LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The T-Rex has been extinct for more than 50 million years, but he’s still casting a shadow in this local military town and causing problems.
All 25 feet of Rex, as he’s known by the locals, has hovered over Spruce Street near downtown Leavenworth since the 1950s when he was part of an amusement park known as KiddieLand.
The park is long gone, replaced by a bowling alley, but Rex remains. And let’s be honest: His looks have faded.
“It looks like he needs a new eyeball,” one man said.
He was right. In fact, both are missing. His paint is flaking and his concrete body is cracked and chipped.
He’s become so worn with wear that a “Save Rex” fundraiser was started last July to give the aging dino a makeover. That’s where this problem starts.
The fundraiser was started by Holly Pittman. She’s the wife of State Rep. Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth).
Holly Pittman failed to disclose in her first advertisement for the fundraiser that more than half of the money raised would go to her husband’s re-election campaign. She quickly corrected that omission as soon as people started asking questions.
“It was such a quick idea we didn’t even think it through,” Holly Pittman said.
Among those upset was Pittman’s political opponent whose campaign reported the issue to the Kansas Ethics Commission, which oversees campaign fundraising — setting the stage for a T-Rex-sized dispute between the two campaigns.
Still others in Leavenworth just didn’t feel comfortable mixing dinosaurs with politics.
“Where is the accountability of the money being raised?” one Facebook user asked. “People have a right to see the receipts since they invested in it.”
For months hundreds of Save Rex T-shirts were sold. Martha Bredehoeft, who owns the bowling alley where Rex now stands, was excited.
“We had said it wasn’t in our budget to repair Rex, and we would certainly accept any community involvement,” Bredehoeft said.
For months, donors waited patiently for work to begin. Then last November, Jeff Pittman, who had just won a landslide re-election, started posting Facebook videos of him and Rex.
There was Pittman power washing Rex. Pittman patching holes in Rex’s legs. Pittman slapping on a coat of primer on Rex’s belly.
But in December the work stopped, even though Rex still had serious issues. The dino rehab signs that had been posted near Rex were pulled up.
“Haven’t seen anything in awhile,” Bredehoeft said.
That’s one of the reasons a Rex supporter contacted FOX4 Problem Solvers. He wanted to know what happened to all that money raised for Rex by selling those $20 Save Rex t-shirts.
“$4 went to our campaign, and $3 went to the dinosaur,” Holly Pittman told FOX4.
She said 315 t-shirts were sold, raising more than $6,000. More than $3,000 of that was used to pay for the t-shirts. About $1,350 went to her husband’s campaign, leaving $1,100 for Rex’s rehab.
“We kept details of what we did so we could be transparent, so we could give it to the Ethics Commission,” said Pittman who was also her husband’s campaign manager.
She provided the Ethics Commission with a spreadsheet listing the names and addresses of every donor and how many t-shirts they bought.
The Ethics Commission told FOX4 that the Pittman campaign appeared to be in compliance with state law.
As far as Rex’s remaining makeover?
“We have not been able to work on it because of the winter and the rains and we even had a tornado,” Holly Pittman said.
But rest assured, Rex has not been forgotten. In fact, it looks like Problem Solvers has pushed Rex up on the priority list. This coming weekend he will be freshly painted in what can only be described as dinosaur green. Volunteers are welcome to help.