Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Reign of the Commodore: Louis Kuehnle

In the show, his name is the Commodore Louis Kaestner, but in real life it was Louis Kuehnle and as it's implied in the show, the Commodore was a prominent figure in Atlantic City politics. The Commodore appears to be a pretty close real life character match. Kuehnle's father was a New York chef who parlayed his restaurant success into owning an Atlantic City hotel. By the age of 18, Louis was managing the hotel.

How the Commodore Got His Name

The Commodore got his name as a result of his position as the chairman of a local yacht club. Further, he used his hotel to host the meetings of 3 Atlantic County power brokers, one of whom was Nucky's father. As one of the 3 passed away in 1900, the Commodore slid into his position, eventually taking control of the club. He extorted gambling rooms and whorehouses, as well as a variety of legit businesses in order to fund the Republican political machine. He even had government employees kick back 5 - 7% of their salaries to the Republican party, since they were in effect, all appointees.

The Commodore made the citizens of Atlantic City feel protected in many ways. He devised non-violent plans for a possible visit from the state militia and calmed the community whenever a Philadelphia newspaper launched an inflammatory piece. He was also charitable and well liked in the African-American community.

Corruption was also prevalent in the elections, with the Republicans paying the black community $2 per vote. The "voters" would be taken from voting station to voting station and vote in the names of deceased, who were still registered to vote. When Kuehnle and the Republicans were facing an uphill battle in getting their candidate elected in the gubernatorial election of 1910, they stepped up their efforts. Their horse lost and newly-elected Woodrow Wilson, following through on his promise to root out corruption looked into the election results. He noticed that there were more than 3,000 Republican votes tagged as fraudulent in Atlantic City. He elected a commission who got indictments, but ultimately, not able to get a conviction on anyone of importance.

Part of the Commodore's legacy was his vision for the Atlantic City and improving it's infrastructure. Accomplishments included:
  • pushed the new, concrete boardwalk
  • broke up a telephone monopoly, resulting in lower prices
  • broke up a natural gas monopoly, resulting in lower prices
  • modernized the trolley system to improve intracity transport
  • increased the access fresh water by building a large water main from the mainland wells to Absecon Island
These accomplishments were mitigated by the fact that he often owned a large part of the companies to whom contracts were rewarded, essentially driving the cost up. Since the party controlled the bid awards, they didn't necessarily take the lowest-cost bid. When Kuehnle directly awarded a water contract to a company he owned, Woodrow Wilson's team finally had a rock-solid case and sent Kuehnle to prison in 1913. Kuehnle did a year and then lied low for a while.

Aside from his position in the Atlantic City yacht club, Commodore Kuehnle was never elected to an office until he became city commissioner in 1920, well after it was established that the torch had been passed to Nucky Johnson. And like Louis Kaestner, his counterpart on the show, Kuehnle was a dog lover whose terrier was always by his side. It appears that he was never married and did not father any sons, so the Jimmy Boyd, Darmody's real world counterpart, was unaffiliated with Kuehnle.

1 comment:

  1. In the TV series, Louis Kaestner is portrayed as a sadistic pedophile, violating little girls and then discarding them, even impregnating the unfortunate Gillian. Is there anything in the biography of Louis Kuenhle to suggest that the real-life Commodore indulged in such heinous depravity?