Democracy in Action: A Petition Turns Into a Little Black Book
By J. Alex Tarquinio Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
Two weeks ago, Clay Chastain climbed on a horse and rode it triumphantly to
City Hall in Kansas City, Mo. It was his moment of vindication. The local
media and political opponents had long ridiculed his idea of reviving the
city's abandoned Union Station as a rail hub. But after six years of asking
citizens to sign petitions, Mr. Chastain had enough signatures to put his
plan to a citywide vote.
His celebration, however, didn't last long. A Kansas City Star reporter,
perusing the petitions, found odd notes in the margins. Beside the
signatures of about 50 women were phrases like "cute body," "nice freckles"
and "redhead yes." Contacting some of these women, the reporter learned
that Mr. Chastain had called several and asked them out on dates.
The resulting story made Mr. Chastain's dating habits a hotter issue than
his dream for Union Station. Local columnists and talk-radio hosts
lampooned him. And Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, an ordained minister,
described Mr. Chastain's behavior as "sinful." (The two are political
opponents: Mr. Chastain once ran for mayor on a revive-the-station
platform, while Mayor Cleaver supports converting the building to a science
All this led the 44-year-old Mr. Chastain to call a press conference. With
his 12-year-old daughter beside him, Mr. Chastain, who has been divorced
for 10 years, apologized to the city for what he called bad judgment. He
blamed it on the stress of his battle over Union Station, and offered
innocent explanations for some notes on the petitions: "Blonde watermelon,"
for instance, referred to the type of produce the woman was carrying when
he encountered her outside a grocery, Mr. Chastain said.
Kansas Citian Kelly Dodge, whose name was marked with a star and the word
"jogger," finds the whole thing "creepy." She says she'll be less inclined
to sign a petition in the future.
But Anne Nattinger, whose signature has "short cute yes" written beside it,
says, "I think he's harmless."
Mr. Chastain vows not to circulate any more petitions. But his work wasn't
a waste of time: His Union Station plan will appear on local ballots in
November. And, over the past six years, he developed romantic relationships
with two signers of his petition.
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