Although Kuehnle builds the corrupt Atlantic City political machine, he's a saint compared to the dudes who pick up where he leaves off. It's like comparing a Model T to a 2015 Ford Mustang—the Model T might have been revolutionary in its time, but the Mustang will smoke that sucker any day of the week.
In many ways, Kuehnle is Atlantic City's first boss. Before him, the city is run by an unofficial triumvirate of local leaders who share responsibilities amongst themselves. Seeing an opportunity, Kuehnle squeezes his way into this power structure, and before long "nothing was done without his okay" (4.32). With that, the corrupt Atlantic City political machine is born.
In his heart, however, Kuehnle just wants to be liked. He always makes a big show of spending time with the people of Atlantic City, earning their respect by providing them with whatever they need. Of course, he's only doing this so they will continue to support him, but the truth is that the Commodore is more concerned with being loved than being feared. Can you say the same about Nucky? We think not.
Although "Kuehnle was corrupt, […] he had a vision for his town's future and he worked the levers of power to make that vision a reality" (4.38). You could certainly say the same about his successors, but no one ever approaches the job with as much heart and good cheer as Kuehnle. Kuehnle might be the prototype for all of the bosses who follow, but no one is able to fit the mold quite like our plucky Commodore.