by Mary K. King
As local political campaigns begin to heat up with the August 4 primary approaching, one Kansas City democratic race is making headlines, both in print and on social media. Representative Mark Sharp, who is seeking reelection, was recently the subject of a Kansas City Star article in which he is accused of inappropriate, derogatory comments on his personal Facebook page, dating back to 2011.
The article states that posts Sharp made on Facebook were then tweeted by the anonymous “Time’s Up – Missouri” Twitter account, which included posts exclusively about him. When those tweets went public, the account then disappeared.
Sharp, who represents the state’s 36th district in Kansas City after winning a special election last year to replace former Representative DaRon McGee, claims that his democratic opponent, Laura Loyacono, and her campaign are behind the Twitter account.
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised that she would go this far,” Sharp said. “She’s caused a lot of division and this is the exact thing that we are trying to get away from, I thought, but it doesn’t seem that way. During a time like this, as a person of color, it really, really makes me pretty sad. It’s very disheartening.”
Sharp said that normally, opponents will attack politicians based on their voting record. However, in this case, he feels he is being attacked for posts he made nearly a decade ago.
“She really took some words and stretched them,” Sharp said.
Back in 2011, the Jerry Sandusky case was in the news, and Sharp posted: “…sports used to be the sure way to get away from that homo shyt now I don’t even no…u wanna be that way go right ahead that’s ur business…but you touchin ya players that’s like touchin ur own children…wrong on every level imaginable.” The Star article referred to this post as deriding gay men. In other posts, the Star claims, Sharp was deriding toward women, and states that he referred to women as “meat.” Sharp’s posts read: “Dogs need meat…MEN need a lady in the streets and u kno the rest,” and “Queston: women, are u a piece of meat that any stray dog has a chance at, or are you a lady that only an established man has a shot at?”
“To say I called women meat simply isn’t true,” said Sharp.
Sharp’s opponent, Loyacono, says that neither she nor anyone from her campaign posted anything on Twitter regarding Sharp’s Facebook posts.
“We didn’t and simply wouldn’t do it,” said Loyacono. “You simply cannot ‘spin’ things that are hateful, vile, and that span misogyny, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, these were not indiscretions of youth. Mr. Sharp was already an adult and the graduate of a respected university. Meanwhile, it was not until recently that he expressed any regret for the posts, and has yet to offer an actual apology in any publication I have read.”
She also stated that she feels it is disingenuous to accuse her campaign for employing dirty tricks when discussing items that appear on Sharp’s public Facebook page (the two posts in question have since been deleted).
“Finding them did not require any guile or savvy, and we were not the first to do so,” Loyacono said. “We did not leak anything private, we did not post anything on Twitter, and we have made no comment on the matter outside of sharing the KC Star article. To be clear, any claim to know otherwise is a deceit. I have been warned incessantly not to run for this seat because of the risk that my opponent’s campaign would look to spread falsehoods that I wouldn’t have time to refute right before the election.”
Sharp’s older sister was found dead in her apartment in 2000, after suffering abuse at the hands of a man she considered a boyfriend. Sharp, who was in the eighth grade at the time, has made it a priority to help violence victims and their families, including women. He feels that the Twitter page and the information that was spewed against him has been a “social media lynching.”
“So, it’s nice that my opponent has drudged all this up. I really just want to make sure, best as we can, that folks know my story because I do think it’s a unique one,” said Sharp. “Seeing some of the things that I’ve gone through and having to bury as many people as I’ve had to bury at an early age, and having the chance to represent the same district I grew up in…how easily I could have been the one to catch a bullet.
“The lies against me were so heinous, the (Twitter) page couldn’t last for very long,” he said. “It had to be taken down out of fear of probably a lawsuit if nothing else. I’m having to deal with a lot, with social media and The Star, who didn’t do us any favors. They really just bought a bunch of crap off of a made-up Twitter solely for me, and they took the bait.”
The Star article also made reference to Sharp’s resignation from a school district he worked for in Texas as a teacher and coach, indicating that he was reprimanded for showing what was deemed an inappropriate video to his students. However, Sharp said the reprimand didn’t come until well after his resignation, for what he feels was concern that the district might face a discrimination lawsuit from Sharp.
“It was a tough, tough job,” said Sharp. “They just wanted me to coach, teach, keep my head down and not be outspoken.”
The district he worked for, he says, did not observe things like Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month. When he started asking questions and wanted to teach those lessons, he said, as the only black male teacher at the school, he felt like a target.
“They started getting really interested all of the sudden in what I was teaching,” said Sharp. “The writing on the wall was starting to become pretty clear. I think I just caused too many ripples in the water for them, and they were looking for any reason to get me out of there.”
After his resignation, he received a letter in the mail from the Texas Education Association that he was being investigated for, essentially, he says, being on Facebook in the classroom. Sharp said the district he worked for did not have a policy against this, and he was able to login to social media from district computers (the sites were not blocked, as they are in other school districts).
“I thought it was no big deal, but apparently it was when they were trying to find something to discredit me,” said Sharp. “I was already gone and working at a different job. I had moved on. Ultimately, they (the Texas Education Association) went with the school’s recommendation for a reprimand. I never lost my license. I was never fired. I resigned voluntarily because it was so uncomfortable there.”
Sharp is hopeful that his work while in Jefferson City will speak to his character, rather than information that may be disbursed from his opposition. He said that he works well with his colleagues from both sides of the aisle and has unfinished business he’d like to see through if reelected.
Loyacono said that she is working to connect with voters by any means possible: over the phone, at their homes and through face-to-face events (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic).
“To claim I have, in any way, run a dirty campaign is false and only seeks to distract voters from the facts. I will not tolerate the smear campaign being conducted against my integrity and I look forward to continuing my aggressive outreach program focused on the issues faced by the voters of the 36th House District, especially during this crisis.”
The “he said, she said” back and forth in this race will ultimately be up to the voters to determine which candidate they want to send to Jefferson City to represent Missouri’s 36th District. The primary election takes place on Tuesday, August 4. Loyacono and Sharp are running for the seat in the Democratic primary, while Nola Wood is running as the Republican candidate.