Maury Maverick's San AntonioAudrey Granneberg
Of most immediate significance to Texas is the fact that for the first time in twenty years the power of one of America's mightiest old political machines is broken. For twenty years the city has been "corrupt and contented" under the same unconquerable political masters. But this year San Antonio, weary and ashamed of ma chine government, was in a mood to listen to Maverick's vigorous orations on city management, on honest and economical government. People on the streets on May 10 told each other over and over, "The machine is dead"as though only by repeating it could they come to believe it.
Maury Maverick (called simply "Maury" by all San Antonians) not only overthrew the machine that defeated him last August, but he brought the New Deal to San Antonio. The historic old city has usually been very conservative; and when Maverick was sent to Congress it was because of his pioneer stock and his tremendous personal popularity, not because of his outspoken progressive views. Striking evidence of a quickened liberalism in the South is the fact that he now holds the most potent position in Texas local politics, less than a year after his defeat in the congressional primaries and in the face of the same virulent opposition which branded him a communist, a rabble-rouser and a CIO-lover.
The new mayor's career has closely paralleled that of New York's Mayor La Guardia, for whom the Texan holds a deep admiration. Like La Guardia, Maverick was defeated for reelection as a liberal congressman. Like La Guardia, he came back to his home city to declare war on machine government. He named his Fusion party after La Guardia's. He holds the same type of theories of local government: reform, the city manager plan, economy in administration, a fair deal to labor, and a voice in government by minority groups. He modeled his campaign along the same lines as La Guardia, emphasizing local issues rather than long range social theories.
Maverick feels that his election in erstwhile conservative San Antonio is an object lesson for the New Deal and for all progressives. On election night he said: "The cardinal sin of liberals is letting their political fences sag. My election shows that progressives must be practical, understand their people, and have a strong political organization." In his earlier campaigns he had always depended on what he called "hell-and-high-water votes"votes that went to him in spite of anything because he was so well known and well liked. Last summer he learned that only careful organization could defy a powerful machine, and he set out to build a strong political coalition of his own. His Fusion ticket organized all the elements which were friendly to his progressive views: youth, women, middle class reform groups, Mexicans and labor.
Mexicans after Santa Anna
THE CITY OVER WHICH MAURY MAVERICK WILL RULE IS one of the most interesting and individualistic in America. It is also one of the oldest. More than three centuries ago, in 1536, a Spanish explorer is said to have come upon an Indian village on the present site of San Antonio, making it the oldest identifiable community in the United States. In 1691, a wandering expedition stopped there long enough to say a mass and to rename the village for St. Anthony of Padua. Since 1718, when Spanish soldiers settled there to prevent the French from expanding southward, San Antonio has been an important military post under five flagsSpanish, Mexican, Texan, Confederate and United States.
In 1731, Franciscan missionaries led four small Indian tribes from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the San Antonio River, where they could settle on the land with the assurance of a steady water supply. Each mission was a complete fortress for protection against the marauding Apaches and Comanches.
After more than two centuries these four missions still stand in the heart of the city. Classes in military science visit them yet to study the defense strategy once so effectively employed there. Each chapel is intact, the fortress walls have been dug out and restored by WPA labor (a project sponsored by Maury Maverick), and the irrigation ditches are still actively in use. The tower of the San Jose mission was dynamitedallegedly by the Ku Klux Klanduring the intolerant post-war period, but it has since been rebuilt. (The Klan is stirring again in the South, and its blazing red neon cross has been seen from the San Jose tower on recent nights.)
San Antonio's early history was stormy, violent, and not strictly according to history book regulations. But San Antonians cherish their spectacular past, and Texas Independence Day, on March 2, is still as important to them as the Fourth of July. On clear days the lone star flag of the Texan republic floats over the handsome Milam Building. The Daughters of the American Revolution, and even the Daughters of the Confederacy, are overshadowed in San Antonio by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. San Antonio's annual fiesta with its Battle of the Flowers is held each April to commemorate the Battle of San Jacinto, in which Sam Houston's army finally defeated the Mexicans. No state in the Union. with the possible exception of California, is so proud and self-conscious as Texasand the typical Texan does not feel that California has anything to be proud about. "There wouldn't be any California if we hadn't got our independence."
In many ways San Antonio is still a Mexican city. Its gracious homes on the North Side are predominantly of Spanish-style architecture. Its South Side adobe houses and West Side shacks are reminiscent of any Mexican town. A myriad of delicate balconies adorn its downtown buildings and overhang the banana-tree-lined banks of the lazy river, which loops under fifty bridges through the middle of town. But its most distinctive feature is its 100,000 Mexican residents, with their primitive living standards. The average "Anglo-American" (as San Antonians call Americans of European stock) will tell you: "If you paid the Mexicans more than 10 cents an hour they'd work only two or three days and then quit, because they would have enough money for beans and tortillas for a week."
