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The Recall in Los Angeles.
FIELDING J. STILSON, LOS ANGELES, CAL.,
Member of the Board of Education.
I do not intend to enter into a general discussion as to why so many cities at the present time have been, and are, corruptly governed, because the opportunity has not been given me personally to investigate the reasons, but I will try to show that in the beautiful city of Los Angeles, the element which has made it what it is to-day-one of the best governed and free-fromgraft municipalities-has been fostered by the constant guardianship of a splendid phalanx of patriotic citizens.
There have been times. when Los Angeles was badly governed, when there was considerable graft and a misdirection of the
functions of civic officials, and had it not been Los Angeles
for the vigilance and promptness with which Well-Governed
this state of affairs was subdued, undoubtedly it would have waxed so arrogant as to have become a formidable menace to our growth and happiness.
Every effort that has been successful to cleanse Los Angeles of corruption has been due to three organizations working in unison, and foremost among these is the Municipal League, usually the originator of the plans to bring about the desired changes.
While, of course, the entire membership of these respective organizations was perhaps not in accord with certain moves that were made, there were among them a body of very earnest, clever men who desired to rid the city of its objections. This movement was definitely started in the fall of 1904, just before a municipal election was to take place. It so happened that partisan politics was strongly entrenched in the educational department of the city. There had been at one time a very bad scandal in which one or two members of the board of education were disgraced. The manner in which the affairs of the schools were being run at that time had become a by-word, and it was deter
mined that if possible a change for the better should take place. The office of the board of education had been looked upon as a stepping-stone to a higher political position, and the office was frequently given to inexperienced, unknown, and often illiterate men.
The subject finally became of such importance that it was the main topic of political conversation at this particular time, and these earnest
before mentioned gathered themselves together, and decided that a new era must dawn. After a very thorough discussion of the situation, it was determined to present to the voters at the coming election a non-partisan board of education, composed of the best type of manhood that could be obtained.
After the selections were made their names were presented to the Republican convention, which was the dominant party, but
through the influence of the machine politicians, Board of
they were rejected. The managers of this nonEducation
partisan board then went to the Democratic convention, and either through the foresight of the Democratic politicians or the desire to do something which the Republicans had refused to do, the convention unanimously endorsed the non-partisan candidates.
This was not only a surprise to the Republican machine, but a decisive blow. After one of the fiercest local contests ever waged, the non-partisan board was elected to office by a large majority, and the non-partisan policy has been maintained in educational affairs ever since.
The above somewhat lengthy description of an incident is necessary to relate because if it had not been for this sentiment which had been created, and carefully fostered, it would have been impossible, in my opinion, to have successfully carried out the famous recall of the Mayor, A. C. Harper. Therefore unless there is created the sentiment which has already been described, producing a small but very active element in civic life, it is most difficult to carry out the reforms which are so frequently needed.
There is in every community some one, or perhaps more citizens, who by their extreme activity are looked upon as either cranks or faddists, and were it not for the "thinking-ahead"
of some of these men, there would be less progress than there is. We are fortunate in having in Los Angeles one of these "faddists” in the person of Dr. John Randolph Haynes, a physician
and citizen of the very highest type. It was Dr. John B.
through Dr. Haynes that the recall was placed Haynes
in our present charter amendments, along with the initiative and the referendum. These three features were at that time looked upon by the professional politicians who were then running the city as harmless to them.
Nothing was thought of, nor little attention paid to, the recall until an incident in the city council in 1904, when the city printing contract was to be given. Then the council was made up of machine politicians, backed by a machine newspaper of the largest local circulation, and therefore it was not unnatural that this printing plum should be given to the paper in question at a very much higher price than other papers of sufficient circulation for all purposes were willing to do it for.
