Former KC Mayor offers lessons in leadership

Listen

Mayors who are no longer in office often have the luxury of speaking more candidly about what it takes to do the job.

Former Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser talked with WHYY’s Dave Davies about some lessons he learned during his stint at the helm. He first issued a warning to Philadelphia’s would-be mayors about the power the words of the person who wins the election will have, and, how these words need to be chosen with forethought and care.

“My first six months and so forth I tried to talk to the press the same way I always had in my career, pretty off the cuff, pretty straight forward without a lot of rehearsal and that was a mistake,” he said.  “The mayor’s mouth is a loaded gun. It has to be handled very carefully and it took me awhile to get that. It doesn’t matter what you meant, it matters what you said, and if it can be twisted by your opponents, it will be.”

Another cautionary lesson Funkhouser stressed  was the need for good appointees.

“I should have immediately appointed people to those boards and commissions who were sympathetic to my agenda,” he said.

The former mayor also stressed the importance of stamina, and how it’s needed when talking to constituents and when pushing your message.

“I used to say that the mayor had to be an ice breaker, a thick hull and a strong engine,” said Funkhouser.  “You have to keep going, keep repeating your message and keep focused on the things you want to get done  despite the nonsense in the paper everyday.”

When entering office, the new mayor will face some issues that have plagued Philadelphia for years as well as some newly surfacing ones.

“I would say these are really really challenging fiscal times that we’re in,” said Funkhouser.  “It hasn’t gotten a lot better for cities and it hasn’t gotten a lot better for Philadelphia. I think Mike Nutter has done an outstanding job. But I think it doesn’t matter whatever you thought you wanted to do, it’s the money that matters. Everyone is for more jobs, how you create more jobs has to do with managing the money.”

And finally, Funkhouser gave Philadelphia voters some advice about what they should look for in potential cadidates during the upcoming mayoral election.

“Well, voters who have the time and who can cut through all the chaff drive for specificity,” he said.  “Specifically, you know, are you going to cut waste? Specifically where is the waste you think you are going to cut? Specifically how many dollars do you think there that are wasted? Where can you get it? And then, does it sound authentic? Does it sound honest? Do you think they really mean what they’re saying?”

Click the link above to hear the full interview.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.