War makes for strange bedfellows, and in 1908 Santa Rosa, bedfellows were strange, indeed: The Democratic and Republican parties united to offer a single slate of candidates for mayor, council, and other elected city posts. These normally-bitter rivals joined forces to fight a common enemy: Reformers who wanted to clean up the town, starting with booting the good ol’ boys from power.
The deal for the “fusion” ticket was sealed during the simultaneous party conventions that March, with a delegate from each dashing back and forth to ensure that Santa Rosa voters would be offered the same wonderful “two party system” enjoyed in banana republics and better dictatorships. So close were the platforms of the two parties that you could not slip a playing card between them:
|We earnestly recommend and favor the immediate repeal of the so-called boarding-house license…
We hearby pledge…to repeal the ordinance licensing houses of ill-fame…
|We demand the payment of good wages for labor at Union rates and declare that eight hours shall constitute a day’s work; in all departments of the city government, and that all appointments and laborers be bonafide residents of this city…
||We hearby pledge…to protect the mechanics and laborers of the city, asking of them only a fair day’s work at union wages; giving preference in the employment of labor to the bonafide residents of this city…
|We favor proper legislation to secure to our citizens abundant and wholesome free water for domestic use…
||We hearby pledge…to secure abundant free water for domestic use and a just and equitable distribution thereof…
|We favor…the regulation of public service corporations to compel them to furnish to this city and its people proper and sanitary light and power, both gas and electric, at fair and reasonable rates.
||We hearby pledge…to compel public service corporations to furnish adequate telephone service and proper and sanitary light, heat and power, both electric and gas, at reasonable rates…
Aside from repeal of the unpopular law that had legalized and regulated prostitution, the Dem/Repub platforms could be summed up as a vote for business-as-usual. Heading their ticket as candidate for mayor was the quintessential insider: James H. Gray, developer, president of the Chamber of Commerce, and namesake of the town of Graton.
The reform mayoral candidate was Rolfe Thompson, a lawyer and former Deputy District Attorney. (Thompson would become Superior Court judge in 1920 and later be appointed to the state Supreme Court; when he left for that seat in 1929, his Superior Court judgeship was taken by a man named Hilliard Comstock.) Thompson was less specific about what he would do as mayor, except for one point that he repeated often: He would put an end to “bossism.” He maintained that Santa Rosa was being run by just four men – and he even had the temerity to call them out by name.
Thompson’s reform party was called the Municipal League, and will be explored in the following post. For the purpose of introduction, it’s only necessary to know that it was the descendant of the 1905 Good Government League. Also: Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley hated them with passion.
In the weeks before the April election, Finley wrote several lengthy editorials scourging the Municipal League. His main avenue of attack was to repeatedly accuse them of being puppets of “the church element,” and particularly a prohibition-seeking group called the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. And truthfully, the Municipal League leaned towards being a neo-temperance party because Thompson took no position on alcohol; what the temperance movement wanted at the time was for elected officials to show willingness for prohibition to be put to a vote, as was about to happen in Healdsburg that April (the town elected to stay “wet”).
But Finley didn’t stop with insinuations that the Municipal League played footsie with prohibitionists; he wrote at length they were nay-sayers who sought to destroy Santa Rosa by questioning the status quo. Finley’s favorite mud-slinging gimmick was setting up straw-man arguments; when the Municipal League said that a vote for the fusion ticket was the same as “endorsing the present administration,” the Press Democrat editor pretended to misunderstand their allegory and dismiss it as “twaddle” because no one from the administration was running for reelection (the newspaper followed by boasting that the administration was composed of the finest, most unselfish men that could be found anywhere on the planet). When the Municipal League suggested the PD was “owned” by the “same men who aspire to own Santa Rosa,” Finley took the literal meaning in order to call them liars or fools for not knowing that Finley and his partner were the business owners.
