Little Rock Look Back: 1908 Special Mayoral Election

Following the resignation of Mayor W. E. Lenon so he could devote more time to his business interests, John Herndon Hollis was chosen to serve as mayor until a special election could be held.  Mayor Hollis did not choose to run for the seat.

Alderman A. B. Poe announced his resignation at the City Council meeting so that he could run for the mayoral seat. Several other aldermen were mentioned as potential candidates but none of them ended up filing.  Numerous names outside of City Hall were floated as potential candidates.  With so many potential candidates, one insurance firm offered a free life insurance policy to a person who could accurately predict who would be the mayor. (Contest open to persons between the age of 17 and 60, some restrictions apply.) Records do not indicate who won the contest.

The April 22, 1908, Arkansas Democrat carried announcements of Alderman Poe, former mayor W. R. Duley, E. M. Merriman, Charles J. Kramer, and Harry M. Ramey all seeking the office.  Aldermen R. C. Powers and John H. Tuohey came close to announcing but changed their minds at the last minute.  Alderman George H. Stratman did announce but withdrew before the field was set. Likewise, Mr. Kramer withdrew.

When the Democratic Party announced the May 14 primary, the field was set with Mr. Duley, Mr. Poe, Mr. Ramey, and Mr. Merriman. On April 29, Mr. Merriman withdrew “for reasons best known to himself” leaving three in the race.

As the race got going, so did the politicking.  Mr. Duley advocated for better storm sewers as well as street maintenance. He also expressed the need for a change to the state constitution to allow cities more bonding capabilities for public improvements (an issue that would not be fixed until the 1920s). Mr. Poe campaigned on better drinking water, more sidewalks, better streets, and a new City Hospital.  Mr. Ramey was especially focused on the City’s water supply. He also promised to run the City like a business.

In addition to speeches and newspaper ads, the candidates conducted rallies and parades. Their supporters would march up and down the streets with megaphones, brass bands, and other accoutrements.  In the waning days of the campaign, supporters of the candidates were leveling personal attacks against the opponents. Most of these were made verbally, as the ads in the newspapers where candidates were defending themselves were vague in their references to the attacks’ specifics.

The May 14 election day was fraught with activity. Every available vehicle which could be hired had been by the campaigns to carry voters (all white men) to the polls.  Boys were paid to run up and down the streets advocating for candidates and passing out handbills.

The final results were W. R. “Bill” Duley with 1,429 votes, A. B. Poe with 996 votes, and Harry M. Ramey with 688 votes.  Considering it was his first race for public office, Mr. Ramey and his supporters were pleased with the showing he made.  Mr. Poe was not-quite gracious in defeat. In a statement he released he contended that he had been attacked more unfairly than any man in the city’s history.

Mr. Duley carried wards 2, 5, 6, and 7, finishing in second place in wards 1, 3, 4, and 8. Mr. Poe carried wards 1, 3, 4, and 8, while finishing in second in ward 5, and landing in third in the remaining wards. Mr. Ramey did not carry any wards but did finish in second place in three of them.

Following the primary election, Mr. Duley left town for a short vacation.  On June 17, 1908, the general election was held. As Mr. Duley was unopposed, the election was a formality.

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