History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART FIVE: CHAPTER 2: Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns

After the abolition of the city charter in 1852, the municipal affairs of San Diego were ad­ministered by a board of three trustees. Addi­tional powers were conferred upon these trustees, and the boundaries of the city de­fined, in 1868 and 1870. At the general elec­tion in the fall of 1871, for the first time, the Republicans elected a number of their candidates, and the city and county have continued to be Republican, as a rule, ever since. An interesting feature of the election last mentioned was that Mr. Horton and James McCoy were oppos­ing candidates for the state senate. Mr. Horton received a majority of fifty in his own county, and it was thought for a time that he was elected; but when the returns came in from San Bernardino County, McCoy had a majority.

In 1872, a new county government act was passed, which went into effect in March. The same act provided for the reincorpo­ration of the city and increased the number of trustees to five. The first city election under the new charter was held on April 9, and resulted in the election of D. W. Briant, John M. Boyd, José G. Estudillo, E. G. Haight, and W. J. McCormick as trus­tees, A. G. Gassen, city marshal, and M. P. Shaffer, city assessor. At the fall election in this year, the county gave Grant and Wil­son a, majority of 152 and Houghton for Congress 235.

April 7, 1876, a new city charter was adopted. The admin­istration of city affairs was continued in a board of five trustees.

In March, 1879, while the question of the adoption of the new constitution was up, there was a warm campaign. Dennis Kear­ney spoke at the skating rink and had a large audience. The Union led the friends of the new constitution. On April 4, it said:

DOUGLAS GUNN. First Mayor under the charter of 1889. Editor of the Union. Historian and useful, devoted citizen for many years.

“The Union hears that a vulgar and profane blatherskite named Wellock, who has achieved notoriety as a ranter at the sand lots of San Francisco, has announced his intention to stump Southern California in behalf of the New Constitution. We notice that San Diego is in the list of places to be vis­ited by him. The people of San Diego don’t want to hear him. They heard with patience Dennis Kearney’s ignorant harangue, and that taste of sand lot oratory is sufficient, etc.”

The new constitution went into effect in January, 1880, and it was at this time that the old district court went out of existence and was replaced by the Superior Court. The first term of the new court was held on January 5, 1880, by Judge McNealy.

In May, 1886, a new charter was adopted, which went into effect the next month, by which the town was organized as a city of the sixth class. A year later it became a city of the fourth class. In the fall of the latter year (1887) there was a warm contest between the Citizens’ ticket, headed by D. C. Reed, and a Labor ticket, headed by W. J. Hunsaker. The latter won.

On December 5, 1888, an election was held for the choice of fifteen freeholders to frame a new charter. Those selected were Douglas Gunn, H. T. Christian, Edwin Parker, Charles Hubbell, W. A. Begole, N. H. Conklin, M. A. Luce, Philip Morse, G. W. Jorres, E. W. Morse, George M. Dannalls, George B. Hensley, R. M. Powers, D. Cave, and C. M. Penn. The charter framed by these men was adopted by the people of San Diego March 2d, and approved by the legislature on March 16, 1889, and went into effect on the following 6th of May. This is the charter under which, with a few amendments, the administration of the city is still carried on.


It provided for a mayor, for the first time since 1852 (in the interval, the president of the board of trustees was called by courtesy the mayor, but there was no such official, properly speaking). The legislative branch was a common council, consisting of a board of aldermen elected at large, and a board of delegates, two of whom were chosen in each ward. The other officials provided for were: city attorney, auditor and assessor, treasurer and tax collector, city clerk, city engineer, superintendent of streets, superintendent of parks, superintendent of sew­ers, superintendent of schools, chief of police, chief of fire department, health officer, plumbing inspector, board of public works, board of education, board of library trustees, board of police commissioners, board of fire commissioners, board of health, police judge, and board of cemetery commissioners. Amendments were adopted February 3, 1895, and January 29, 1901, and on March 1, 1906, the legislative body was changed to a common council of nine members, one from each ward, the separate boards of aldermen and delegates being abolished. At the same time, provisions were inserted in the charter for the exercise of the initiative, the referendum, and the recall—regarded as important steps in the improvement of the city administration.

D.C. REED. Mayor, 1897; for thirty years in the forefront of real estate activity, with unfaltering faith in the city’s destiny.

The first city election under the present charter was held April 2, 1889. The campaign presented many features of interest. There were two tickets in the field, one called the Straight Republican, headed by John R. Berry, and the other called the Citizens’ Non-Partisan ticket, headed by Douglas Gunn. Both these candidates were Republicans and there was no Democratic ticket. The real issue of the campaign was between “the Gallaghers,”—carpetbaggers from San Francisco who came during the boom and obtained control of the Republican organization in city and county—and the older citizens of San Diego. It was charged that these “Gallaghers” were for the most part Demo­crats before coming to San Diego. They had succeeded in elect­ing a few of their candidates the year before, including the superior judge. The Union supported Berry, but other papers were for Gunn, and party lines were much broken up. The Sun (Democratic) of April 4th commented on the campaign as follows:

“The campaign which has come to an end was not too short to present some interesting and remarkable features. It was marked by the almost total disappearance of the second great party in this city when the presence of a divided majority in the field would have given it success had it named a straight ticket of its own. Such a throwing away of political oppor­tunity is almost without precedent…. Much of the opposition originated in ancient grudges, dating back to the early days, and almost forgotten by those of the present day.”

