, he was working the phones, talking about the airport campaign, Mayor Sly James, the City Council, The Kansas City Star.

There was always a hint of mystery around Steve, too. He could disappear for weeks to a home in Mexico. For a time, he essentially lived in New Orleans. He once threatened to leave politics behind.

But he always came back and was always a presence here: thinking, talking, counseling. He loved Kansas City.

The phone didn’t ring Friday. Already, we miss him deeply. Kansas City will miss him, too.