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Chapter 174: Political Fun and Games

July 7, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Emmett had a hard campaign ahead of him, and to be honest, I don’t think he was as prepared (mentally, psychologically) as he thought. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, or a lack of loyal, hardworking and experienced campaign staff. Emmett was a virtual unknown who’d thrown his hat into the ring at the last possible moment when Judge Parkhill, the early favorite, had withdrawn from the congressional race. That, plus the lack of political experience and independent financial wealth, weighed against him.

From the April 25, 1912 issue of The Pensacola Journal, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

But Emmett was smart to put the race itself into the hands of a competent team: Frank Mayes, publisher of The Pensacola Journal, was his most ardent champion, supporter, and (essentially but unofficially) public relations expert; Jerry Carter, who eventually became known as “Mr. Democratic Party” in Florida panhandle politics was Emmett’s official campaign manager; and W. Chipley Jones, a prominent local businessman and chinless whiner who was irritating, but well-connected. Emmett didn’t really like Mayes or Jones, but he did like and trust Carter. If Jerry Carter, who had a broad reputation for being trustworthy and solid could work with Mayes and Jones, then Emmett would, too.

Frank L. Mayes, W. Chipley Jones, and Jerry W. Carter were the three key managers of Emmett Wilson’s campaign for U.S. Congress in both the 1912 and 1914 elections. Of all three, Emmett really only liked Carter; he barely tolerated Mayes and Jones. Photos were clipped from different issues dating from 1912, 1907, and 1936 (respectively) of The Pensacola Journal, via Chronicling America.gov

Mostly, it was Mayes and Jones who planned Emmett’s speaking engagements, helped manage his accommodations as Emmett canvassed the Third District, while maintaining his responsibilities as District Attorney, and (most importantly), kept Emmett sober. We don’t know everyone who ‘officially’ worked for the Emmett Wilson campaign, but we do know that several of his brothers and their family members, as well as good friends (such as the Kehoes) volunteered time, helped with transportation, contributed money, and encouraged neighbors to support Emmett. Mayes’s job was to keep any and all negative/potential bad press about Emmett out of the newspapers.

Locally, most of the volunteers knew Emmett’s financial situation; but, they also understood their service was considered a downpayment for political favors down the road. For example, several of the men in Emmett’s political campaign knew they would be first in line for lucrative patronage positions, such as local postmaster, if they threw their support behind Emmett.

Keep in mind that most of locals who knew Emmett liked him fine.

And while most of the locals also knew about Emmett’s fondness for drinking with his friends and colleagues, that really wasn’t viewed as a problem, since everyone drank.

(In 1912, only close family, friends, and certain colleagues, such as Frank Mayes, and Chipley Jones knew that Emmett’s drinking was problematic and already out of control. What’s interesting is that Frank Mayes was a prohibitionist in 1912, and I still, almost 10 years into Emmett’s research can’t get past the hypocrisy of Mayes’ supporting Emmett, KNOWING that Emmett was an alcoholic out of control. But I digress.)

The issue that was most visible — and of most concern for Frank Mayes’ public relations machine — was Emmett’s obvious youth and inexperience with politics. We get a clue about what’s at stake in two different editorials published in the Pensacola Evening News on March 19, 1912, written by editor Herbert Felkel.

Editorial by Herbert Felkel about Frank Mayes’ aspirations to be Escambia County’s political boss, in June 1912, from the Pensacola Evening News. Photo by the author.

And then, there was this snippet from another Felkel editorial, this one less caustic about Emmett Wilson, which repeated the same phrase from Cassius in the last line of the clip above:

The title of the editorial asked why Mayes and his politicos insisted on pushing Emmett into national office before he had enough experience. From the March 19, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News; editorial written by Herbert Felkel. Photo by the author.

For background, The Pensacola Journal and the Pensacola Evening News were not friendly competitors. Herbert Felkel pulled no punches, ever, in scathing editorials routinely pointing out the political mob-like behavior of Frank Mayes.

In a previous post about Frank Mayes, I mentioned that he was a prideful man who never forgot a slight; Felkel’s public admonishment (and correct analysis) of Mayes did not go unnoticed by the would-be political boss.

Two days after Felkel published his misgivings about Emmett Wilson’s fitness for office, Mayes pressured the Pensacola Evening News‘ creditors to call the loan notes!

To shut down the competing paper for publishing the truth!

What. An. Ass!

Don’t just take my word for it. Read it for yourself!

From the March 21, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News. Photo by the author.

From the March 21, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News. Photo by the author.
Herbert Felkel in 1925. Photo source: FloridaMemory.com

You have to admit: With Frank Mayes driving the Emmett Wilson campaign, and with Mayes the willing to do ANYTHING to get his man elected to office, Emmett really didn’t have much to worry about re getting elected to office. Mayes had the publishing power and the political power to get the job done.

The real issue would come AFTER the general election in November: Would Emmett be able to actually do the job. Mayes was thinking about what Emmett could do for him; Felkel was thinking about what Emmett could do for West Florida.

Mayes eventually backed off of Felkel and the Pensacola Evening News‘ creditors; but, there was never any love lost between the two editors. Felkel continued to hold Mayes and his political shenanigans accountable, at least as long as Felkel was working at the competing newspaper.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History Interesting & Odd

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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