Finley’s venom was also directed at the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union’s newsletter called “The Citizen.” Alas, no copies from that year appear to have survived (the county library has a couple of issues from 1909), so we’re left with the snippets and paraphrases that were used in PD editorials. It’s also regrettable that the Santa Rosa Republican didn’t call out the Press Democrat on its lies and misrepresentations, as it had in the political “flapdoodle” of the 1904 election. But the Republican did offer up a column by Tom Gregory describing the fusion conventions. Mostly written in heavy dialect (presumably to make it “humorous”), he drops the hick shtick at the end to make a telling point: “For years and years Santa Rosa has called for a non-partisan choice of city officers, and when the campaign came on the voters have lined up at the call of the bosses.”
DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS NAME JOINT TICKET
JAMES H. GRAY IS CHOSEN FOR MAYOR OF SANTA ROSA
Strong Platforms Are Adopted By Both Parties
Dr. J. W. Jesse Chairman at Democratic Gathering Where the Business of the Evening is Disposed of Rapidly and in Good Order
The Democratic convention was largely attended and was a thoroughly representative body. It met in Germania Hall, and harmony and good feeling predominated throughout this evening’s deliberations.
The convention was called to order by L. W. Juilliard, chairman of the democratic city Central committee…
…[A] conference had been held with a like committee from the Republican caucus, and as result of the meeting a plan had been suggested whereby the two parties might unite for the nomination of a single ticket. The plan, he said, was for the Democrats to name the candidate for Mayor, two councilmen and Recorder, and allow Republicans to select the nominees for Assessor, Clerk and two remaining councilmen. The principal object was to bury dissension.
F. J. Hoffman moved that the report of the committee be to be accepted and its action ratified. The motion was duly seconded and carried amid cheers and much applause…
MUNICIPAL CONVENTIONS ARE HELD HERE LAST NIGHT
The Republican city convention held last night at Trembley’s hall was one of most harmonious and enthusiastic of gatherings. With but one or two exceptions all the delegates were present as well as a large gathering of spectators and deep interest was taken in the proceedings.
Dr. S. S. Bogle called the convention to order and stated its objects… Judge Barham thanked the delegates for the honor conferred in electing him chairman and voiced a word of praise for the people of Santa Rosa, whom he said he loved better than ever for the splendid spirit they had exemplified in rebuilding the city after the earthquake. He also praised the banks of Santa Rosa for the financial assistance they had rendered in making rebuilding possible with so much alacrity. He complimented the Republican convention on the determination to display courage and be bold enough to present a ticket for election regardless of politics, and after indulging in some pleasantries regarding national politics this fall, he again congratulated the delegates and the Republican Party in being big enough in municipal affairs to rise above politics and name a good ticket with men who who fully realize the importance of their trust…
– Press Democrat, March 7, 1908
FIXING UP A FUSION TICKET
Allotment of Councilmen Bone of Contention
“That fusion idee has got into snaggy water,” observed the Up Town citizen. “It’s mighty unnatural fur them two ol’ parties to fall to lovin’ of each other all ter once. An’ th’ rank an’ file are a-askin’ what does th’ higher-ups of th’ scheme, who are mighty bizzy a-bringin’ on this combine goin’ to git out of it? Now that several candidates has pulled out of the Independents th’ Democrats are a-sayin’ to themselves, says they: ‘Why should we carry Republicans along; with all the Democrats off th’ Independent ticket we can put up a straight piece of paper an’ every Democrat in town will vote for it; we might as well have th’ mayor and all four councilmen instid of splitin’ up that bunch of jobs; th’ Indys and th’ Reps can’t fuse, they are so apart, an’ that leaves the Republicans with little change for th’ present an’ less hope fur th’ hereafter.’ Of course, th’ Reps don’t subscribe to that doctrin’, an’ they are hopin fur th’ present as well as th’ hereafter but they druther so many Republicans didn’t git on th’ Indy ticket.
