Karen McCarthy (AP Photo)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. Karen McCarthy, who represented the Kansas City area for more than a decade but left amid allegations that she misused her staff and campaign funds for personal gain, died Tuesday. She was 63.
McCarthy died at a nursing home in northeast Kansas, said Robert Kalkofen, manager of McGilley Midtown Chapel in Kansas City. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
McCarthy had been living in a nursing home in suburban Johnson County, Kan., since spring 2009, when her family announced she had Alzheimer's. A family statement at the time also said she had bipolar disorder, which had gone undiagnosed for a decade.
McCarthy, who was among a dozen Democrats dubbed the "lucky 13" when they won amid the 1994 GOP landslide that switched control of Congress, announced in late 2003 that she would not seek a sixth term. Among the allegations were that she misused campaign funds for trips to the Grammy Awards.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who holds her former seat, said in a statement that McCarthy was a "true public servant and a caring soul."
"Her fight with Alzheimer's was devastating and swift and this evening our nation mourns the loss of a true pioneer," Cleaver said. "She was brave in the face of a truly heartbreaking disease that led to the end of her career in Congress. Our community owes her so very much."
McCarthy was elected to the Missouri House in 1976 after working as a high school teacher. In the Legislature, she earned the respect of fellow lawmakers such as Jay Nixon, who is now the state's governor.
"Karen McCarthy was a pioneer for women in public service in Missouri, first on the state and then on the federal level," Nixon said in a statement.
In 1994, she beat Republican Ron Freeman in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Alan Wheat, who stepped down to run for the Senate.
One of her accomplishments in Congress was helping gain approval for a two-state sales tax in the Kansas City area that helped pay for the renovation of the city's downtown Union Station.
In March 2003, she fell on an escalator in a House office building and cut her head. The next day, McCarthy said she was an alcoholic and left for a monthlong stay at an Arizona rehabilitation center.
After returning, she planned to run for re-election. She ended up announcing her resignation under pressure in December 2003.
Two candidates were challenging her in a primary campaign, and local leaders were urging former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver to enter the race. Cleaver agreed after McCarthy bowed out.
The House ethics committee ultimately found that McCarthy misused campaign funds for one Grammys trip but decided not to act against her.
McCarthy was born in Haverhill, Mass., on March 18, 1947. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Kansas and a master of business administration from the University of Missouri.
McCarthy was single and had no children. Funeral arrangements were pending.
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