Sometimes we (maybe it is just me, but I feel better imagining this happens to my co-workers too) find ourselves distracted when doing research in Special Collections. Just the other week I came across a little side paragraph in an old newspaper while researching a patron request. The blurb simply mentioned Davenport’s Socialist Mayor had his office bugged in 1921. I was hooked. What did “bugging” equipment in 1921 consist of? Was this true? The hunt was on and this two-part blog was created.
On April 21, 1920, Davenport’s first (and so far only) Socialist mayor and Socialist majority council (five out of eight members) took office after a sweeping victory. The new mayor, Dr. Charles L. Barewald was a well-known man with a general medical practice in Davenport. He had also been a member of the local Socialist party for about three years upon his election (prior to this, he was a member of the Republican Party).
Barewald had run for mayor on the Socialist ticket previously in 1918, which ended with a second place finish—only 25 votes behind the winner, C. M. Littleton of the Citizen’s Party.* He had another close mayoral race in 1919 after the resignation of Mayor Littleton in May of that year. According to the City of Davenport’s special charter, upon the resignation of the acting mayor, the council would elect the next mayor, instead of holding a special public election. Barewald and a Mr. Lee Dougherty were nominated. Dougherty won the vote for mayor 5 – 2 (the two votes being cast by Socialist aldermen George Peck and Walter Bracher).
In 1920, Barewald won the mayoral election by 1667 votes over runner-up Republican Henry Jebens. This seems pretty good considering neither the Davenport Daily Times nor the Davenport Democrat and Leader provided so much as pre-election profiles of the individuals running on the Socialist platform while members of the Democrat and Republican parties were given meet-your-candidate style coverage for nearly a month before Election Day.
The new Socialist majority council (Aldermen George Peck, Walter Bracher, Fred Feuchter, Chester Stout, and George Koepke) with their three Republican counterparts (Aldermen John Knostman, Charles Lindholm, and Oliver Bloss) got to work right away trying to improve the lot of the laboring man. One of their greatest achievements would be the building of the Municipal Natatorium. All seemed fine on the political surface, but things were not going well within the Socialist party. On January 5, 1921, Mayor Barewald surprised the general public by announcing he had resigned from the Socialist party on December 7, 1920.
The resignation and negative public comments from both sides seemed to indicate little political love still existed between the mayor and Socialist aldermen.** Within days the mayor (who had chosen to remain without a political party for the time being) received letters of support for his decision locally and nationally as the news attracted national Associated Press coverage.
Life seemed to return to normal at City Hall quickly, but underneath the calm exterior at least one Socialist alderman was not going to let the issue drop quietly by the wayside.
(Please look for Part II soon!)***
(posted by Amy D.)
*The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center has the official election result forms from 1914 through 1969 and I was able to check the official record myself
**The Daily Times and Davenport Democrat and Leader, January 5, 1921