Thursday, July 22, 2010

William W. Rose: beer bandit

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History has been kind to William Warren Rose. Though his decision to flaunt a court order may not have put him in the best light, his expulsion from office was a politically-tinged affair resulting in his refusal to uphold an unenforceable law.

Rose was born in Oyster Bay, New York in March of 1864. As a child, he moved to Ogdensburg and later spent time in New York City apprenticing in architecture with G.A. Schellinger. Rose left to start an independent practice in Birmingham, Alabama and partnered with Charles E. Reid. The business was a successful one, and received contracts for several public buildings including a hospital, college, and church. Rose then moved again, settling down in Kansas City, Missouri in 1886 to partner with James Oliver Hogg. Their business extended to the city of the same name in Kansas, and Rose relocated there in 1896. He ran for mayor almost immediately, appearing in the 1897 contest as a fusion candidate.

Rose did not win in that year, but succeeded in the race almost a decade later; it was the first of several times in a two-year span when he appeared as a candidate. In April of 1905, he was elected on a Democratic ticket after establishing a platform urging public rather than private ownership of municipal infrastructure such as the water company and the electric grid. After the election, Rose found that buying out the Metropolitan Water Company was more complicated than he expected due to tax methods and limited debt allowed for the city. He settled for an ordinance allowing a buyout for cost of construction with franchise value excluded. The measure was debated for 10 months, but the city finally purchased the company. William Elsey Connelley wrote in his history of Kansas that Rose had "shown a practical energy and a common sense attitude towards public affairs which have won him a large and loyal following and has made him a leader properly credited with much of the material advancement of Kansas City." However, Rose also got on the bad side of businesses such as packing houses and railroads controlled by Republican political bosses who had managed to avoid their fair share of taxes, by firing the tax assessor. Rose's allies blamed these foes when the mayor was targeted for his involvement in a rather common practice.

A nationwide prohibition on the consumption of alcohol was still several years away, but Kansas already had a law on the books making it a dry state. The prohibition wasn't very strictly enforced, however, and Rose even announced during his campaign that he had no intention of upholding this particular law. In Kansas City alone, some 150 saloons kept the liquor flowing. Varying practices existed in the state to ensure that the saloons paid de facto liquor licenses in exchange for continued operation, such as arresting a barkeep, collecting bail, and keeping it when the person didn't bother to show up in court. Such bartering could easily lead to money going into private hands, but Rose tried to ensure that it would go to the municipal coffers.

When Kansas City was targeted for stricter enforcement, Rose was one of the louder protesters. He argued that prohibition would have little effect on actually stopping the liquor traffic, and that those who fancied a drink would simply take their money to Missouri. By his calculations, the city would lose lose over $100,000 a year in indirect liquor license fees with stricter enforcement. As saloon crackdowns made this financial squeeze a reality, diminished property values and the city's inability to push the tax rate past an established limit forced Rose to slash the budget. He cut about half the police budget and two engine crews in fire department, suspended street cleaning operations, laid off several city engineers, and asked higher-paid city employees to accept voluntary salary reductions.

Worse still for the mayor, the Kansas Supreme Court took him to task for his failure to enforce the prohibition. The court accused him of collecting $50 monthly contributions from the violators without ever informing the county attorney of the infractions. The justices said he had failed to enforce anti-gambling laws as well. A lawsuit seeking his ouster was filed against Rose in September of 1905, and in January of 1906 the court approved the action. In April of 1906, liquor issues proved a major point in the aldermen elections and the officials brought in were opposed to Rose. Three days before the court injunction was to go into effect, Rose and police chief Vernon J. Rose resigned.

With a special election set for May, Rose once again ran for mayor to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation. Republican councilman Edward E. Venard was named acting mayor and served about a month before becoming his party's mayoral candidate. Council president Joseph C. Laughlin became acting mayor for all of four days before the election. Rose's name wasn't even on the ballot due to the court's ouster decision. Nonetheless, he earned a plurality of 1,600 votes over Venard and Socialist candidate David Harris. In the midst of the year, which was quite a tumultuous one for Rose, the Democratic state convention nominated him for a House of Representatives seat by one vote; Rose opted not to accept.

The Kansas Supreme Court was none too pleased with Rose's victory. The mayor said that his resignation nullified the ouster, and that even if it remained in effect he was serving in the capacity of his latest election rather than the one in 1905 . He had been duly elected, Rose argued, and the court had no right to take him out of office. The court did not agree, and in July it fined him $1,000 for contempt for holding office despite the ouster. Rose needed to pay the fine within 20 days or else face jail. His defense attorneys successfully filed a writ of error, staying the judgment and allowing him to continue his duties as mayor. In September, however, both Mayor Rose and Police Chief Rose resigned, along with police captain John F. Kelly, in exchange for the court dropping its contempt investigations against the trio. One month later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the matter, leaving the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling in effect.

Laughlin once again took over the office, this time holding it from September until a special election in December. Rose was debarred from holding the mayor's office until after the term he was elected to expired. Instead, he backed Democratic candidate M.J. Phelan. Victory in the December election went to Dr. George M. Gray.

Rose returned to architectural work after his time in office, starting work with David P. Peterson in 1909. The partners won contracts for several more public buildings, including schools, libraries, and hospitals. He remained involved in politics to some degree, serving as a member of the Government War Labor Board during World War I. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate in 1916, and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920.

Rose died in May of 1931. Writing in the Kansas City Kansan, A.E. Neal declared, "W. W. Rose was perhaps the boldest and most original political thinker that has attracted attention in Wyandotte County."

Sources: The Political Graveyard, The Kansas Collection at the Kansas City Public Library, "Results Of Prohibition" in the Feilding Star on Jan. 27 1906, "A Temperance Defeat" in the New York Times on Apr. 4 1906, "Ex-Mayor Rose Of Kansas City Re-Elected" in the Deseret News on May 9 1906, "Jail Threat For A Mayor" in the New York Times on Jul. 6 1906, "Rose Gets A Writ" in the Deseret News on Jul. 12 1906, "Mayor Rose To Quit" in the New York Times on Sep. 7 1906, "Mayor Must Pay $1,000 Fine" in the New York Times on Oct. 23 1906, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, Volume 4 by William Elsey Connelley, The Public Vol. 9 edited by Louis Freeland Post and Alice Thatcher Post and Stoughton Cooley, The Lawyers Report Annotated Book 6 edited by Burdett A. Rich and Henry P. Farnham

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