Little Rock Look Back: The THREE Mayoral Elections of 1951

On September 24, 1951, Pratt C. Remmel was nominated for Little Rock Mayor by the Pulaski County Republican Committee.  This was the first time there had been a GOP mayoral nominee in Little Rock since the 1880s.  It also set up a competitive General Election mayoral race for the first time in decades.

Incumbent Sam Wassell, a Democrat, was seeking a third two-year term. First elected in 1947 (after being unsuccessful in his quest for the position in 1945), Wassell had survived a primary and runoff in the summer of 1951. So confident was Mayor Wassell that Little Rock would remain a Democratic city, he barely campaigned for the office in the General Election.

While Mayor Wassell was ignoring the “run unopposed or run scared” maxim, he was not incorrect that Little Rock remained a stronghold for the Democratic Party.  Indeed there were no Republicans seeking office in Little Rock other than for mayor in 1951. Few, if any, Republicans had run for the City Council since Remmel had unsuccessfully made a race in the late 1930s.

In response to inquiries as to his lack of campaigning, Mayor Wassell averred that the voters had shown their support for him on July 31 and August 14. He continued that he did not see a reason to think the result would be different in November.  The 68 year-old Wassell stated that if he could defeat a young opponent who had over a decade of experience as an alderman, he could certainly defeat a young opponent who had no governmental experience.

In the July 1951 Democratic mayoral primary, Wassell had been challenged by Alderman Franklin Loy and grocer J. H. Hickinbotham.  Two years earlier, Wassell, seeking a second term, had dispatched Loy rather handily by a vote of 7,235 to 3,307.  He fully expected that 1951 should produce the same results as 1949.

But Wassell was trying to buck recent history.  Since 1925, no Little Rock mayor had won a nomination for a third term. One (J. V. Satterfield) had chosen not to seek a second term, while two (Pat L. Robinson and Dan T. Sprick) were defeated in their quest for two more years. Of those who served two two-year terms, a brace (Horace Knowlton as well as Charles Moyer in 1945) had not sought a third term.  Moyer HAD sought a third two-year term during his first stint as mayor (1925-1929) but was defeated. Likewise R. E. Overman also lost his bid for a third term.

By trying to win a third term, Wassell was seeking to return to the era of the first quarter of the 20th Century where several of his predecessors had been elected at least three times.  In his 1951 campaign, he was promising to stay the course of the previous four years. He answered his opponents’ ideas with a plan to continue providing services without having to raise taxes.  So confident was he of besting Loy and Hickinbotham that he predicted a 3 to 1 margin of victory.  A large horseshoe-shaped victory cake sat in a room at his campaign headquarters inside the Hotel Marion on election night.

The cake would remain uneaten.

When the results came in, Wassell had managed to get 5,720 votes to Loy’s 4,870. But with Hickinbotham surprising everyone (including probably himself) with 1,235 votes, no one had a majority.  The race was headed for a runoff two weeks later to be held in conjunction with the other city and county Democratic elections on August 14.

The day after the July 31 election, the Arkansas Gazette showed an dazed Wassell with top campaign aids in a posed picture looking at the results.  Further down the page, a jubilant Alderman Loy was surrounded by his wife and supporters.  The differing mood reflected in the photos was echoed in the two men’s statements that evening.  Wassell castigated his supporters for being overly-confident and not getting people to the polls. He further apologized to the Little Rock electorate for having to be “inconvenienced” with another election.  Loy, on the other hand, was excited and gratified. He thanked the citizens for their support.

The day of the runoff, a 250 pound black bear got loose at the Little Rock Zoo after the zoo had closed and took 45 minutes to be captured and returned to its pit.  Perhaps Wassell wondered if that bear was a metaphor for the Little Rock Democratic electorate.  Much like the bear returned to its pit, Little Rock’s Democrats returned to Wassell — or at least enough did.  Wassell captured 7,575 votes, while Loy received 6,544.  The moods that night echoed those two weeks earlier.  Wassell, his wife, and some supporters were combative towards the press (they were especially critical of the “negative” photo for which he had posed) while Loy was relaxed and magnanimous in defeat.

The closeness with which Mayor Wassell had escaped with the Democratic nomination was noticed.  A group of businessmen started seeking someone to run as an independent.  Likewise the Pulaski County GOP was open to fielding a candidate.  At a county meeting held at Pratt Remmel’s office, the offer of the nomination was tendered to their host.

