He was in over his head.

A KC cereal heir dies trying to revitalize a desolate part of the city 

He was in over his head.

Page 3 of 6

When Uhlmann returned home, he took leadership roles in the Uhlmann Co. and started a family. His wife, Patricia Werthan, came from a wealthy family in Nashville. They lived in one of the largest homes in Prairie Village and raised two daughters.

Uhlmann and his relatives moved in elite company. "To the extent there is a Jewish upper crust in Kansas City, they don't get much crustier than the Uhlmanns," says one friend of the family. And as political conservatives, the Uhlmanns stood apart in the left-leaning Jewish community. Perhaps no member of the Uhlmann family was more conservative than John.

The Uhlmann Co.'s success allowed John time to spend on politics. In 1977, the Associated Press cited a letter he had written to officials in the Carter administration. Uhlmann was angry that the policy recommendations he had made in an earlier letter did not seem to get the recognition they deserved. His follow-up asked that, in the future, he be spared "the indignity of another form letter."

Uhlmann gave money to candidates and political action committees that shared his beliefs, chiefly a strong military and unrestrained capitalism. He contributed $10,000 to the National Conservative Political Action Committee before the 1980 election. The PAC used the money to run negative ads against incumbent Democrats in the U.S. Senate. One of the targeted lawmakers was George McGovern, the liberal South Dakota senator and one-time presidential candidate. McGovern was soundly defeated by his Republican opponent.

Uhlmann could be hard to please. In 1991, The Wall Street Journal asked a group of business owners for their opinions on the state of Washington policymaking. Uhlmann gave Congress a grade of "F-plus" and George H.W. Bush an "F-minus." Uhlmann felt that the 41st president had proved to be a weak defender of the free-market system. "I think it's almost too late for Bush," he said. "I really wonder if there's anything he can do."

Conservatives who were disappointed by the elder Bush felt hope in 1994, when Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Uhlmann was with Newt Gingrich, the architect of the "Republican revolution," on election night. Gingrich mentions Uhlmann in two of his books, telling the story of how his "old friend and supporter" warned him not to grow in his new role as the speaker of the House. To Uhlmann, "growth" meant becoming comfortable with liberalism. "I prefer conservatives who never grow," Uhlmann told him.

Uhlmann stayed active through the George W. Bush years. Prior to the 2002 midterm election, he began working with two Kansas City-area conservatives, Rich Nadler and John Altevogt, on an effort to make the Republican Party seem more appealing to minorities. Altevogt wrote more than 50 scripts for radio advertisements. One of the spots suggested that Social Security discriminated against African-Americans and called the program "reverse reparations."

The Social Security ad aired on a Kansas City urban radio station. GOPAC, a high-profile Republican political action committee, was identified as its sponsor. Officials at GOPAC disavowed the commercial; they acknowledged that GOPAC had ordered ads from Uhlmann and his collaborators but said none of them addressed Social Security.

Altevogt and Uhlmann continued to work together, though not as closely as they had during the 2002 election. Altevogt last saw Uhlmann, whom he describes as a "consummate gentleman," at a memorial service for Nadler, who died on May 30, 2009. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. "He was just as he always was," Altevogt says.


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