Archive for Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dirty politics nothing new, even in Bonner Springs

March 10, 2015

Many believe that angry elections are a modern development and that mudslinging is a 21st century tactic. Certainly that isn’t the case – dirty politics have been with us since the earliest balloting. A good example is the Bonner Springs City Elections of 1915. It may have been the most heated one in the city’s history.

A century ago Bonner Springs was a thriving small town which was somewhat insulated from the turmoil that had engulfed the world. There were plenty of local problems and at least three murders, yet that wasn’t the root of the problem. It seems that Imri Zumwalt, Chieftain newspaper publisher, had become involved in a fight with a local political faction. They retaliated by starting a second newspaper, the Bonner Springs Record. In reading the newspaper, I was unable to find the root of the fight, although The Chieftain was a strong supporter of Mayor J. W. Longfellow. When he decided not to seek re-election, the elbowing for position started in earnest.

In those “good old days” the winning mayor had a good deal of power. He could hire and fire employees and select the official city newspaper. For many small town newspapers, city legal publications and printing was necessary for continued existence. From what I could figure out, if the “Record” was to survive, it needed the public printing business. In addition other jobs were on the line, too.

Basically, the two factions both had full slates of candidates for the city council, city treasurer and police judge. In February, The Chieftain was urging Frank Warner to run for mayor. It would seem he was a solid choice since he was a well-known civic leader. He agreed to head a list of candidates, and they became known as the “Warner slate.”

For reasons not fully explained, he was opposed by a team of candidates headed by former postmaster Roy Stark. This group called themselves the “Republicans,” which drew an angry response from Mayor Longfellow, who pointed out they had no affiliation with the Republican Party since even in those long ago days, city elections were non-partisan as they are today.

To Editor Zumwalt’s credit, he didn’t start the mud throwing, but he did answer it. The Record accused The Chieftain of overcharging the city for legal publications, saying that they could provide the service for “20 cents per square.” The Chieftain responded that price was too low and that they had never cheated the city. Outgoing Mayor Longfellow and the council wrote a letter praising The Chieftain and blasting the Record for not telling the truth.

There were allegations of other mischief, too, and as would be expected, threats of tax increases.

In fact, in the final two weeks before the election, there was virtually nothing but politics on the front page. The Chieftain proudly reported that 100 people attended a rally for Frank Warner. I don’t know, but maybe Mr. Warner made a mistake when, according to The Chieftain, he “came out strongly against pool halls.”

For whatever reason the public rejected the “Warner slate.” Roy Stark received 389 votes to 250 for Frank Warner. The only “Warner” candidate to win a city council seat was Roy Stott.

The election didn’t end the fighting. At the first city council meeting a new city clerk was appointed and at the second meeting there was a heated battle over the position of water department superintendent, and a new one was appointed.

While The Chieftain lost the battle, it was destined to win the war and it survived. The Record? It faded away a few years later. The discord continued until the next election, but the city survived and continued to progress despite the city council discord.

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