After he was nominated in September, Remmel (who was County Chair and State Treasurer for the GOP) visited with the business leaders who were trying to find someone to run. He had made his acceptance of the nomination contingent on being sure there would be a coalition of independents and possibly even Democrats backing him in addition to the Republicans.

Once he was in the race, Remmel was tireless.  He blanketed newspapers with ads touting his plans and criticizing the lackadaisical attitude of his opponent. He made speeches and knocked on doors. He worked so hard that once during the campaign his doctor ordered him to 48 hour bedrest.

Mayor Wasssell, for his part, was confident voters would stick with party loyalty.  But as the November 6 election day grew nearer some City and County leaders grew increasingly wary.  Still, the Mayor rebuffed their concerns.  Someone had even gone so far as to set up a campaign office for him in the Hotel Marion. But before it could officially open, it was shut down.  (While the Mayor had criticized his supporters for being overly-confident in the July election, he apparently was not concerned about too much confidence this time around.)

Remmel had an aggressive campaign message promising better streets, more parking availability, a new traffic signalization plan, and the desire for expressways. His slogan was “a third bridge, not a third term” in reference to the proposed expressway bridge across the Arkansas River. (This would eventually be built and is now the much-debated I-30 bridge.)

The Saturday before the election, the Hogs beat Texas A&M in Fayetteville at Homecoming while a cold snap held the South in its grip.  In addition to featuring both of those stories heavily, that weekend’s papers also carried the first ads advocating for Wassell. They were Wassell ads, in a manner.  Ads from the County Democratic Committee, County Democratic Women, and Democratic officeholders in the county urged voters to stick to party loyalty.  That would be the closest to a Wassell campaign ad in the autumn of 1951.

The night before the election, Wassell made his only radio appearance of the campaign while Remmel made yet another of his several appearances. Earlier that day in driving rain, there had been a Remmel rally and caravan through downtown, including passing by City Hall.

That evening, as the results came in, the fears of Democratic leaders were well-founded.  Remmel carried 23 precincts. Wassell won two precincts and the absentee ballots. His victories in those three boxes were only by a total of 46 votes.  Remmel won both Wassell’s home precinct (377 to 163) and his own (1,371 to 444).

In the end, the total was 7,794 for Remmel and 3,668 for Wassell.

And Little Rock was poised to have its first Republican mayor since W. G. Whipple had left office in April 1891, sixty years earlier.

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Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Primary of 1944

Following his second stint as mayor, Charles Moyer decided to not seek a fifth term leading Little Rock.  It set the stage for the December 1944 Democratic primary.  Alderman Sam Wassell and former Alderman Dan Sprick faced off in a particularly nasty race.  As World War II was drawing to a close, there were charges leveled which questioned patriotism. With both men having service on the Little Rock City Council, there were also plenty of past votes on both sides which could become fodder for campaigns.

The election was on December 5, 1944. Sprick received 3,923 votes and Wassell 3,805. A few days later, Wassell filed suit claiming that there were people who voted who were not on the poll tax rolls and another group of voters who did not live in the ward in which they voted. Sprick countersued making the same charges against Wassell.

The case was heard in Pulaski County Circuit Court in February 1945.  It eventually ended up at the Arkansas Supreme Court, which remanded it back to the lower court. On March 26, 1945, Wassell dropped his case. This was only eight (8) days before the municipal general election.

Two years later, Wassell would challenge Sprick in the primary and be triumphant. Wassell would serve from 1947 until 1951.  Sprick would later return to politics and serve a decade in the Arkansas State Senate.

Little Rock Look Back: 1945 Commissioning of USS Little Rock

Following the 1944 launch of the USS Little Rock, there were still several months before the ship was ready to officially join the US Navy fleet.

On June 17, 1945, the USS Little Rock was officially commissioned and joined the fleet.  While Europe had surrendered by this time, the war in the Pacific continued.

The commissioning took place at the US Naval Yard in Philadelphia.  At the start of the ceremony, an invocation was given by the Ship’s Chaplain, Lt. C. L. Dickey.  Then Rear Admiral Draemel, the Commandant of the Fourth Naval District gave an address.

The simultaneous raising  the ensign, jack and commissioning pennant were accompanied by the National Anthem.  This marked the actual moment the ship joined the fleet.  Captain W. E. Miller, then ceremonially reported to the Commandant that the ship had been placed into commission.  He was then formally placed in command of the USS Little Rock.