Th’ Democratic secret meetin’ of delegates didn’t run on schedule time th’ other night. Somebody, accordin’ to program moved th’ chairman appoint one man from each ward to act as a committee to confer with like committe from th’ Republicans. Then a delegate who is from Kentucky and was in hot Goebel war there, moved th’ wards git their own representatives. This started trouble an’ in th’ scrap th’ chairman got tangled up in parly’ment’ry law an’ both motions was voted down. Then while they was all talkin’ about how it happened th’ chap from th’ ‘Dark an’ Bloody Ground’ got in his motion an’ it was adopted. Over in th’ Republican meetin’ at th’ same time th’ same protest came up, but it ended smoothly in th’ chair ‘pointin’ the representatives subject to ‘proval of th’ wards.
“Well, look at it any way, an’ th’ withdrawls changes matter some. Th’ Democrats tell everybody that that makes no difference, but th’ most innercent marine would not swaller such an anty-‘lection yarn. Th’ Republicans are still got their heads down sawin’ some purty knotty wood. They’ve got no time for public statements. Th’ makin’ up of th’ fusin ticket is a-worryin’ th’ management. Th’ Democrats want th’ mayor an three concilmen, an’ as they already have a holdover man on th’ council, this would give them three to th’ Republican three, with a Democrat mayor to kick off the tie that will always come up when a vote stands three to three. Reps want three new councilmen, which would put th’ Democratic legislative body of th’ city in th’ minority, a place where they say th’ Republicans orier be. But they’re leered th’ Reps will git mad, so durned mad that they’ll take the independent candidate after all.
“Some of the fellers who do a good deal of standin’ around on street corners are a-perfessin’ to enjoy th’ sight of the new candidate on th’ non-partisan ticket, but a lot of men who know things an’ think sometimes, see a hot fight ahead. Yesterday one of th’ most prominent Democrats in this city said to me, ‘For years and years Santa Rosa has called for a non-partisan choice of city officers, and when the campaign came on the voters have lined up at the call of the bosses. A bitter political fight was quickly on, making it hard to get the right kind of men to stand for the offices. When the whole city should be standing together working only for Santa Rosa, they have been arrayed in two political factions, battling over the old political issues that have descended from father to son down the line of years.”
– Santa Rosa Republican, March 6, 1908
THE “PRESENT ADMINISTRATION”
Having floundered about until they themselves scarcely know where they stand; having advanced all their “arguments,” and without visible effect; and realizing that the tide is sitting against them stronger and stronger every day, the manipulations of the so-called Municipal League charge that a vote for the regular Democratic or Republican nominees is a voted “endorsing the present administration,” and appeal for support upon that ground.
Such talk is of course all nonsense. The outgoing administration has nothing whatever to do with the one that is about to come into power, and all sensible people realize it. Neither Mayor Overton nor any of the members of the present city council are up for re-election. James H. Gray is absolutely untrammeled and has publicly and repeatedly declared that no other consideration than that of the interests of the community as a whole will be allowed to influence his appointments. Under the circumstances the League’s latest appeal becomes mere twaddle.
But the supporters of the so-called Municipal League presume considerably upon the credulity and forgetfulness of the people when they advance arguments of the above nature as a reason for supporting the League ticket. The administration which is so soon to go out of power has in many respects been one of the best, if not the very best, Santa Rosa has ever known. More has been accomplished in less time and under greater difficulties than by any other similar body ever placed in control of affairs here.
Going back to four years ago, when the present administration was called into existence you’re reminded that the conditions were anything but what they should have been. The affairs of the municipality were in such shape, in fact, that our people had come almost unanimously to the opinion that it was time to turn over a new leaf and inaugurate a big change. It was seen that the sewer system would have to be extended to the water works further perfected and developed, new bridges constructed, and a large amount of work done upon the streets. This required funds and the only way to secure them was by bond issue.