Further, the successful bidder was a violent denouncer of labor unions, and in the sixth ward of the city, where there re
sided a large labor vote, a movement was started First Use of the to recall the councilman of that ward for castRecall
ing his vote for the contract in question. A petition was circulated, compelling the offending councilman to stand for re-election. The necessary signatures were easily obtained, and an opposing candidate, untried, and unknown was placed in opposition and was elected. The result was a shock to the machine. Only then did they fully realize what the recall meant to them. They began a terrible tirade on the promoters of the recall, and all the elements which stood for it. No stone was left unturned, either legally or otherwise, to upset this new instrument which gave the people absolute jurisdiction over their representatives, but all to no purpose. The matter was successfully carried to the Supreme Court of the state, and it was decided to be constitutional for the prime reason that the people themselves initiated the movement."
Once again was the recall brought into action when a very 1 Sec paper of Charles D. Willard in the New York Proceedings.EDITOR.
valuable franchise was about to be given away to one of the local trolley corporations, and had it not been for the fact that nearly everyone of the councilmen who were about to vote to present this valuable asset without one compensation were threatened with the recall, it certainly would have passed.
On this occasion the entire city was deeply interested, while in the first case, when the recall was actually used, there was only a small portion effected. Now every voter seemed to feel that he had a weapon in his hand which was all-powerful, and there was an awakening all along the line for the simple reason that Mr. Citizen now realized that he had something to say regarding the government of his own city.
This sentiment commenced then to crystallize, and there were formed throughout the city numerous improvement associations and good government clubs. The women's clubs discussed it, and everyone who had the interest of the city at heart finally realized that a new era was breaking. It was the turning-point in our civic life, and since then there is ever-present the certain feeling that the people themselves are really the masters of their public officials.
In the municipal elections of 1906, there was a very strong sentiment that the government of the city should be entirely nonpartisan, and an organization was perfected to bring this about, and candidates placed in nomination. In addition to this, of course, were the Democratic and the Republican tickets.
It happened that the three candidates for mayor were all wellknown and respected men, and the result of the election would
have been very close if it had not been for the Election of “machine" which "threw" the Republican Mayor Harper
candidate in favor of the Democratic nominee, thus electing the latter. His name was A. C. Harper, and he came of one of the oldest and most respected families. He was a business man of excellent standing, and an officer in one of the largest banks. He was inducted into office, and the general opinion at the time was that he would make a good mayor, but like so many men who have not had the experience of the “melting-pot", he failed to stand the test. The appointments which he made on the various commissions were in most cases of a very
low order, and as a result of this environment, the mayor himself, as well as the police department, became exceedingly lax in the proprieties of life.
The public first become aware of the corrupt conditions through repeated newspaper attacks made upon the mayor and police department by Thomas Lee Woolwine, then City Prosecutor, who openly charged certain officials, including the mayor, with corruption and the protection of vice.
Our people then again awoke to the realization that something must be done to prevent the city from being disgraced, and the old sentiment of civic righteousness which had only been slumbering burst forth into a brilliant flame and the recall flashed upon the political horizon. It was perfectly natural that the mayor and his friends, being opponents of the recall, should bitterly denounce the proposed action, and said that it was simply a spiteful and selfish desire of a very few citizens whom they dubbed as “our set", to oust the mayor and his commissioners, and place officials of their own choosing in the respective offices.
The battle was waged fiercely, and many a friend and foc was made for the sake of the city's redemption. After the contest had been carried on for some weeks, the mayor capitulated, resigning from office.
In the meantime a most estimable gentleman, George Alexander, had been placed in nomination as the opponent of the incumbent mayor.
He was a man who had been tried and not found wanting in public office, and commanded the respect of his fellow men. It is true that a large number of other prominent citizens were invited to become candidates, but in every instance they politely but firmly refused.
Upon the resignation of Mayor Harper, the local satellite who was conducting the political machine thought he saw a clever opening to oppose the plans of the recall adherents. He approached certain members of the council with a proposition that they should now elect a mayor themselves, and an effort to that effect was made, but the matter was immediately taken into the courts, and under the decision of Judge Bordwell it became mandatory that the recall election must proceed.
At this point Fred C. Wheeler, candidate of the Socialists