While some youngsters may think the vitriolic politics of Niagara Falls in the modern era is unique, it has always been thus, unfortunately, as is seen in the career of Mayor Maxwell M. Thompson in the last century.
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Mayor Thompson, who served in the top spot from 1919 to 1923, had a couple of elections nullified by court actions, saw city manager government come and go amid political strife, and presided over a bitter effort to oust the police chief in a crime-ridden city.
The mayor, in a retirement interview, summed up his thoughts on Niagara Falls politics thus:
"Well, you would say that the principals are new and, of course, the backdrops have been modernized and the theme given a few new twists. But the story is the same, the American political scene -- with the people's demands for good government, the factions, the pressure groups and the blocs -- and the government's efforts to satisfy all the people -- that never changes. That's how it was in my day."
Born in Butler County, Pa., on Jan. 22, 1873, Thompson moved to Niagara Falls with his wife in 1898 to take a job with Walker and Patterson hardware store, then located at Falls and First streets in downtown Niagara Falls. He was with the firm when it was sold and became Elderfield and Hartshorn Hardware, a name familiar to some older residents.
In 1905, he partnered with Patterson to open a hardware store on Third Street, which they operated for the next 23 years. Thompson's interest in politics grew. In 1907, he finally threw his hat into the ring and was elected an Alderman-at-Large. A staunch Republican, he served two terms of two years each in that capacity. His fellow councilmen were James Lafferty, Albert Hallet, Clarence Wheeler, Alexander Allen and Edward Mansfield.
In 1911, he was elected president of the Common Council for a two-year term but was defeated in a bid to be re-elected to that position. Switching gears a little bit (not an uncommon practice for politicians), he was elected city assessor in 1914.
His political career was complicated by bitter politics regarding the city manager form of government and the court system. The city opted to institute the new form of government in 1917, the year Thompson was a GOP nominee for City Council.
Even before the election, city manger opponents took the matter to Supreme Court and the new form of government was ruled invalid, thus nullifying the election. A new election was called under the old form of government. Thompson this time was the GOP choice for mayor. He won a bitterly contested election by 600 votes.
But there was another fly in the ointment. The Court of Appeals ruled the city manager form of government was constitutional. Therefore, the election for the old form of government was invalid and Thompson was out as mayor even before he was in. The incumbent, Mayor George Whitehead, remained in office until the next election in 1919.
In that election, Thompson was again elected mayor and this time took office with a Council composed of Frank A. Jenss, William Gillette, George R. Rayner and Adin B. Chase. One of the first problems Thompson and his administration faced was a strike by streetcar operators against the International Railway Company.
While this was not within the administration's jurisdiction, Thompson took a hand in lobbying to get the strike settled because it was disrupting the city's transportation. That issue settled, he faced a major challenge in a huge outcry to have the police superintendent, John Curry, fired.
Residents were upset over "crime and lawlessness in all parts of the city" and claims of vice running rampant.
In considering a solution, Mayor Thompson took the political way out and called a general public meeting to test the political winds.
He later recalled, "The people were voicing their opinions and desires in a frank and open hearing. We took the logical course, we left the decision with them."
It seems the weight of public opinion was to keep Curry as police superintendent. Mayor Thompson said, "The retention of Chief Curry was a tribute both to him and to the people of this city."
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Oct. 5 2004|