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Former Kansas City mayor Charles Wheeler dies at 96

Former Kansas City Mayor Charles B. Wheeler

Former Kansas City Mayor Charles B. Wheeler

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Charles B. Wheeler, who has been in Kansas City politics for at least 60 years, died Tuesday at the age of 96.

Wheeler was the 49th mayor of Kansas City, serving two terms from 1971 to 1979. His time in politics lasted so long that his two elected offices he held before becoming mayor no longer exist.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said Wheeler was a personal friend, a mentor, and “a politician that Kansasians, Missourians and Americans can all be proud of.”

“Mayor Wheeler leaves a legacy that will be felt for generations to come,” Lucas said in a statement posted on social media.

Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, former mayor of Kansas City and now a member of Congress, called Wheeler “the most visionary mayor in the history of our great city.”

Colleagues remembered Wheeler as a politician with skills in connecting with the general public. This is a skill that stands out in cities where politicians more commonly prefer industrial captains and political allies.

“Charlie was the mayor of a little man. He represented everyone. “And that was a big part of the impact he had on the city.”

Term of Service

Wheeler was born in Kansas City and attended Kansas City school.

He served in the Navy and Air Force and became a Flight Surgeon for the Thunderbirds aerial aerobatic team. While in medical school, he met his future wife, Marjorie Martin.

Trained in both medicine and law, Wheeler has owned the Wheeler Medical Institute since 1964.

That same year, he was elected coroner for Jackson County, where he began a training program for homicide investigators, teaching them how to examine bodies to understand possible causes of death, his obituary states. increase. That evolved into the Kansas City Metro Squad.

He was elected Western Judge of Jackson County Court in 1967, before the county transitioned to its current charter form of government.

Perhaps nowhere was that skill more evident than when Wheeler ran for mayor in 1971. Brookfield was a preferred candidate for the Civic Association, a gathering of business and civic power brokers who wielded influence in city hall at the time.

In a mayoral debate early in that campaign, Brookfield attempted to portray Wheeler as a troublesome man who struggled to form the relationships necessary to advance his ideas at City Hall.

“I’m tired of being portrayed as a difficult guy to get along with,” Wheeler said at the time.

Wheeler warned voters about Brookfield’s connections.

“I think he (Brookfield) did well with a very clubby little group. He doesn’t want Kansas City to be ruled by the same few men that Dutton gets along with so well,” Wheeler said. “I want to deal with the masses, but I think Dutton gets along better with the wealthy than the masses.”

The message resonated with voters, who sent Wheeler to the 29th floor of City Hall. Serving as mayor was “without a doubt the job he enjoyed the most,” his obituary said.

Wheeler’s colleagues also remembered him as a creative politician with colorful political stunts and a knack for big ideas.

“Charlie, who has both a JD and an MD, could very well have been the smartest mayor in the history of this city,” Cleaver said. “And when you combine that with his boldness, you have a powerful combination of genius and imagination.”

Joel Perovsky, who served on the Kansas City Council during Wheeler’s time as mayor, also recalled Wheeler’s penchant for big, whimsical ideas, the details of which were often left to others.

In an interview with The Star last year, Perovsky said, “He was pretty aggressive throwing ideas away and always saying people would follow him and put them into action.”

Cleaver recalled how Wheeler, as mayor, wanted to pursue high-speed trains connecting Kansas City and St. Louis.

“You might want to check the newspaper editorials, too, because people thought it was funny,” says Cleaver. “And I said it publicly, and I’ll say it until my memory crumbles…if we had done that, if we had embraced his vision, where would we have been?” can you imagine.”

Several high-profile civic projects took place under Wheeler’s watch. The Kansas City International Airport was completed and opened when Wheeler was mayor (the effort began under Ils Davis). Kemper Arena and Burtle Hall were built.

Wheeler sought a third mayoral term in 1979, but voters decided to take a different route, placing the first Republican in the mayor’s office since Richard Berkley was elected in 1924. I chose. Wheeler tried to regain the mayoral seat four years after him, but voters stuck with Berkeley.

“Creation requires courage”

Even away from the office, Wheeler continued to pursue big ideas. His love of trains resurfaced publicly in his 1990s.

In 1996, Wheeler, along with others, pitched the idea of ​​building a bullet train along Interstate 70 between Kansas City and St. Louis. The organization says the idea helped host the World’s Fair in 2004 in St. Louis, and exactly 100 years after the same event took place, Kansas City and the rest of Missouri will host the Summer Olympics through 2016. I thought it would look attractive as a venue for

“He’s the most creative person in the mayor’s office,” said Cleaver. “Creativity takes courage, and he can’t be a good mayor if he doesn’t create.”

Wheeler used whatever political muscle he had to support more pragmatic causes. He supported proposals such as the Kansas City Zoo and the expansion of Bertle’s Hall.

He returned to public office when voters elected him to the Missouri Senate. He served there for her first term from 2003 to 2007, before Jolie Justus took office.

In his later years, Wheeler was often seen in the council chamber gallery of City Hall, watching what elected officials were doing.

Wheeler married Marjorie Martin Wheeler in 1949. They were golfers and often played with Chiefs and Royals players, his obituary states. Marjorie passed away in 2019. Her obituary stated that she “always supported her husband’s various medical and political activities and dutifully ate many chicken dinners at countless banquets.”

The couple had five children. Three of Wheeler’s sons died before him.

One of Wheeler’s sons, Mark A. Wheeler, died in 1988. Mark was a passenger on a commuter plane that crashed near the airport in Durango, Colorado. Another son, Gordon G. Wheeler, died in 2000. Graham Wheeler passed away on August 30, 2020 in his hospice unit at the Nursing Center.

Wheeler is survived by daughters Marion Wheeler and Nina Wheeler Yorkum, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A service will be held at 4:00 p.m. Saturday, November 5, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 East 40th St.

Jonathan Showman of The Star contributed to this storyline.

This story was originally published October 26, 2022 at 10:49 AM.

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. His coverage areas of interest include business, politics, judicial issues and breaking news investigations. Bockrot grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.

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