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Chapter 170: Emmett Wilson, Candidate

May 3, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Between January 7 and 11, 1912, Emmett said he was unsure about throwing his hat into the contest for U.S. Congressman from the third district; at least, that was the official story he told reporters for the Pensacola Evening News in the January 11, 1912 edition:

Page one from the Pensacola Evening News, January 11, 1912. Here, in the PEN, Emmett’s is spelled correctly. Apologies for the images; microfilm screenshots were taken by myself, as the film was not yet scanned or available online.

The announcement was huge — centered directly below the banner — just like the initial announcement on January 6 in The Pensacola Journal, except this time, in this paper, Emmett’s name is spelled correctly.

While Emmett was a gentleman of consequence in Pensacola, he was a dark horse. He was candidate least experienced, least expected to win the election. And yet, here is Emmett again, on the front page of another Pensacola newspaper, promoted over the other several candidates who, realistically, had better chances to win.

Note the comment that Emmett’s decision to run for office would likely prevent some who were/are friendly to him to run. Were they simply being kind in encouraging someone new to politics? That seems rather unusual and unrealistic given the importance of the position. Image taken from microfilm reader by the author.

What’s great about this article is we have more details about how Emmett moved up the candidate ladder: According to the Pensacola Evening News, the more experienced, better funded, more likely-to-win other candidates chose to step aside, in a very sportsman like way, to give Emmett a chance.

Really?

I doubt it was sportsmanship. It was more likely Mayes told the other candidates he specifically wanted Emmett on the ticket, and, given his prominence and leadership of the state Democratic party, his wish was everyone’s command.

But Frank Mayes had nothing to do with the Pensacola Evening News, so the question is, was Emmett also charming every editor he met? Was the editor of the Pensacola Evening News also manipulating Emmett Wilson for his own benefit? The answer, thankfully, was no.

With the Pensacola Evening News, Emmett was lucky. The editor of the Pensacola Evening News was William Bloxham “Billy” Crawford, fellow classmate and graduate of Stetson University’s Law School in 1904, and brother of John Thomas Gavin “Tommie” Crawford, delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1908, and a well-known lawyer and political figure in West Florida. (In earlier Tell My Story chapters, Billy was business manager of the Stetson University student newspaper, as well as a friend of Emmett’s girlfriend, Pearl Spaulding.) It stands to reason Billy would encourage his close friend, Emmett, to run for office, and of course, he would do anything to help Emmett.

Here’s more from the first page of the January 11, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News:

He ‘made a hurried canvas’ of the district before deciding. Also, contradictory: The headline says he’s popular and well known, yet the article gives the reader a detailed pedigree, conveniently omitting his stint in Sterling, Illinois. Interesting that’s left out, isn’t it? Image taken from microfilm reader by the author.

That ‘hurried canvas’ included Walter Kehoe, Cephas Wilson, and Chipley Jones. Likely, it also included Frank Mayes’ speaking with other candidates (potential and realistic), advising them not to run against Emmett.

Image taken from microfilm reader by the author.

Mayes wanted someone new, fresh, energizing, and malleable, to take on the Florida political establishment for him, and Mayes was going to make it happen. Clearly, Mayes was operating the machinery of Emmett’s political life, much like the Wizard of Oz was controlling the environment for Dorothy and her friends trying to escape the madness that was Oz.

By the way, there was never any love lost between the editors of the two Pensacola newspapers. Soon after Emmett announced his plans to run for office, although Billy Crawford supported Emmett, he thought that Frank Mayes had too much power in terms of picking the state’s candidates for office, and said so, often in his newspaper:

Mayes as ‘self-appointed dictator’ and political boss of Escambia County. Crawford was correct. From the April 15, 1912 issue of the Pensacola Evening News, editorial page. Image taken from microfilm reader by the author.

Billy Crawford likely warned Emmett that Mayes’ expansive support of his candidacy for office was not without a price; but at this point in his career, Emmett was seduced by what Mayes could offer, and Mayes knew it. Emmett probably thought he wasn’t being naïve about Mayes and what Mayes wanted in return, but told Crawford “he could handle it, that after all, he was going into office to do some good for the people of Florida.” I’m sure Emmett believed that at the time. And Crawford probably shook his head, then shook Emmett’s hand, and wished him well.

And Crawford, most likely thought to himself, as he walked away:

“Poor Emmett.”

Categories: Book Congressman Florida History Uncategorized

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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