To insure such a project carrying, it was realized that it would be necessary to have men of high standing in office, so that no one would question the fact that the funds, if voted by the people, would be honestly and judiciously expended. After great difficulty, John P. Overton, President of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa was finally induced to stand for the office of Mayor. With his assistance the consent of three other good men to run for councilmen was then secured. Nothing but the sense of duty induced any of the gentlemen to accept or stand for public office. All were busy men, whose time was valuable. Nevertheless, when finally made to see that their consent meant something to the community, and mighr contribute to the best of the great lover needs to be presented as candidates for there once desired and to it advancement, they agreed to allow their names to be presented as candidates for the offices named and to serve if the people so desired.
Mayor Overton was elected, together with an acceptable city council, and the bonds were voted by a large majority. Meters were provided, several miles of new mains laid, a number of new wells sunk, and finally, after a great deal for careful investigation, which included visits to a number of other cities and consultations with several eminent engineers, a plan was evolved whereby Santa Rosa’s water problem was at last solved.
[.. A lengthy tribute to their leadership on water, sewer and street improvements ..]
The awful havoc wrought by the earthquake and fire is something of which our people do not have to be reminded. The frightful scene of death and desolation that greeted us on the morning of April 18, less than two years ago, is still fresh in the minds of every living inhabitant. The “present administration” had been inducted into office only the night before. What a stupendous and appaling task was presented on the very first day of their official existence! Did the men whom the so-called Municipal League are now trying so hard to belittle shrink from their duty? Did they meet the trying task that was laid before them bravely, and as men, or otherwise?
Every reader knows only too well the story of the days and weeks and months that followed this, the greatest crisis and all the city’s history. Under the guidance and direction of the “present administration,” our dead were buried, the living fed and the widows and orphans provided for. In the twinkling of an eye the whole condition of affairs had been changed. From a happy, prosperous, well-ordered community, Santa Rosa had been transformed almost instantly into a state of utter chaos. Character, ability and brains of a high order were required to meet the situation which then confronted the community. But it was met–bravely, and with a dignity and quiet thoroughness that can never be forgotten or too highly praised.
The men who have since been “big enough to build hotels and business blocks” who had previously shown themselves brainy enough to attract the attention of all the country through the handling of an international legislation, who both before and since have been considered capable of managing some of our most important enterprises, also show themselves capable of handling the many complex and trying situations that then presented themselves.
Even San Francisco, in a somewhat similar position was glad to take advantage of and adopt many of the ideas and suggestions evolved by the “present administration” at that time.
And in two short years Santa Rosa has almost completely recovered, as far as outward appearances go, from the frightful calamity which befel her on that fateful morning of April 18, 1906.
And yet in spite of all these things–this stupendous burden that has been carried so bravely and so well, this neve-racking task that has been so faithfully performed– a few people pretend to find fault with the “present administration.”
Out upon the ingrates who would try to belittle the great work that has been done! When one stops to recall the long the hours of toil that been so willingly and conscientiously devoted to public service, the thousand-and-one details that have been studied and given consideration, the sacrifice of time and attention to private interests that it has all entail, the wonder is that even men to make it their life practice to object and find fault with everything and everybody have the hardihood to do so in this instance.
But let them carp and criticize, if they will. Every man who is a man and who possesses any sense of gratitude and appreciation whatever, endorses the “present administration”–yes, and is glad of the opportunity!
Morally as well as otherwise the present administration has constantly labored for the betterment of local conditions. The very thing for which it is being blamed most was in reality an honest, sincere and painstaking attempt to restrict and regulate an evil has never been regulated before save by the policeman’s club. Except that some authority was provided for doing what had been done for years before without authority, conditions were not changed in the least. The license for saloons has been raised from thirty to sixty dollars per quarter, and while such places kept open until twelve o’clock at night when the “present administration” went into office, they now close at ten o’clock each evening. Card games are no longer permitted in cigar stores, and gambling anywhere is now strictly prohibited.