Pecans and Politics
THE MEXICANS OF SAN ANTONIO ADD TO THE COLOR AND quaintness of the city. They also present a desperate social and economic problem for which no answer has as yet been found. Nearly all are poverty-stricken and a majority of the 20,000 Mexican families are dependent on government aid. One result is that the general level of wages in San Antonio is lower than in all but a few cities in the Deep South, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The bulk of the nearly 40 percent of San Antonio's population that is Mexican lives in the area west and a little south of the business section. A visitor walking westward along West Commerce or Dolorosa Street will gradually feel more and more like a foreign tourist unless he reads and speaks Spanish.
Close to colorful Santa Rosa Street and Produce Row is the district where San Antonio's vice is officially segregated (for the convenience of the Army boys, and over the continuous protests of the Mexican families who have to live there). Here also is found the highest rate of crime and juvenile delinquency in the entire city.
Extending far beyond this and covering miles of the West Side is one of the foulest slum districts in the world. Floorless shacks renting at $2 to $8 per month are crowded together in crazy fashion on nearly every lot. They are mostly without plumbing, sewage connections or electric lights. Open, shallow wells are often situated only a few feet from unsanitary privies. Streets and sidewalks are unpaved and become slimy mudholes in rainy weather.
The shocking results of the slum conditions can be seen in terms of high disease and deathrates. San Antonio has the highest tuberculosis rate of any large city in the United States. In 1937 there were 310 deaths from tuberculosis per 100,000 population among the Mexicans, 138 among the Negroes, and 56 among the Anglo-Americans. The infant death-rate was 144 per 1000 live births among the Mexicans, 105 among the Negroes, and 51 among the native white Americans. Many of these deaths were due to diarrhea and enteritis.
The Negroes of San Antonio, as can be guessed from the comparative death and disease rates, are better off economically than the Mexicans. They comprise only 8 percent of the population and have access to enough jobs in domestic service and common labor to make most of them fairly secure.
Mexican families with incomes of more than $300 a year are in the upper stratum and are considered well off. Cotton pickers earned only 40 to 50 cents per hundred pounds in Texas last year, and not all Mexicans who wanted to could find jobs in cotton, for two reasons. Mechanizationthe increasing use of tractors and cotton choppershas taken many jobs; and cotton acreage has decreased, due to the AAA crop control program and to low cotton prices. Sugar beets, the other main source of migratory agricultural jobs for the Mexicans, are also being cultivated and harvested by machine and by local labor in the northern states to an increasing extent.
In San Antonio the industry employing the most Mexicans, pecan shelling, is just now emerging from a prolonged shutdown. Under the old system of hand shelling, from one to twelve thousand Mexicans were employed at various seasons of the year. An average pecan sheller could earn about 5 cents an hour or $2.50 per week. In February 1938, a wage cut was announced and several thousand Mexican pecan shellers were on strike. The operators claimed they could not afford to pay even $2.50 a week. The pickets were tear-gassed, beaten with pistols and baseball bats, and more than a thousand of them were thrown into jail. The strike was finally arbitrated and ended in a compromise.
Again in October 1938, when the Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect, the San Antonio pecan shelling industry closed down. In December a special hearing was held to determine whether the industry required a temporary exemption from the 25 cents an hour minimum wage provision. The operators had asked for a six-month period of exemption during which they would gradually install machinery. They called this a "learning period," but the canny wage-hour examiner proved that the Mexicans could learn to shell pecans in the mechanized plants within a few hours or days. The hearing degenerated into an attempt to convince the principal pecan operatorwhite-haired, distinguished-looking Julius Seligmannthat San Antonio, being part of the United States, should pay an American level of wages.
The industry's petition for exemption was denied, and machines were installed by Seligmann. Under this new, partly mechanized system, only two or three thousand workers will need to be employed the year round, but they will earn 25 cents an hour, an increase in wages of 500 percent.
The attitude of the community at large toward the stranded Mexicans is a mixture of indifference and resentment. "They ought to be sent back to Mexico," is a commonly offered solution for unemployment. But most Mexicans cannot legally be deported. Many are citizens and most of the rest have children born in the United States.
Until the appearance of Maury Maverick in San Antonio politics. the Mexican vote had usually been controlled by the politicians who happened to be in power by the artless device of paying $1.50 each for the Mexicans' poll taxes. Few Mexican workers could afford this sum on their meager earnings, and when some good angel paid it for them they usually voted "right."