The First Watch was set, followed by an introduction of Little Rock Mayor Dan T. Sprick.  Captain Miller then made an address, and Chaplain Dickey provided a benediction. The crew of the USS Little Rock was dismissed, followed by “Retreat” on the bugle. The program ended with tea being served to the crew in the respect messes.

Any member of the original crew  during the ceremony was issued a card indicating he was a Plank owner.  This entitled him to ownership of one of the planks on the weather deck of the ship.

Little Rock Look Back: A few municipal primary races of yore

Taylor

Today is primary day in Arkansas.  Though City of Little Rock municipal races are non-partisan and won’t be on the ballot until November, that has not always been the case.

Between 1874 and 1957, usually winning the Democratic Primary was tantamount to election. So the municipal general elections were usually boring. (The only exception would be the three elections in which Pratt Remmel was the GOP nominee for mayor facing off against the Democratic nominee.)

The real drama was in the primary races.

The 1911 primary pitted crusading businessman Charles Taylor against a firebrand attorney and Alderman John Tuohey, a grocer. Each of the three tried to position himself as an outsider, though Tuohey was least successful in accomplishing this considering he was an alderman and the candidate of choice of the retiring mayor.

Riffle logged insults at both Taylor and Tuohey. Taylor sought to position himself as not just the candidate of the businessmen. As a progressive, he borrowed Teddy Roosevelt’s Square Deal motto and offered “A Square Deal for Everyone.” A Baptist Sunday School superintendent, he also campaigned against vice. Tuohey offered his own solutions to city issues but was hampered in the campaign by illness.

After the January 12, 1911, primary election day, Tuohey had 1530 votes, Taylor had 1493 and Riffle had 506. Taylor alleged 323 illegal votes were cast and sought the poll tax records to try to prove it. After he saw the poll tax lists, he reduced his charges to 250 illegal votes.

On January 26, Tuohey and Taylor agreed to a new, two-man primary (essentially a run-off) in an attempt to resolve the matter. After that race, Taylor had 1874 votes and Tuohey had 1645. Taylor went on to be elected mayor in April 1911 and would subsequently serve four two-year terms.

 

Robinson

When he took office in April 1929 having just turned 29 a few weeks earlier, Mayor Pat L. Robinson seemed to be a rising star in the Democratic Party. Within a few months, however, he found himself at odds with the Little Rock City Council on a variety of issues.

Some of these appear to have been of his own doing, partially due to youthful arrogance, and part of these were probably rooted in entrenched resistance to change. With the onset of the Great Depression six months into his term, the City’s already tight financial shape became even tighter. The aldermen and city clerk gave him no quarter (though some may have wanted to draw and quarter him).

Knowlton

In November 1930, City Clerk Horace Knowlton squared off against Mayor Robinson (no relation to Joe T.) in the Democratic primary. It was a particularly raucous primary with charges and counter-charges of corruption, malfeasance and misfeasance. In describing Mayor Robinson’s handling of the City finances, Mr. Knowlton declared the mayor had undertaken an “orgy of spending.”

The results after the election were  Knowlton, 4,537; Robinson, 4,554; and 61 votes for a third candidate. Robinson was declared the nominee. But Knowlton protested and filed suit. There charges of illegal voting and persons whose ballots were not counted. After an exhaustive investigation (over 1,800 pages of testimony were taken), the court found that neither side had willingly engaged in voter fraud or vote tampering. The painstaking analysis further found that Knowlton had received ten more votes than Robinson.

In April 1931, Knowlton won the general election and was sworn in as Little Rock mayor. Robinson continued to pursue the case and appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. In June 1931 (in the third month of Knowlton’s mayoral term), the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the circuit court ruling that Knowlton had indeed won the primary.

 

Sprick

A little more than a decade later, the state’s high court would again be called on to weigh in on Little Rock’s Democratic primary for mayor. In December 1944, Alderman Sam Wassell and former Alderman Dan Sprick faced off in a particularly nasty race.  As World War II was drawing to a close, there were charges leveled which questioned patriotism. With both men having service on the Little Rock City Council, there were also plenty of past votes on both sides which could become fodder for campaigns.

Wassell

The election was on December 5, 1944. Sprick received 3,923 votes and Wassell 3,805. A few days later, Wassell filed suit claiming that there were people who voted who were not on the poll tax rolls and another group of voters who did not live in the ward in which they voted. Sprick countersued making the same charges against Wassell.