“OWNERSHIP” AND “CONTROL”
Who owns the Press Democrat, anyway? We wonder if it is the same men who aspire to own Santa Rosa?–Municipal League.
Ernest L. Finley and Charles O. Dunbar are the sole owners and proprietors of this paper, and have been for many years. Nobody else on earth owns or in any way controls the Press Democrat, or even suggests–much less dictates–its policies. The man who says otherwise either lies or has been misinformed.
This is about as strong as we know how to make this statement. If we knew how to make it any more sweeping we should certainly do so.
We do not know of any many or set of men who “aspire to own Santa Rosa.” We do, however, that a certain set of men aspire to a control of public affairs here. They are the men constitute and stand for the ideas of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. They seem to think it would be wise to turn the administration of public affairs over to the church element. We think this is as unreasonable as it would be to talk about handing control over to the saloon men, or the medical fraternity, or to any other aggregation or element representing the ideas of a single class. This and the fact that James H. Gray stands for progress and advancement and for the upbuilding of Santa Rosa, and by nature and experience is qualified to bring about these results, while his opponent is not, is all there is to the fight now on. And everybody knows it.
Candidate Thompson in his little paper now declares that he never said anything of the kind, while half a hundred men can be found who say that he did–and to them.
– Press Democrat editorial, March 29, 1908
Another issue of “The Citizen” published under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union, and the acknowledged organ of that body, has made its appearance. As was to have been expected, local conditions and the campaign now on come in for some attention at the hands of the publishers.
The “Citizen” reiterates the claim that the movement headed by the so-called Municipal League is not one in behalf of prohibition, and admits that the League has perhaps acted wisely in taking this position, because the time for coming out into the open is not yet right. And in another place, further on, it asks what will happen when the Union takes off its coat and “sails into the fight.”
Of course no one will question the motives that prompted the Ministerial Union in issuing “The Citizen.” The organization’s only object is to benefit Santa Rosa, and publication of the little paper referred to is but part of the general plan adopted in furtherence of this end.
It is doubtless for this reason that the paper is, and for a long time past has been printed in San Francisco, rather than in this city. Anything that benefits California benefits Santa Rosa.
The sordid man of business, with no idea above the dollar and for the most part engrossed with such every-day problems as how to meet the rent and pay his employees on Saturday nights, might be inclined to argue differently. He might contend that having the work done here would mean keeping that much more money at home, giving that much more employment to local printers etc. and conclude that if everybody followed the example set by the Ministerial Union in such matters, Santa Rosa would soon disappear from the map entirely.
But this is not what helps a town. And besides, there are other and far more important matters up for discussion and consideration here just now.
The question is not so much how to build up Santa Rosa, keep the wheels of industry turning, and enable our people to recover from the effects of the great disaster, as it is what the municipality shall do to be saved. Santa Rosa is a place accursed. No man who has any respect whatever for himself or his progeny would think of bringing up a family here. Our once fair city, known far and wide as a place of happy homes, good schools and find churches, has gone completely to the dogs. Everyone is dishonest, all men are liars, the Demon Rum has us tightly by the throat, and Virtue weeps and drags her mantle in the dust. In short, we have both Sodom and Gomorrah worn to a frazzle and poor old Pittsburg is not and never has been in the running.
Of course, some people may not believe what we have just said about Santa Rosa. We shall be considerably surprised if anyone believes it.
Santa Rosa is one of the cleanest, best-governed cities in California today, and every man who has traveled about to ant extent knows it.
But people living in other places, and having no other source information but “The Citizen” and Municipal League paper, would form just such an idea of our town as that first above outlined.
Under all the circumstances, the absurd charges being made by some of the intemperate advocates of the so-called Municipal League are not only showing the great love for Santa Rosa in a most unique way, but they are also doing Santa Rosa a grave injustice and working irreparable injury to her reputation abroad.
– Press Democrat editorial, April 1, 1908