Maverick obtained a few Mexican votes in 1932 when he was elected tax collector as the reform candidate of the Citizens' League, and more in 1934 when he was elected to Congress. After he had served one term in Washington the Mexicans accepted him as a friend, and in 1936 the West Side gave him a majority. This was the first time the Mexican vote had ever been captured by an opponent of the machine, and during the city campaign, just over, the West Side was frantically wooed by all factions for its bloc of votes.
From Maverick I to Maverick II
SAN ANTONIO'S PECULIAR POLITICAL MACHINATIONS pervade and influence every facet of its complex life and reach out far beyond the city boundaries to affect a vast hinterland dominated by San Antonio. West of the Deep South and east of California, this Spanish-American sphere of influence stretches across southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Throughout most of its existence San Antonio has been dominated by machine politics. For nearly a century, with the exception of a few brief periods, political bosses have ruled the city. First of the long-lived bosses to take the city's government away from the Mexican politicians was Bryan Callaghan, an Irishman married to a Mexican woman. He took office in 1846.
In 1885 his son, "King Bryan" Callaghan II, became mayor and held the office intermittently until his death in 1912. He was a well-educated, jovial, heavy drinking, benevolent despot with a handlebar mustache. He gave the city the parks he thought it needed, and died penniless. (As part of the voters' onslaught on machine government in the recent election, one of this great Callaghan's sons, running on the machine ticket, went down to inglorious defeat.)
During a six-year-interlude, after the death of "King Bryan," a commission form of government was founded. But by 1917 a new boss was looming on the political horizon. He was, strangely enough, a Negro. Charlie Bellinger had made himself the kingfish of San Antonio's underworld in the previous decade, and had acquired extensive real estate holdings and a thriving loan business among the Negroes.
According to published accounts, Bellinger made his start in politics by appealing to the pastors of the Negro churches to deliver the Negro vote to him in return for his promise to get the streets in front of the churches paved so that the Negroes could get to church more easily in rainy weather. Today the Negro section has many paved streets, sewer connections, schools, parks, fire houses, a library and a public auditorium. From 1918 to 1935, while these favors were being dispensed, Bellinger was what San Antonians call the "bag-man," the real boss of local politics. He never sought public office, but the several thousand Negro votes which he "had in his pocket" formed a voting bloc that enabled him to control the city's government.
In the late twenties, Bellinger's mayor was John Tobin (who was also part Mexican). When Tobin died in 1928 he was said to have made a "deathbed request" that District Attorney C. M. Chambers succeed him. When Chambers died in 1931, another alleged "deathbed request" decreed that the crown be passed on to City Attorney C. K. Quin. Quin was mayor continuously thereafter until 1939. When Charlie Bellinger died in 1935, Quin personally took over the machine and with it the city government.
During Bellinger's regime San Antonio was so wide open to bootleggers, gamblers and prostitutes that it was called "The Free State of Bexar." Now gambling is less rife, liquor is legal, and only the hundreds of prostitutes remain to remind one of the origin of the town's nickname. The number of prostitutes is not a matter of exact knowledge; city Health Department officials estimate that there are about 500, but newspapermen have put the number at 2000 and higher. One large area along the slums of Matamoros and Monterey Streets in the Mexican West Side is entirely peopled by these members of the oldest profession, with Anglo-Saxons outnumbering their Mexican competitors. In February a report by Dr. Adolph Berchelmann, chairman of the city Health Board, charged that:
The health department should have some definite action regarding its red light district, and its control of syphilis and gonorrhea. Does it? San Antonio is associated with Shanghai as the most open vice center in the world!
Cleaning up the slum and red light districts is still not a very popular ideapolitically. San Antonians are more and more aware that something must be done to improve health conditions in the city; but the most conspicuous plank in the health commissioners' platform in the recent campaign was cleaning out the swimming pools, not cleaning out the slums. Front page news for several days was the accusation made against former, unpopular machine commissioner Rubiola that his chlorination of the swimming pools was hurting the fish.
Maury Maverick and his health commissioner Hein have elaborate plans projected, not only to improve swimming pools but to beautify the parks and river, open playfields for children in depressed areas, build public tennis courts and golf courses, install scientific garbage collection (the former administration was accused of distributing garbage rather than collecting it), and reorganizing the city Health Department with state and federal aid. Maverick is insisting that employee be chosen on a strict merit basis, breaking the tradition of political. health appointees. All health job applications are now being made on special forms approved by the local medical society. Says Maury Maverick: "When I hire a bacteriologist he will have to know what a bug looks like!"
