Grandpa Bledsoe 1963
★ ★ THE KANSAS CITY STAR 27 Thursdoy, Nbruary 8. 1968 Little Known Union Man Here I» a Top Hearnes Confidante By Phil Koury L IKE the philodendron, some political relationships thrive in dimly lighted corners. By now, society is y hardened to the turns and bends in its most sophisticated sophisticated art—political influence—and can generally stir-', vive anything. It knows that politics, like the Lord, moves in mysterious ways. On a local note, insiders are aware of the relationship between between a union official here, Willard Wilkinson, and Governor Hearnes, though few know its closeness. Those who do are saying that the governor makes no major major political appointment at this end of the state without first • “touching base with Willard,” an analysis that may be putting the relationship a bit too enthusiastically. A stalwart in the construction industry here, Wilkinson is. ' virtually unknown outside it. With a handful of dedicated assistants assistants he runs a minor laborers’ union local (No. 663) with • the air of a desert pasha unconcerned about internal uprisings. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ AFTER AT LEAST 30 YEARS with the same outfit—he began began with pick and shovel—Wilkinson’s annual re-election to ' the presidency of local 663 is a mere ritual. He faces periodic challenges to his control but these are quickly aborted. Willard’s men like him; he gives them some latitude in;, decision-making, but they’re wise enough not to overdo it. His members, by and large, approve of his type of har4- * headed stewardship, yet know that he can deal with manage-, ment with reason and common sense—and it is felt that this negotiable attitude has reduced the number and severity of strikes in the area. Management itself, for the same reason, likes to deal witb ' Wilkinson, though some segments say he throws his weight around with more arrogance than is becoming the leader of a local with a mere few thousand members. Wilkinson has been helpful to the governor, money-raising- wise. Almost alone he put together the recent $5(Va-plate affair here for Hearnes that yielded about $50,000 (an estimate only). His backlog of good will with Hearnes, though, goes back to the *64 primary when almost every labor leader here had set up shop in the camp of Hearnes’s opponent, Hilary Bush. Wilkinson. He went with Hearnes loud and clear. -And Hearnes was edified by his fervor. That was by no means Wilkinson’s first political investment. investment. He was much in evidence with the background forces that accomplished the factional take-over at the City hall in 1959. Local 663’s role in that Dien Bien Phu was quite substantive substantive in terms of contribution to local contests. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ IN THE CLIMB UP LABOR’S RANKS here, Wilkinson has left some scars. They’re not unusual; 30 years ago the movement movement was trying to survive the demoniac wars for power within within its own halls, at a time when management was striving to' keep labor from exercising its full strength. In those early days the soul of local 663 was exacerbated by a rousing, unpredictable, beer-loving representative named Floyd Bledsoe. The Bledsoe era is remembered still by oldtim- ers in construction as something comparable to an un- • scientific Bond movie—the unexpected was bound to happen. Bledsoe left behind a spadeful of incredible legends. Wilkinson picked up some of the more reasonable Bledsoe;-, traits; one was an ability to know when the limit of wage demands demands was reached. This accounts in great measure for Wilkinson’s Wilkinson’s longevity with 663 and his acceptance in management circles—as much as management is able to countenance a hard-shelled laborite. Hand-to-hand combat in the labor halls was not unusuai and few labor leaders were able to graduate cum laude without without sonie skill in the art of fisticuffs. In Wilkinson’s case, management people have forgotten that era and a majority of them view the maturity of his civic attitude with some pleasure, though they know they’re in for a struggle when contract negotiation time rolls around. Some company negotiators are inclined to credit Wilkin- • son, at least in part, for the stable wage pattern in heavy con- - struction here—but this is the sort of talk that a retention-in- office-conscious labor official doesn’t like his members to hear. Even so, no one doubts where Wilkinson’s loyalties are when the battle over wages is drawn. Popularly, some observers question whether Bill Morris,, a Hearnes aide here, sits higher in the governor’s esteem than Wilkinson himself. The comparison, besides being odious, is superfluous. The fact is—like a small knot of Kansas Citians who were rewarded with committee appointments—Wilkinson made the shrewd political choice in the Heames-Bush contest. Except that that Wilkinson, his friends point out, has rejected any and all appointments to Hearnes-controlled commissions. But that’s no surprise, either. Wilkinson—if he has one sagacious political trait—likes to operate quietly.