St. Pat’s Day with Pat Robinson, LR’s 45th mayor

Robinson

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1900, future Little Rock Mayor Pat L. Robinson was born.  He was born in a community outside of Arkadelphia, but moved to Little Rock with his parents.

By the 1920s, Robinson was a rising star of Little Rock Democratic politics.  In April 1929, just weeks after his 29th birthday, he was elected Mayor.  He had twice been elected as City Attorney (1926 and 1928) and was one of the youngest to serve in that position.

During Mayor Robinson’s tenure, he announced plans to construct a new airport.  That project led to the creation of what is now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.  Mayor Robinson was also involved in helping Philander Smith College secure the property where it is now located.  In addition, during his tenure, what is now the Museum of Discovery was folded into the City of Little Rock.  Shortly after taking office, he championed several projects for approval by Little Rock voters. The projects he supported were approved; the ones he did not support did not pass.

Mayor Robinson ran afoul of some of the Democratic party leaders. While the extent of the discord is not exactly known, it IS known that shortly after taking office he confronted the City Council over a special election.  Mayor Robinson sat silently while the City Council voted to approve a special election with a variety of options for voters. Only after the Council approved it did he disclose he only supported three of the initiatives.  In a bit of political brinkmanship, the Council subsequently voted to cancel the election. The Mayor vetoed their vote.  The aldermen chose not to attempt an override (though they had the votes based on disclosures made to the public and the press).  It appears that the relationship between the Mayor and the City Council never recovered.

IMG_4532During this era in Little Rock, it was customary for an incumbent mayor to be given a second term. But City Clerk Horace Knowlton challenged Robinson in the primary.  It was a bitter campaign with Robinson linking Knowlton to disreputable denizens and Knowlton charging Robinson with “an orgy of spending.”  Robinson initially came out 17 votes ahead. But after a review and a lawsuit, it was found that Knowlton ended up with 10 more votes and became the nominee.  At the time, being the Democratic nominee was tantamount to election.

After he left office, Robinson practiced law for a few years in Little Rock and then left the city.  He married a woman from England, Arkansas in the 1930s, but by the 1940 census, he was listed as divorced and living as a lodger.  He later served in the Army during World War II.  Robinson died in June 1958, and is buried in Clark County.

Advertisements

Little Rock Look Back: Museum of Discovery is gifted to City in 1929

At the City Council meeting on December 19, 1929, Bernie Babcock presented the City of Little Rock with a Christmas present — the Museum of Natural History.

After the meeting was convened, Mrs. Babcock was given permission to make remarks to the City.  According to Council minutes from that meeting, she stated “she was at this time making a Christmas gift to the City of Little Rock in presenting to it the museum located on the third floor of the City Hall, setting forth, at length, the struggles in making the collections of which the museum is composed, and stressing the value of the museum to the city.”

Upon a motion, the museum was accepted by the City.  She then presented letters which formally made the offer to the City and suggested persons for a governing board.

Mrs. Babcock had been trying to get the City to accept the museum for a while.  She had been unsuccessful in getting Mayor Pat L. Robinson to agree to it after he took office in April 1929.  Ever-determined, she circumvented the mayor and went directly to the City Council. By December 1929, they had grown estranged from Mayor Robinson.

Since December 19, 1929, the museum has been affiliated with the City of Little Rock.  During that time, it has had several names and three locations.

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.

Little Rock Look Back: Ages of Little Rock Mayors

With the election of Frank D. Scott, Jr., as Little Rock’s next mayor, there have been questions about the ages of Little Rock’s past mayors.

Mayor-elect Scott will become Little Rock’s 73rd mayor when he takes office on January 1, 2019..  There have been sixty-six other men and women serve as mayor of Little Rock.  Much like Grover Cleveland is counted twice in the list of US presidents because of serving non-sequential terms, there have been six men who have served non-sequential terms as Little Rock’s mayor and are therefore counted twice.

Of the seventy-three mayors of Little Rock (including Mayor-elect Scott), the ages are known of fifty-eight at the the time they took office.

Of those fifty eight, the youngest mayor of Little Rock was Eli Colby. He took office in 1843 at the age of 28.  The next youngest is Pat L. Robinson who took office a month after turning 29.

The oldest person to take office as mayor was 66 year old Haco Boyd in 1969. The next oldest was 64 year old David Fulton in 1835.

The average age upon taking office is 45.

The largest gap of years between the ages of sequential mayors at the start of their terms was 31 years. Webster Hubbell was 31 when he took office in 1979. He was succeeded by 62 year old Charles Bussey in 1981.

The shortest gap of ages of sequential mayors at the start of their terms was roughly one year.  W.W. Stevenson and Elijah A. More (yes he spelled his name with only one “O”).  In 1833, Stevenson took office at the age of 35. The next year, More took office at the age of 34. Stevenson’s birthday was on January 29 and More’s was on January 20.

