Thursday, April 23, 2009
Lewis Groff Seeks Election to City Charter Reform Panel
By ROGER M. GRACE
Cries of “partisanship” were raised by both sides in an 1898 contest for the 15 spots on the “Board of Freeholders,” a panel which would draft a proposed charter for the City of Los Angeles, to supplant the one approved by voters a decade earlier.
On one side was the “Citizens’ Non-Partisan” ticket, accused by the rival faction of lacking a suitable contingency of Republicans…and on the other side was the “Non-Partisan” ticket, denounced as being a Republican front. Los Angeles attorney Lewis A. Groff, a Republican, was on the latter slate.
This was a time when seekers of municipal offices—including city attorney, clerk, auditor, engineer, and treasurer—were nominated at party conventions, and their names appeared on the ballot, each with his party indicated. To a large extent, bosses controlled the office-holders, and city jobs were parceled out as rewards for party loyalty. The public was getting sick of this, and that included rank-and-file members of the reigning party, the GOP.
Two previous efforts in recent years to revamp the charter had failed. But in 1898, success appeared likely.
There was a war that year not only between two tickets, but between two morning newspapers: the Los Angeles Times, which was pro-Republican, and the Los Angeles Herald, which backed the Democratic Party and parties that were, that year, to link with it. The pro-Republican Evening Express took the same stance as the Times, though far less vigorously.
The initial thought was that a non-partisan commission would decide on the 15 members of the “Board of Freeholders,” and their selections would be rubber-stamped by voters on July 11. It didn’t work out that way.
The June 15 edition of the Times reports—in the less-than-objective style that was typical of newspapers then—on the choices made the night before by the “city charter convention.” It says that the Citizens’ Non-Partisan ticket “was made up, nominally representative of the several political parties and the civic organizations of the city,” but that, in truth, the convention “was comprised almost altogether of Democrats, Populists, Silver Republicans [a splinter group], Socialists and Labor Unionites,” adding:
“The partisan character of the proceedings was thinly glossed over by a pretense of giving representation to other elements of the voters.”
The piece goes on to note that some men (women would not gain suffrage in California until 1911) were designated without their consent. It observes:
“The ticket comprises six Republicans, and the other nine members being distributed among the Democrats and their allies.”
A shamefully irresponsible editorial appearing in the Times on June 16 portrays all of those appearing on the Citizens’ Non-Partisan ticket as ne’er-do-wells…providing no facts in support of the potshots. The editorial insists that the new charter “must be prepared by business men and not by one-idea cranks who will attempt the impossible.”
“We need a new charter, but we will never get one unless it shall be a document that can be supported by the city’s men of affairs—the men who think and have proven themselves possessed of capacity to manage their own business with success. Men who have been failures in the undertakings of life will never be able to prepare a charter for Los Angeles that the citizens of this city will adopt; therefore let us have a board of freeholders who are possessed of public confidence and are not mere theorists who desire to try their community nostrums on this community. Such a board it is possible to secure, and it shall be the business of the men who vote to secure it.”
A June 17 editorial in the Herald retorts:
“The Times does not approve the citizens’ nonpartisan freeholders’ ticket. That it would not was a foregone conclusion, for at least two reasons. One was that the movement was nonpartisan and not distinctively Republican; the other was that the Times did not dictate the make-up of the ticket.”
The editorial declares that the “innuendoes of our morning contemporary may be dismissed as unworthy of consideration,” but unleashes its own factually unsupported innuendoes concerning the motives of the Times and the Express. It declares:
“The Republicans want to dictate, first the make-up of the freeholders committee, and later the terms and provisions of the new charter itself, disguising their machinations under the cloak and title of a business men’s movement….Thus is explained the fierce attack made by the Times on the citizens ticket.”
In a June 18 rejoinder, the Times disclaims the motivations ascribed to it, and endorses a new ticket for which petitions were being circulated who were “not politicians, but lawyers and businessmen of standing, discretion and influence.” Groff—the current subject of this series—was on that list.
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