William E. Kemp

William Kemp served for nine years as Kansas City mayor—longer than any other mayor. From 1946 to 1955, the tall, elegant man led the city through a period of growth as city boundaries were expanded to 85th Street, a traffic department was organized, the Paseo and Chouteau bridges were built and Starlight Theater became the crown jewel of the city’s centennial celebration.

William Ewing Kemp, born in central Missouri, came to Kansas City in the mid-1930s and immediately immersed himself in politics. A graduate of George Washington University law school, a World War I veteran, and a frequent reciter of Shakespeare, he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1938.

After the Pendergast machine was ousted in 1939, Kemp was appointed city counselor in 1940 by Mayor John Gage. His primary responsibility was to untangle the $10 million in lawsuits filed against the city as a result of the control exerted by Tom Pendergast and his hand-picked city manager, Henry F. McElroy. He successfully prosecuted several of Pendergast’s aides for stealing funds from the city treasury through their various schemes.

Kemp was elected to the office of mayor in 1946 for a two-year term, then re-elected for a three-year term and a four-year term. He continued to work as a lawyer as he bolstered Kansas City’s relatively new city manager form of government. As the city pursued "brick and mortar" improvements such as paving streets and building bridges, Kemp established the city’s first Community Service and Human Relations Commissions. The city’s centennial was celebrated during his tenure, earning him the title of "Centennial Mayor."

Near the end of his mayoral term, Kemp organized and appointed the first Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of Kansas City to work toward urban renewal. After he left office, Kemp was appointed to the board and continued to hold his post there until his death in 1968.

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A previous version of this article appears on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-william-e-kemp-1889-1968-mayor

KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.