Government & Politics

Dutch Newman, longtime Democratic leader in KC and Missouri, dies at 95

Dutch Newman
Dutch Newman

Dutch Newman, known to many as the grande dame of Missouri Democratic politics, has died at age 95.

Newman had toiled in Kansas City’s political trenches since 1944 and was a trailblazer for women before the phrase “women’s lib” ever came along. She was a strong backer of Hillary Clinton and lived long enough to see Clinton nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate.

Her family said the funeral will be next Wednesday.

“She was warm and loving — and at the same time a tenacious and unrelenting institution of the Missouri Democratic Party. There’ll never be another one like her,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said in a statement.

McCaskill told the Missouri delegation Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention that it was a mistake to ever underestimate Newman.

“Don’t misunderstand her sweetness for a lack of tenacity and relentlessness and never forgetting that winning elections is about people,” McCaskill said.

She made careers in politics “possible for so many of us,” McCaskill said.

Rachel Gonzalez, 17, a Clinton delegate from Independence, recalled Newman urging her to join the 5th District Democratic Women’s Club last year. The next morning, she learned that Newman had paid her first-year dues.

And Newman donated money to defray some of Gonzalez’s expenses so she could attend this year’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

“She’s amazing,” Gonzalez said.” I want to be just like her. I want to fight for good people and good causes for the rest of my life, just like her.”

Newman was born on Aug. 18, 1920, the same day women formally won the right to vote. She died peacefully at 1:55 a.m. Wednesday in Leawood, surrounded by family and friends.

Michele Newman, one of Dutch’s daughters and the director of Jackson County parks and recreation, said her mother stayed alive long enough to see a dream fulfilled.

“Hillary was her gal, and all she wanted was to see Hillary get nominated,” said Michele, who remembered her mom as selfless and outgoing.

“She was there for not only myself but for all the kids in the neighborhood,” Michele said. “She was loving, and she instilled in us such a sense of pride and self-confidence.”

Michele recalled her first day at a new school when a nun came into the classroom and said there was a need for a volleyball coach. Michele’s hand shot up, and she volunteered Dutch for the job.

Dutch had to take a crash course in volleyball, but she still led the team to a city championship that year, Michele said.

Her mother “was always just a very confident person,” Michele said. “Mom never let anything stop her.”

Donna Newman, another of Dutch’s daughters, spoke of her mother’s willingness to accept others.

“She met each individual person in their circumstance, and she loved them unconditionally and without judgment,” Donna said. “I think that’s a rare gift nowadays.”

Growing up, Donna said, the Newman household saw a steady stream of phone calls and knocks from people in need — a house payment here, an electric bill there. Dutch wasn’t a pushover, but she was always willing to help, Donna said.

“You could not act outside of her love,” she said.

Hila “Dutch” Bucher Newman was long an integral part of Kansas City’s Westport neighborhood. Her family lived in the area back when Westport was a town of its own.

In fact, if you’re driving through Westport, you can go along the stretch of Westport Road rebranded as Dutch Newman Drive since 2006.

Newman had been known as a staunch Democrat since the 1940s. Her star started shining when she aided George Aylward’s 1944 successful campaign for Jackson County assessor, The Star reported in 2001.

Michele Newman remembered the early days of her mother’s political career, “when it would be Mom and 60 men in a smoke-filled room discussing candidates, endorsements and blitzing the neighborhoods.”

Dutch Newman worked behind the scenes and never ran for public office herself. She represented Kansas City’s 5th Ward as a Democratic committeewoman as well as running the Westport Landing Democratic Club, which she founded in the 1960s.

Newman befriended Democrats on the national stage such as senators and eventual vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden. Jimmy Carter once called her when she was hospitalized, just to check up on her.

She frequently attended Democratic conventions, starting with the 1968 convention in Chicago amid the Vietnam War and tumultuous rioting.

In an interview with The Star last year, she said the biggest problem in contemporary American politics was a lack of respect.

“Some people don’t just want to win,” she said. “They want to cause damage in the process.”

She was a student of grass-roots organizing and said that before she would support a politician, she had to be convinced “that they are for the people, not themselves.”

She named former senator Tom Eagleton of St. Louis as her favorite politician and said she was particularly proud of successful campaigns for U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, and former Jackson County executive Mike Sanders.

A list of her achievements would be quite lengthy, but here’s a short list: She received the Jackson County Democrats’ Harry S. Truman Award, she represented Missouri in 2005 at the White House Conference on Aging and she is the namesake of the 5th District Women’s Democratic Club’s Woman of the Year Award.

She predated most current Democrats, but she was ahead of her time in some ways. In May 2014, she announced on Facebook that she was “so excited for a Presidential run by Hillary Clinton, I can hardly stand it!” Clinton was formally nominated Tuesday as the first woman presidential candidate of a major American political party.

Even on the other side of the state, Newman was revered.

“She’s been our matriarch forever,” said Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis Democrat who has worked for the state party.

An emotional Roy Temple, Democratic chair of the Missouri delegation at the national party convention, announced Newman’s passing to delegates Wednesday morning.

Newman never left a piece of political business unfinished, he said.

“The best way to honor Dutch Newman is to go out and work for Democrats this fall,” Temple said.

Steve Kraske: 816-234-4312, @stevekraske

Will Schmitt: 816-234-4269, @ws_missouri