Fusion in Texas
THE COMPLEXITIES OF SAN ANTONIO POLITICS ARE PARTLY a result of the city's peculiar economic base. Today San Antonio is building industries, but it has never been an industrial center. The primitive pecan shelling industry has always been the largest local employer of labor. The U.S. Army, which spends about $38 million a year in San Antonio, dominates the city economically. Next in prominence is the oil industry which is being rapidly developed in southern Texas, and which brings into the city $30 million a year in royalties, leases and payrolls. Third in importance is San Antonio's large wholesale and retail trade. In addition, tourists alone spend an estimated $10 million a year in San Antonio. The number of Mexico-bound travelers, however, has been reduced by the propaganda campaign of American oil companies against the Mexican policy of expropriation.
Because of the small amount of industry in the city, the low wages, and the fact that nearly half the population is made up of Mexicans and Negroes, the financial burden of supporting the local government has been shouldered mainly by Anglo-American taxpayers. Consequently the voters have usually been definitely on the conservative side. When election time rolled around the politicians relied on the conservative business and banking interests, the harassed and tax-burdened middle class, the controlled vote of the Negroes and Mexicans, and the solid support of the underworld to keep them in power. The excellence of this policy is confirmed by the long term career of the machine.
When Maury Maverick seriously challenged this control he found himself defeated, for his "meddling," in the 1938 primaries. He lost by some 460 votes in the Democratic primary to Paul Kilday, the brother of Mayor Quin's police chief Owen Kilday, an old guard machine stalwart.
In December, following a series of bribery scandals in the tax commissioner's office, Mayor Quin and two of his aides were suddenly indicted by a hostile grand jury for misusing City funds. They were accused of paying out $3487 to over 40.0 individuals at the time of the election in which Maverick was defeated. Political commentators estimated that at least a thousand votes were purchased by this money. The district attorney's office, controlled by Quin, found a defective indictment, and a visiting judge later dismissed the charges, But the harm was done. A split in the machine had developed.
The four commissioners who, with the mayor, controlled the city government urged Quin to withdraw from the city campaign instead of trying for reelection on May 9. When he refused they drafted as their candidate for mayor one of their own number. Quin declared war on his over-ambitious commissioners by filling out his own independent ticket. In March still another group entered the liststhe "Better Government" party of Leroy Jeffers, two of whose five candidates had held political jobs under the old machine.
Meanwhile, Maury Maverick launched an energetic and colorful campaign for economy and progressive social policies for San Antonio. His booming voice announced that he wanted to be mayor so he could "clean out the machine and bring San Antonio into the Union." All classes and colors listened to him, and when the vote was counted San Antonio had a Fusion government.
The election showed that the only large bloc of votes still controlled by the machine was the Negro section. His enemies had labeled Maury Maverick a "nigger-lover" and a southern traitor because he had voted for the anti-lynching bill. He expected to carry the Negroes 40 to 60 percent, but about 80 percent of them, according to reliable authority, stuck to the machine.
San Antonio Looks Ahead
SAN ANTONIO TODAY IS AT THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW ADVENTURE in city government. It has a liberal young crusader for mayor. Cattle ranchers long ago adopted the name of his conspicuous and respected family to mean "unbranded," and scion Maury has pledged the people an independent, progressive, "maverick" administration.
In addition to having new blood in its civic government, the U.S. Army is pouring federal millions into San Antonio's economic bloodstream. The army's immediate building program in the San Antonio area calls for the spending of $6 million. Increased allotments for national defense, including training, will mean still more millions for the impoverished city.
This tremendous military spending has stimulated a steady boom in home building. Building permits have reached an all time high. Livestock yards have been expanded and packing plants enlarged. In the last four months cattle receipts, hog receipts, and sheep and goat receipts were all up 30 to 70 percent over a year ago.
The Federal Housing Authority plans to employ 3000 persons to build houses for 1200 in San Antonio's West Side area to rent at the low rate of 52 a room per month (plus utilities). This is a start in the direction of slum clearance, which the new mayor heartily supports.
What Maverick's next move will be is uncertain. There are those who predict he will leave his present job to return to Congress or to try for the U.S. Senate in 1940. It is just as likely, however, that he will confine himself to state and regional liberal politics. Newspapermen have already remarked that he might fit the governor's chair better than the present flour-merchant governor, W. Lee O'Daniels, who courted votes by singing hill-billy songs over the radio, but who has already lost his popularity. In any event, whether the mayor chooses to remain home, to go on to the state capital, or to go back to Washington, the nation is destined to hear more of Maury Maverick and his San Antonio.