Updated at 3:45 p.m.Top organizers of the Tour of Missouri, which is in serious jeopardy of being canceled this year, are furious with Gov. Jay Nixon and, in particular, his communications staff.
"You have to be either deaf, dumb or blind," fumes Tour of Missouri's board chairman Mike Weiss earlier today. "We have sent them pretty detailed e-mails and letters about our requests for a meeting with the governor and his staff. I've been pressing them since February with repeated calls and e-mails. The governor has been amazingly unresponsive to us and the thousands of calls he's received."
Weiss is most upset by comments made yesterday by Sam Murphey, Nixon's deputy press secretary, in which he told Riverfront Times that he was unaware of any meeting requests by Weiss or anyone else involved in the high-profile, five-day bicycle race, scheduled to begin in St. Louis on August 31.
Murphey offered this response, via e-mail: "After our conversation yesterday, I checked with the constituent services office. There was a request for a meeting, and our office directed them to the Tourism Commission."
The reason behind Weiss's urgency is that the Division of Tourism and Tourism Commission, which has sponsored the competition since its inception in 2007, say the severe budget cutbacks it faces next year -- a cut from nearly $20 million to $13.5 million -- means it won't be able to afford to come up with its $1 million contribution.
Says Commission chair Marci Bennett: "You know, they say there are 2 million bicyclists in Missouri. Well, if they all gave a dollar..."Nixon, meanwhile, chose to leave the decision to eliminate Tour of Missouri funding to the tourism department -- hence Weiss's hope that he might turn things around with in-person pleas to the governor and top aides.
Weiss and other race proponents strongly believe, though, that the state's budgetary woes have nothing to do with Nixon's refusal to intercede.
They say the race is on death watch because of Nixon's dislike for his political rival and likely gubernatorial challenger in 2012, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a vocal Tour of Missoui advocate, who once held the board chairman job that Weiss now has.
Besides, organizers argue, the 2009 Tour of Missouri, which attracted more than 100 world-class bicyclists, generated $38.1 milliion and that a half-million spectators watched the raace at one of the 11 host cities in Missouri.
"They believe this is a pet project of the lieutenant governor, and that's why they are stonewalling us," says Brent Hugh, vice chairman of the Tour of Missouri and executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation.
So irate is Hugh with the governor's press office that last night he posted on the Federation's website a press release, which he titled, "Tour of Missouri-gate: Governor Nixon's spokesman denies receiving meeting request -- lying, confused, incompetent, or?"
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