Little Rock Look Back: 1938 Mayoral Primary

Two term incumbent R. E. Overman was challenged by businessman J. V. Satterfield for the 1938 Democratic mayoral primary in Little Rock.

It has been said that Overman never met a New Deal program he did not like, regardless of financial circumstances.  Partially in response to concerns about the City’s finances, a group of business leaders approached Satterfield about running for mayor. (Interestingly, at the time Satterfield lived just a few doors down from Overman.)

J. V. Satterfield was not a creature of politics. He had been a successful in the financial services industry. But he had not been active in the City’s political life.  In addition to concerns about the City’s finances, Overman was viewed as vulnerable due to the fact he had alienated most of the City Council.  (In fact, after renaming Fair Park in his honor, in a fit of pique the Council reversed course a few months later and returned the name to Fair Park. It is now War Memorial Park.)

In the campaign Overman proudly proclaimed his administration had given the City a public water utility, an airport, art museum, auditorium, golf courses, and street paving program.  Satterfield countered that many of those projects were actually federal projects and some had started before the Overman administration.  In a swipe at Overman, the Satterfield campaign noted that the incumbent forgot to take credit for the State Capitol in Baton Rouge and Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

Overman countered that Satterfield had no proposals and was a tool of the utilities.  He called the Bond Broker candidate. In return, Satterfield noted that Little Rock’s 1938 debt was $15.8 million, up from $2.04 million in 1935. He followed that with “and still bills go unpaid.”

In a rarity, the local Democratic primary took place on the actual General Election Day.  This boosted voter turnout.  Satterfield swept every precinct and every ward with a total of 6,432 votes while Overman garnered 2,978.

In April 1939, Satterfield easily won the City’s general election – he was unopposed.  At age 36 he became Little Rock’s 48th mayor.

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