WILLIAM W. BOWERS. Located, 1869; California Assembly, 1873; Collector of the Port, 1874-83, and again, 1898-06; State Senator, 1887-91; Member of Congress, 1891-97; He designed and superintended building of Horton House in 1870; also designed Florence Hotel (now Robinson) and managed it for seven years.

MATHEW SHERMAN. Mayor, 1891. owner of Sherman’s Addition and prominent for many years in business and public affairs.

Senator W. W. Bowers was one of the leaders of the Repub­lican organization, but in this campaign he wrote and spoke in favor of the Citizens’ ticket. The city at the time was suppose to have a normal Republican majority of from 500 to 800, but at this election Gunn and most of the Citizens’ candidates were elected. Gunn’s majority was 428.

Two years later, in April, 1891, the contest was between the regular party organizations. The Republican candidate for mayor was Captain Mathew Sherman and the Democratic J. W. Hughes. There were no particularly exciting events in the campaign and the result seemed to hinge on the party line-up and, the number and zeal of the friends of the respective candidates. Sherman was elected by 18 votes, and was the first mayor elected on a straight party ticket.

The election of 1893 was a memorable one and presented some unusual features. Both the old parties made nominations, the Republicans naming Adolph G. Gassen for mayor and the Democrats A. E. Cochran. There was also a People’s Party in the field; with John Kastle as its candidate for mayor. In addition to these, Captain James Edward Friend and William H. Carlson were independent candidates for mayor, making in all five aspirants for one office.

JOHN F. FORWARD. Who served in the recorder’s office for nearly twenty years, during fourteen of which he held the chief place. Chosen in April, 1907, to serve as Mayor until May 1, 1909.

EUGENE E. SHAFFER. County Auditor for eighteen years; a leader in all movements for civic advancement.

The three regular party nominees were substantial citizens in good standing. Gassen was one of the oldest residents and had held a number of city offices. Colonel Kastle was also an old resident and business man, and had been president of the Cham­ber of Commerce. Friend was a clever newspaper writer, with many friends, and Cochran was well supported by his party’s strength. But when the votes were counted, it was found that Carlson, a comparative newcomer and novice in the city’s politics, had twice as many votes as any other candidate.

The time has not yet come to write the story of the career of “Billy” Carlson in San Diego. He is now conducting a prosperous real estate and banking business in Los Angeles, and if he ever finds time, ought to write the story, himself. Although he entered the race for mayor last, he won out handsomely by dint of hard personal work and promises. If there was a voter in San Diego whom he did not personally interview, or a man who wanted anything that he did not promise to secure for him, neither have since come to light. As soon as “Billy” got into the mayor’s chair, there were to be new electric car lines on every street equipped in an impossible manner, hotels fitted up á la Edward Bellamy, lines of steamships to every port on earth, transcontinental railroads galore, the park was to be improved at once, everybody was to have plenty of work at the highest wages, and, in short, the millennium was to come then and there. That he did not achieve all these things in his two terms is, per­haps, not due to any want of imagination on his part. There is a tradition that quite a number of ordinarily level-headed people were so much amused by his meteoric canvass that they voted for him “just to see what he would do.”



The candidacy of Captain Friend deserves mention. There does not appear to have been any considerable popular demand that he should run, but with a happy-go-lucky optimism which was part of his nature, he conceived the idea of running independently. Everybody he asked signed his petition, on which there were about 1,100 names, but he received just 98 votes. He thereupon proceeded to write a book, containing an allegorical account of his campaign experiences, and called it 1,000 Liars, implying that that number of his friends had promised to vote for him and failed to do so. In this book the characters are real, but masquerade under fictitious names. His own identity is con­cealed under the name of Captain James Edward Bings. The book is amusing and full of a cheerful philosophy; it is now out of print and quite scarce. Its dedication was “To the im­mortal ninety-eight” who had voted for him.

The election of 1895 resulted in the re-election of Mayor Carl­son, running independently. The opposing candidates were W. A. Sloane, Republican; Charles S. Hamilton, Democratic; and Daniel Stone, People’s Party. The Union of April 3d made the following comments on the result:

“The total vote polled yesterday, 3297, shows better than words how hotly the battle was fought, yet in spite of the many conflicting factions there was no special outward excite­ment, and at many of the polling places there were no hangers-­on. The total vote of the city last November was 3327, while this year’s vote on the municipal election only is but 30 behind. All sorts of reports were current as to what was to be ex­pected, and bets were made on all subjects; but nothing was more clear than that everybody was at sea as to the result. The strength of the A. P. A. vote, the meteoric quality of the Carlson element, the water question, the civic federation move­ment, and personal considerations were some of the disturbing factors, and these left their mark on the result. Not any single party element can claim the victory and none is left entirely without something to show for its work.”