The case eventually ended up at the Arkansas Supreme Court, which remanded it back to the lower court. On March 26, 1945, Wassell dropped his case. This was only eight (8) days before the municipal general election.

Two years later, Wassell would challenge Sprick in the primary and be triumphant. Wassell would serve from 1947 until 1951.  Sprick would later return to politics and serve a decade in the Arkansas State Senate.

 

There are many more interesting primary and election stories to tell. Stay tuned…

Little Rock Look Back: Dan T. Sprick

Future Little Rock Mayor Dan T. Sprick was born on May 19, 1902.  He served three terms on the Little Rock City Council (from 1935 to 1941).  In 1945, he was elected Mayor of Little Rock and served one term. During his tenure on the City Council, he was the sole vote against locating Robinson Auditorium at Markham and Broadway.  He had favored another location.

He was not alone, however, in being held in contempt of court and spending part of the day in jail.  On Monday, December 4, a dozen of Little Rock’s aldermen (which included Sprick) reported to the county jail to serve sentences for contempt of court. The previous Monday, the twelve council members had voted against an ordinance which had been ordered by the judge in an improvement district matter. The other aldermen had either voted in the affirmative or had been absent. Because the twelve had refused to change their votes since that meeting, the judge ordered them jailed.  After the aldermen changed their votes later in the day, they were freed.

His tenure as Mayor was relatively quiet. He took office the same month that World War II ended. While in office, the Sprick administration was marked by growth in the city budget and in city positions. As a part of that growth, there were many more new purchases taking place which had prompted extra scrutiny of the City’s purchasing procedures. A thorough investigation toward the end of his tenure found no malfeasance or misfeasance, it did note that the city needed to do a better job of anticipating cash flow. Much of the City’s focus during the Sprick tenure was on growth and keeping up infrastructure needs.

Sprick later served for ten years in the Arkansas State Senate (from 1961 to 1970).  During his tenure in the Senate, Sprick was closely aligned with Gov. Orval Faubus.  When the Little Rock high schools had been closed a year to ensure segregation, Sprick had served on the board of a private school set up by some of the leaders of the segregation movement.

His time in the Senate was also marked by controversy.  He was one of three Senators to opposed Muhammad Ali’s speaking at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.  After an Arkansas Gazette editorial lambasted him, Sprick sued the paper for libel. The Gazette settled with him out of court because his health was poor.

One of the landmark pieces of legislation he guided through the Arkansas General Assembly allowed cities to collect advertising and promotion taxes.  The 1972 and 1973 upgrades to Robinson Center were funded by this tax (as have some subsequent upgrades). So the building he voted against while on the LR City Council benefited from legislation he championed while in the General Assembly.

Sprick died in January 1972.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Races without Incumbents

The announcement by Little Rock’s 72nd Mayor, Mark Stodola, that he will not seek a fourth term in 2018, sent the Little Rock Culture Vulture thinking about past mayoral races in Little Rock history.

Election records in the 1800s are spotty at best, so this discussion focuses on those who have run for Mayor once the current City Hall opened in April 1908.

The November 2018 election will be only the sixth mayoral election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor on the ballot.  (Assuming that none of Little Rock’s living seven former mayors choose to run.)

The most recent election without a current or former mayor was in 2006, when Jim Dailey had announced he would not seek another term. It was at that election that former City Attorney Mark Stodola, faced off against two former City Directors (Barbara Graves and Jesse Mason) and former State Senator Bill Walker.

From 1908 through 1957, Little Rock elections were partisan in nature.  In most instances, if one won the Democratic Primary, one was assured of being mayor.  Looking back at municipal general election results (where there was usually only token opposition at best) in those decades does not give a true picture to the spirited nature of races for City Hall.

The first election since 1908 without an incumbent or former mayor was in 1911. Charles Taylor ran as a reforming outsider and won an open seat for mayor.  He would serve until 1919. That year, former alderman Ben Brickhouse won the open seat.

R. E. Overman was elected to his first term as mayor in 1935, after incumbent mayor Horace Knowlton did  not seek a third term.  After returning to City Hall in 1941 and being re-elected, Mayor Moyer retired a second time in 1945. In that election, Dan Sprick was elected mayor.  That would be the final election in Little Rock without an incumbent or former mayor until 2006.

From 1957 until 1994, the mayor was chosen every two years by members of the City Board of Directors from among their membership.  The last person to be selected in that manner, Jim Dailey, won city-wide election to the mayoral position in 1994 and served until 2006.

