KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The people of Kansas City thought they were getting a straight-shooter with financial smarts as their new mayor. What they got, critics say, is a henpecked husband who needs his wife to tell him what to do.
In an era when politicians get in trouble for infidelity, Mayor Mark Funkhouser finds himself under fire for his devotion to his wife, a sharp-elbowed New Yorker whose role as his closest adviser has locals wondering who's really running this city of 450,000.
"I knew Mark for almost 18 years as auditor and didn't even know he was married," said Councilman Ed Ford, a critic of Funkhouser and his wife, Gloria Squitiro. "I think we were all surprised that he felt she was so indispensable once he became mayor."
Squitiro ran her husband's campaign for mayor, and after he got elected last year, she took a desk near his office in City Hall.
That arrangement came to an end after a former mayoral aide filed a lawsuit in which she accused Squitiro of making lewd comments in the office and calling the aide, a black woman, "Mammy."
Council responded with an anti-nepotism ordinance that barred Squitiro from volunteering in the mayor's office. Funkhouser vetoed it, and the council overrode the veto. Funkhouser shot back by suing the city, saying the ordinance infringed on his authority.
He also began conducting a large share of city business from his home, stunning members of the council.
"I think government business should be done at City Hall and not out of the mayor's home," Ford said. "Part of it's transparency. Part of it is, 'Why is the mayor working out of his home?' It's obviously so Gloria can be by his side."
Funkhouser said he and his wife were a political team. "The idea that I'm this infantile guy who's tied to his wife's apron strings and has to have her right there holding his hand, anybody who knows me knows that's silly."
In an interview at the couple's home yesterday, Squitiro declared she had "never met a more manly man" than her husband, suggested her critics are annoyed by her brash personality, and said the couple's team approach was her way of helping him succeed.
"I am working 70 hours a week for no monetary gain for myself to serve my husband because he has made promises to the people of this city that he's going to keep, come hell or high water," she said. "And I'm here to serve him and make sure he keeps his promises."
Known to supporters as "The Funk," the 6-foot-8 Funkhouser got elected mayor on his fiscal prowess and promises to pay more attention to poor neighborhoods. Squitiro is a former birthing coach who orchestrated her husband's run for City Hall after the couple fired his campaign managers.
"The idea that once we won the prize, I was going to dump her and say, 'See you, honey, in four years,' is absurd," Funkhouser said.
But Squitiro quickly gained a reputation as a controlling influence on the mayor and a divisive and meddlesome figure at City Hall. Funkhouser's chief of staff, Ed Wolf, resigned this fall, complaining: "It was kind of like having your mother-in-law go along on your honeymoon."
As for allegations in the lawsuit, the couple's lawyers said that Squitiro routinely gave affectionate nicknames to staffers and that the word "Mammy" came from Squitiro's adding an "e" sound to the word "Ma'am." Squitiro acknowledged making sexual references, but insisted they were jokes.