DATE OF EVENT: Monday, May 23, 1932
DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, May 23, 1932, in The Kansas City Star
Editor’s note: By 1930, Kansas City was thoroughly in the pocket of “Boss” Tom Pendergast. Two years later, in a move that put him at personal risk, Rabbi Samuel S. Mayerberg began vigorously criticizing the city’s corrupt politics. In the following days he would lead the Ministerial Alliance in a protest of partisan city government. Mayerberg would receive so many death threats that fellow reformers insisted he travel with a bodyguard.
Mayerberg’s speech at the Muehlebach Hotel landed in the news only by chance. A cub reporter had heard the rabbi speak at another occasion and, deeply impressed by the rabbi’s intellect, dropped by the hotel to hear what he might say. The criticism of the city administration was unusual in its severity. That, and the enthusiastic reaction of the prominent women in the crowd, led the reporter and his editor to see this talk as news.
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Mayerberg would find allies in the clergy, but the public was somewhat complacent. It would be eight more years before a wave of reform would wash over City Hall.
The women of the Government Study Club cheered Rabbi Samuel S. Mayerberg today when he told them that by sleeping on their rights they and other good citizens of Kansas City had turned their city government over to a gang and into the hands of crooks.
The rabbi slammed at H. F. McElroy, city manager; at the city council, at the county prosecutor, and each time drew the applause of the fifty women gathered at the Hotel Muehlebach.
His climax was the announcement that he was on the way to the Y. M. C. A. where he would meet with twelve minister members of the executive committee of the Ministerial Alliance, to discuss city government and possibly to lay the foundation for a nonpartisan administration.
The rabbi had a text — section 124 of the city charter. He read it in the beginning. It stipulates that no member of a political party shall be solicited for contributions to campaign purposes, and that no city employee shall be discharged because of his political faith.
“Your city manager, H. F. McElroy,” he said, “I tell you is guilty of violation of the law, and if we had a county prosecutor who was not a part of the political machine, he himself would bring the charge against this man.”
Then Rabbi Mayerberg read from the charter the penalties for the violations he attributed to the city manager — from $50 to $5,000 fine, or six months in jail.
“Kansas City has the finest city charter in the United States,” he continued. “If it were administered as was intended, we would have an ideal city government. But you’ve turned your city over to a gang and given it into the hands of crooks and racketeers because you’ve been asleep. The time has come for action. The time for study has passed.”
The rabbi advocated the organization of a nonpartisan task force to take over the city government and to construct it as the charter makers intended.
“I believe,” he said, “that the decent people are in a majority here. If you can get them to join in the next election and get a city manager who will obey the charter, and get men on the council who will not connive with crooks, we can have decent government in Kansas City.”
Mrs. Fred Hager, one of the women present, asked how the rabbi would go about it to stop the stealing of elections.
“First,” he replied, “get a prosecutor who will prosecute the kidnapers of election officials and who will prosecute the stuffers of the ballot boxes.”
Mrs. Henry N. Ess expressed the disappointment of women over the kind of government men gave them.
“Yes,” the rabbi replied, “but I have seen no particular improvement in politics or city government since the women began to participate in it.” The rabbi compared the city governments of Kansas City and Cincinnati, pointing out that, while both provided for nonpartisan government, Kansas City’s was more partisan than ever before, whereas Cincinnati actually had wiped out party lines in its city affairs.
Rabbi Mayerberg said he had no more fault to find with Democrats than he had with Republicans. The Republicans, he said, were just as venal when they were in power. The point he was trying to make, he said, was that there was no place in city affairs for party politics.
“What we must have, to have a good city government,” he said, “is a city manager above party politics, a sympathetic mayor and city council, and effective civil service.”
Reference was made to a talk City Manger McElroy made recently at All Souls church in which he said Kansas City was getting Democratic city government because the voters elected Democrats to administer it.
“That was a falsehood,” Rabbi Mayerberg said. “The city charter has never been revoked and it prohibits partisan city government. The city manager is a law violator.”
Following the address, Mrs. George Stevenson, president, who presided, was authorized to name a committee to work with the Ministerial Alliance if it should decide to put a non-partisan city ticket up for election.