In 1897, C. F. Holland was the Democratic and Non-Partisan choice for mayor, and D. C. Reed was the Republican candidate. The Union, however, which had heretofore supported the regular Republican nominees, refused to support Reed, giving as a rea­son his affiliation with the Municipal Ownership Club, which, it alleged, was backed by the San Diego Flume Company. The Union also opposed Mr. Holland, alleging that he was the orig­inal choice of the Flume Company and that the Non-Partisan organization was an outgrowth of the Municipal Ownership Club. It therefore gave its support to Major Henry Sweeney, an inde­pendent candidate. Carlson ran again and there was also a Populist ticket, headed by A. C. Mouser. In the result, Reed came in first, Holland second, and Carlson third. Mouser and Sweeney each received a few votes, also George D. Copeland.

An interesting question was raised in this campaign as to the eligibility of Major Sweeney, who was a retired army officer. It was claimed that for this reason he was ineligible, but the Union disputed this, alleging that the question had been raised and set­tled in other cases, and that there was no bar to his holding the office, if elected.

In the election of 1899, the question of municipal ownership of the water system cut considerable figure. The candidates for mayor were: D. C. Reed, Republican; Edwin M. Capps, Demo­cratic; and John A. Helphingstine, Socialist Labor party. The battle was really between the Flume Company and the South­ern California Mountain Water Company. According to the Union, the Flume Company was doing its best to thwart the work of Babcock’s company by lawsuits, etc., and was now try­ing to put into the mayor’s chair a man known to be violently opposed to Babcock. Capps was city engineer at the time of his nomination and had repeatedly rejected portions of the work of the Moreno system. The Mountain Water Company pre­ferred Reed, who was not unfriendly to them, to Capps. Capps was elected by 221 votes over Reed, and Helphingstine received 70 votes.

FRANK P. FRARY. Mayor, for two terms, from 1901 to 1905.

In 1901 the contest was between Frank P. Frary, Repub­lican, Patterson Sprigg, Democrat, and Frank Simpson, Socialist. Frary was elected; the vote: Frary, 1,674; Sprigg, 1,000; Simpson, 157.

In 1903, Mayor Frary was renominated by the Republicans, James E. Wadham was the Democratic candidate, and Frank Simpson the nominee of the Socialists. The Democrats adopted a platform which contained some advanced ideas, particularly in relation to public ownership of gas and electricity and the development of the pueblo lands with a view to producing income and thereby providing for “progress without taxation.” The large Republican majority was not entirely overcome, but was materially decreased, the vote being as follows Frary, 1,469; Wadham, 1,312; Simpson, 219.

The election of 1905 marked the rise of the “anti-boss” spirit in the Republican party and emphasized the demand for an extension of the principle of public ownership in relation to the water supply. Captain John L. Sehon, a retired army officer, had become a conspicuous leader of the reform element by his independent course as a member of the council, and was gen­erally regarded as the logical candidate of those opposed to the Republican organization. Nominated by the Independents and endorsed by the Democrats, he made a vigorous campaign, which aroused an equally vigorous opposition by the Republicans, who selected Danville F. Jones as their candidate for mayor. The Socialists nominated W. J. Kirkwood.

CHARLES S. HARDY. Who ranks among the foremost merchants, and who created the most powerful political organization in the city’s history. Characterized as ‘Boss’ by his opponents, recognized as leader by his followers, his supremacy on the hard-fought field of politics is unquestioned by either.

The Jones-Sehon campaign was marked by one incident of peculiar interest. This was the controversy over, the eligibility of a retired army officer for civil office. The case was elaborately argued in the newspapers by prominent lawyers, who were about equally divided on the legal question involved. Captain Sehon was elected by a decisive majority, but his friends believed an effort would be made to prevent him from taking office. The event proved that they were not mistaken, as proceedings were instituted in the superior court. The mayor-elect disappeared from the city and could not be found by the officers who wanted to serve papers in the suit. He returned just before midnight in the last moments of Mayor Frary’s expiring term, and, at the first minute of the term to which he had been elected, entered the city hall, took forcible possession of the executive offices, and proclaimed himself mayor of San Diego.

The city awakened the next morning to learn that the man whom it had chosen as chief executive was in full possession of the municipal government and that nothing but ouster proceed­ings could now defeat the popular will. The case was bitterly fought through all the courts. The superior court decided against the mayor, but was overruled by the court of appeals. The supreme court of California sustained the court of appeals, so that Mayor Sehon remained in peaceful possession and proceeded to give the city what is generally regarded as the most notable administration in its history. The mayor’s conduct at the time of the Bennington disaster and the San Francisco catas­trophe won the approval of his bitterest opponents, while his management of public affairs was heartily commended at the end of the first year of his administration by the newspaper which had most earnestly opposed his election.

The vote: Sehon, 2,018 ; Jones, 1,376 ; Kirkwood, 483.

Return to Books.


Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County