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Cool Things - Mayor's Office Chair

Mayor McClinton's office chair This early 21st century chair was used by the first African American mayor of Kansas' capital city. James McClinton felt that his appointment to the mayorship reflected the positive impact of the nation's civil rights movement, and a sign that Topeka was moving ahead.

"[This represents] 150 years of progress . . . both for the African American community and for the city of Topeka."-- James A. McClinton, Topeka, 2004

A mayor's chair is not just a place to sit. It's a symbol of the person's stature and authority in the community, and perhaps even the power behind the office.

James McClinton was born in Milwaukee but moved to Topeka at the age of six. He was the first in his family to attend college, earning a bachelor's degree from Washburn University. Later, he received a master's degree in public administration from the University of Kansas.

The future mayor first got involved in politics through a neighborhood improvement association, then served on the Topeka City Council from 1991-1993 and again from 1997 to 2001. In late 2003 he applied to fill the unexpired term of Harry "Butch" Felker, who resigned while facing an ouster for violating campaign finance laws. McClinton was selected from 42 candidates by the Topeka City Council on December 30, 2003, and sworn in on January 6, 2004.

Mayor James McClinton in his office. Photo by Chris Landsberger, Topeka Capital-Journal

Like most (if not all) of his predecessors, McClinton faced some controversy during his term of office. The mayor's office had not been redecorated or updated in years. The former mayor had been using an old desk propped up on blocks to accomodate his tall frame. McClinton used some city funds to purchase new office furniture that he and his wife selected at a locally owned furniture store. McClinton and his wife also painted the walls and used some of their own funds to purchase paintings for the office. The new mayor was criticized in some circles for buying the new furniture, but he defended his actions by pointing out that the dedication of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was likely to bring many nationally important figures through the mayor's office and that it needed improvement.

Topeka's first black mayor served for 15 months, until voters approved a different form of government transferring the position's administrative powers to an appointed city manager. McClinton immediately announced he would resign at the end of his term because the mayor's job would be largely ceremonial--"cutting ribbons and shaking hands."

Preparing to leave office in 2005, McClinton looked back on his mayoral achievements with pride, feeling confident he'd achieved most of his goals. "This was an opportunity to make Topeka work, to make things happen in this community," he said. "And I took every opportunity I could to do such."

Among McClinton's achievements were:

  • Revitalizing the neighborhood around the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in preparation for its grand opening
  • Forming task forces that increased the involvement of citizens in local government
  • Publicly opposing a ballot to prohibit the city from recognizing homosexuals as a protected class for ten years

During his final days in office, Mayor McClinton purchased his chair from the City of Topeka with the intention of donating it to the Kansas Museum of History. The collections also include the suit worn at McClinton's swearing-in ceremony.

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Entry: Cool Things - Mayor's Office Chair

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2008

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.