Here is the list of the ten youngest mayors of Little Rock at known age of starting their term:
1. Eli Colby — 28 in September 1843
2. Pat L. Robinson  — 29 in April 1929
3. Webster L. Hubbell — 31 in June 1979
4. J. G. Botsford — 32 in January 1871
5. William E. Ashley — 33 in January 1857
6. John E. Knight — 34 in January 1851 (34 years and 3 months)
7. Harold E. “Sonney” Henson, Jr. — 34 in January 1965 (34 years and 5 months)
8.  Elijah A. More – 34 in January 1834 (34 years and 11 months)
9.  Frank D. Scott, Jr. – 35 in January 2019 (35 years and 1 month)
10. Thomas A. Prince – 35 in January 1985 (35 years and 4 months)

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1930

KNOWLTON

In the early 20th century, Little Rock mayors were traditionally granted a second two-year term, if they wanted them. So, 30 year old Mayor Pat Robinson may have been surprised when City Clerk Horace A. Knowlton Jr., announced his challenge for the Democratic primary in 1930.

Robinson had been the rising star of the Democratic Party in Little Rock. At the age of 25, he was nominated for the position of City Attorney and elected at 26 to the position. Two years later, he was re-elected. Then, a few months into his second term, he ran for the position of mayor. In the primary, he defeated the incumbent, an alderman and a school board member.  Taking office a few days after turning 29, Robinson was one of Little Rock’s youngest mayors ever.

However, shortly after taking office, Robinson butted heads with the majority of the City Council over a special election. And his term was marked with continual political strife.

In 1929 and 1930, Little Rock was recovering from the 1927 flood and the 1929 stock market crash. Yet Robinson appeared to be trying to spend the city out of the doldrums and driving up the city’s debt.

Knowlton was elected City Clerk in 1921 and had been re-elected in 1923, 1925, 1927, and 1929. He was viewed as an efficient politico and a stalwart member of the party.

The City’s financial state was the main thrust of Knowlton’s campaign against Robinson.  The phrase “orgy of spending” appeared in an ad. The incumbent countered with the progress of the City.

A third candidate, Bob Brown, was not a factor in the race.

November 10, 1930, dawned. It was the local Democratic primary day. Since the GOP was virtually non-existent, the winner of the nomination would be the ultimate winner in April 1931.

Anyone thinking the nasty election would be over soon was in for a surprise.

When the results came in, the tallies were: Horace A. Knowlton, 4,537; Pat L. Robinson, 4,554; Bob Brown. 61. It appeared that Robinson had eked out a 17 vote victory.  On November 12, the Pulaski County Democratic Committee certified the results.

Three days later, Knowlton filed suit in circuit court claiming that a variety of illegal votes had been cast for Robinson.  A few days later, Robinson alleged that illegal votes had been cast for Knowlton.

The case was extensive. The transcript of the trial runs over 1,800 pages.  The judge reviewed the more than 9,000 ballots cast and compared them to voter rolls and poll tax lists.  Ultimately, he found that Knowlton had received ten more votes than Robinson and declared that Knowlton was the nominee.

Knowlton’s name was placed on the ballot in April and he was elected, taking office later that month.

However, Robinson had appealed the circuit court ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.  In June 1921, the Court upheld the lower court ruling and affirmed that Knowlton was indeed the duly elected mayor of Little Rock.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Race of 1928

Robinson

After serving two, 2-year terms, Mayor Charles Moyer sought a third term in the Democratic primary of 1928. There were three people standing in his way of a new term:  City Attorney Pat Robinson, School Board member H. T. “Will” Terry, and Alderman Joe H. Bilheimer, Jr.

Robinson had been elected City Attorney at the age of 27.  He was viewed as a rising star in not only the Democratic Party of Little Rock, but for the state as well.  He was no relation to US Senator Joe T. Robinson, who hailed from Lonoke County. Pat Robinson had roots in Clark County.  Alderman Billheimer had served on the Little Rock City Council since 1917, while Mr. Terry had been on the School Board for several years and been president of that body.

As the incumbent, Mayor Moyer spent most of the campaign on the defensive. His policies and programs were attacked. What was not attacked (or even mentioned) was his disappearance from Little Rock during the 1927 lynching of James Carter.  Mayor Moyer promoted his efforts for the successful amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which expanded the bonding capacity of cities. He also was proud of having established the Planning Commission for Little Rock.

Moyer largely ignored Bilheimer in his remarks. But he charged Robinson with dereliction in duty as City Attorney. He also questioned Terry’s business acumen.  Terry for his part stressed his work as a man who had started driving a milk wagon and then rose to become the head of a large dairy.  He took a swipe at single Robinson by stressing that he was a person with family ties.

Bilheimer questioned Moyer’s expenditures including $4,000 a year to keep City Hall clean. He claimed that was a payoff for a political contribution. He also noted that during Terry’s tenure on the school board, the Little Rock schools were only able to purchase milk from his dairy.  He also charged Terry with campaign violations. At the time, state law set that campaign expenditures could not exceed the salary of the position being sought. At the time, Little Rock paid $5,000 per year to the mayor.  Bilheimer charged that Terry was exceeding that.

Other than defend his record as City Attorney, Robinson fairly successfully stayed above the fray. He admitted that he was not aggressive prosecuting bootleggers or others connected to Prohibition offenses.

Rallies and radio were the order of the day as the campaign wound down.  On November 26, 1928, the primary took place.  Robinson won every precinct.  He captured 4,077 votes to 1,682 for Moyer, 1,518 for Terry, and 298 for Bilheimer.

The polls closed at 6pm.  By 8:30pm, the results were known and a Robinson victory parade filled the streets.  It marched down Main Street and then down Markham to City Hall.  On the steps, Mr. Robinson remarked, “I shall try always to be the same old Pat.”

 

 

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…