The 1911 Little Rock mayoral election brought progressivism to the forefront in Little Rock’s municipal politics.
After incumbent Mayor W. R. Duley chose not to seek another term, three candidates emerged in late 1910. The first, J. K. Riffle, was an attorney. The second was businessman Charles E. Taylor. The third candidate was longtime alderman John H. Tuohey. An eight-year veteran of the City Council, he had spent the past two years as chair of the Police Committee.
Riffle focused on public safety and the City’s finances. He charged that if Taylor were elected he would be a pawn of the Arkansas Brick and Manufacturing Company, which Riffle felt had run the city for fifteen years. Taylor had been an officer of the company but resigned before seeking office.
Tuohey ran a low-key campaign relying on surrogates to make many of his speeches. He was suffering from rheumatism during the campaign. Mayor Duley and Police Chief Frank McMahon were identified as his advisors.
Taylor, for his part, sought to bring reforms to the City. A staunch Southern Baptist, (he was Sunday School Superintendent at Little Rock’s Second Baptist Church), he fought against gambling, drinking, and prostitution. He sought to improve health conditions in the City in addition to enhancing the overall moral tone.
Taylor and Tuohey both claimed to offer a “Square Deal for Laborers and Businessmen Alike.” Taylor called for dramatic changes, while Tuohey espoused the need for gradual growth.
The Democratic Primary for Little Rock was on January 12, 1911. The election was open only to white men who were members of the Democratic Party. The results were 1,530 for Tuohey, 1,493 for Taylor, and 506 for Riffle. It appeared that Tuohey had won by 37 votes.
Taylor and his allies charged that there were 323 illegal votes. He alleged that the names of dead men and African Americans had been used by voters, as well as voters from North Little Rock. Taylor requested the poll tax lists from each of the City’s wards.
The central Democratic Committee was uncertain if it could investigate the charges or if they should go to the courts. On January 11, the Committee agreed to handle the situation. It gave Taylor ten days to investigate and file charges. They planned to meet on February 8 to hear both sides and declare a winner.
On January 26, Taylor and Tuohey jointly announced they had agreed to a winner-take-all special election to take place on February 7. (By that time the number of illegal votes had shrunk to 250 after a review of the poll tax books.)
The campaign was intense with both sides holding numerous rallies and blanketing newspapers with advertisements. Taylor mused, “if Tuohey knew he was right, why did he agree to a new race?”
Only ten fewer votes were cast in the special election than had been cast during the original primary. The result was Charles Taylor with 1,874 votes and John Tuohey with 1,645.
The April 1911 general election was its usual anti-climactic self with Taylor running unopposed.
The Charles Taylor era of Little Rock, which would last eight years, was about to begin.