Here is a history of all the mayor races since 1908:

1908 Special – Incumbent acting mayor John Herndon Hollis did not seek election to full term.  Former Mayor W. R. Duley elected
1909 – Mayor Duley re-elected
1911 – Charles Taylor elected after Mayor Duley forgoes seeking another term.
1913 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1915 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1917 – Mayor Taylor re-elected
1919 – Ben D. Brickhouse elected after Mayor Taylor forgoes seeking another term.
1921 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1923 – Mayor Brickhouse re-elected
1925 – Mayor Brickhouse loses Democratic Primary to County Judge Charles Moyer, who wins the general election.
1927 – Mayor Moyer re-elected
1929 – Mayor Moyer loses Democratic Primary to City Attorney Pat L. Robinson, who wins the general election.
1931 – Mayor Robinson loses Democratic Primary to Horace Knowlton, who wins the general election.
1933 – Mayor Knowlton re-elected
1935 – R. E. Overman elected after Mayor Knowlton forgoes another term.
1937 – Mayor Overman re-elected
1939 – J. V. Satterfield defeats Mayor Overman in the Democratic Primary. He subsequently wins general election.
1941 – Former mayor Moyer returns to City Hall after Mayor Satterfield opts to retire after one term.
1943 – Mayor Moyer is re-elected
1945 – Dan Sprick is elected after Mayor Moyer forgoes another term.
1947 – Sam Wassell defeats Mayor Sprick in the Democratic Primary, subsequently wins general election.
1949 – Mayor Wassell is re-elected
1951 – Republican Pratt Remmel defeats Democratic incumbent Sam Wassell in the general election to become mayor.
1953 – Mayor Remmel is re-elected.
1955 – Democratic nominee Woodrow Mann defeats GOP incumbent Mayor Remmel in the general election to become mayor.
1956 – Voters switch to City Manager form of government, partially in response to actions by Mayor Mann’s administration.  Mayor Mann leaves office in November 1957.

1957 to 1994 – City Manager form with mayor selected from among membership

1994 – Mayor Jim Dailey wins election as Little Rock’s first popularly elected mayor since 1957.  He had previously been selected mayor by his city board colleagues.
1998 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2002 – Mayor Dailey is re-elected
2006 – Mark Stodola is elected mayor after Mayor Dailey forgoes another term.
2010 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2014 – Mayor Stodola is re-elected
2018 – Mayor Stodola announces he will not seek another term.

Little Rock Look Back: Boxing Day remembrance of Muhammad Ali vs. Dan Sprick

Ali SprickDan T. Sprick was a Little Rock Mayor for two years in the 1940s after having previously served on the City Council.  From 1961 until 1970, he served as a State Senator from Little Rock and was a reliable ally for Governor Orval Faubus. Once Faubus left office and was replaced by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Sprick continued to wave the banner of segregation and agitation.  One of his new focuses was boxer Muhammad Ali.

In 1969, the University of Arkansas announced that Ali would be one of the speakers for its public appearance series.  After refusing to be drafted and go to Vietnam, Ali was barred from earning a living as a professional boxer and so was making a living giving lectures.  His refusal to submit to the draft was based on his religious beliefs as a recent convert to the Nation of Islam.

Opposition to Ali’s appearance rose almost immediately, and from Little Rock not Fayetteville. The Pulaski Businessman’s Association sent a letter to UA president David Mullins asking him to bar Ali from speaking. President Mullins insisted that he had the right to speak on campus. When that didn’t work, Senator Sprick and his cohorts in the state’s upper chamber went to work. A resolution calling for Ali to be barred from speaking failed on a voice vote after much debate.

While there were certainly some racial overtones to Sprick’s opposition, he and others seemed to be more concerned over the former Cassius Clay’s conversion to Islam plus his ensuing refusal to be drafted.  Senator Sprick declared that if President Nixon would draft him now he would go to serve in Vietnam.  (Sprick was in his late 60s at the time.)

Ali’s speech on the campus actually caused some controversy on its own.  One of the things he advocated for segregation. He praised Alabama Governor George Wallace.  The Arkansas Gazette which had been following the saga in both news stories and editorials, noted that remarks like that should have endeared Ali to Dan Sprick and others.

Ali, of course, resumed his boxing career and defined that sport in the 1970s with his talent in the ring and his showmanship.

Based on an editorial, Sprick sued the Gazette for libel. The paper settled with him out of court because his health was poor. Sprick died in 1972.