It’s been an interesting election season so far, what with the failure of T-SPLOST, the various runoffs upcoming and an intense presidential campaign.
While the primaries have been hotly contested, they apparently aren’t nearly as colorful as in years past. Sheriff’s campaigns particularly were bitterly waged, the winner usually losing his shirt-tail or tie to his supporters. That might still happen in some Northeast Georgia counties.
It wasn’t unusual either to see the loser of a bet in a Hall County election having to perform some humbling act such as pushing the winner around Gainesville’s downtown square in a wheelbarrow.
Gainesville will elect its next mayor instead of fellow council members rotating the office among each other every two years as they have in the past. Back in 1907, when Gainesville voters did elect a mayor, three candidates ran for the office: Dr. John B. Rudolph, M.D. Hudson and B.F. Simmons. Rudolph won by 60 votes with Hudson coming in second.
City elections nowadays usually are rather tame, but there was much to-do about them back then with a lot of raucous shouting going on at City Hall among supporters as results for their candidates came in. In the 1907 so-called “white primary,” when Rudolph was declared the winner, his supporters sat him in a chair, hoisted him on their shoulders and toted him through the streets to his home, yelling in victory the whole way.
Back then, Gainesville had aldermen instead of council members. In the aldermen election, B.F. Roberts defeated W.G. Mealor, C.H. Bell beat H.V. Johnson, and Dr. A.E. Merritt won over W.C. Thomas. While the Gainesville News reported a spirited election, it concluded with good feelings all around. It didn’t say if the winning aldermen got carried home in chairs.
The mayor-elect promised a clean, progressive and up-to-date administration.
Things sometimes would get lively at City Hall even when there wasn’t an election. One day, store owner Ned Parks and Albert Mitchell got into a fight over a debt, with Mitchell cold-cocking Parks with a rock to his head. When Parks awoke, he got up and chased his assailant through town, bystanders Dave Patterson and Buddy Johnson also hastily joining the pursuit.
As they passed the fire department, a brick Parks threw at Mitchell missed and hit a firefighter. As his pursuers gained on him, Mitchell jumped through a window in the clerk’s office at City Hall, but quickly was followed through the window by Patterson, who got the best of Mitchell. “ ... As soon as the officers (police) all got together inside the city clerk’s office, there was an unusually interesting scene presented,” the Gainesville News wryly understated.
This Keystone Kops-like chase took place while Mayor R.D. Mitchell was holding court in City Hall. The mayor promptly ordered all the fighters locked up, but a riot almost broke out before police could separate the combatants.
Parks was allowed to return to his store and get his head tended to. Later, he had to pay a $10 fine and Patterson and Albert Mitchell $25 each.
Georgia voters in the primaries said in no uncertain terms they wanted legislators to quit taking bribes from lobbyists in the way of sports tickets, high-priced meals, golf outings and assorted other freebies, including trips to Europe. Legislators now are promising to ban any gifts whatsoever from lobbyists.
Just more than a century ago, taxpayers were concerned about ethics, too. Reported the Gainesville News: “It has been suggested that the time has come in the affairs of Georgia when the moral yardstick must be applied to candidates for office ... there never was a time in the history of this state when we should scan more closely the moral side of those who seek to hold our offices of honor and trust. A man morally corrupt is dishonest, and it is a bad day’s work when such a man is elevated to high station in our political life.
“We do not mean the time has come when the church must go into politics as a church, but the membership should always be active in picking out those men who are best fitted and give them their help and influence.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.