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Chapter 183: Grooming the Flawed Protegee

December 14, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland

After Emmett won the primary, the summer of 1912 was a cakewalk. All Emmett had to do, pretty much, was keep up the image cultivated by Frank Mayes and the rest of the Florida Democratic Party leadership: Be positive, stay out of trouble, say nothing controversial or potentially damaging, continue to show up at work and/or events where he was expected to say hello or shake hands with the constituents. But most important, Emmett had to stay sober. One or two social drinks at The Osceola Club or with his fellow politicos was OK; but anything more would be commented upon or viewed suspiciously.

Elk’s (left) and Osceola Clubs, Pensacola. Neither building survives today, although the Elk statue is elsewhere in the city. Source: State Archive of Florida.

And if he couldn’t stay sober or limit the liquid intake, drink at home and/or stay out of sight. Simple, right?

For the most part, Emmett followed Mayes’ advice.

The majority of press coverage in panhandle newspapers consisted of plaudits on Emmett’s youth, his good looks, his potential to do great things once he takes office. Editors outside of the Panhandle were interested in the quiet, good looking, dark horse candidate who unseated an established and wealthy opponent in Dannite Mays; this coverage was encouraged by Frank Mayes, naturally — a fresh start to invigorate Florida politics!

Written by Frank Mayes. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 12, 1912, via Chronicling
A report on Emmett as alternate delegate to the 1912 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore. Source: The Tampa (FL) Tribune, June 30, 1912 via

Mayes wasted no time indoctrinating Emmett into his grand plans to become an influencer to the next President of the U.S. Mayes, cunningly, saw the next president as Woodrow Wilson. In fact, Mayes insisted that Emmett be selected as an alternative delegate from Florida to attend the Democratic National Convention, which would be held in Baltimore, Maryland. (More on that event in an upcoming chapter.)

Recall that Mayes had an uncanny ability to understand and predict what was going on in national politics. Mayes was well read, well connected, and often was three steps ahead of everyone when it came to politics. (Had Emmett not been emotionally immature, nor a full-blown alcoholic by the time he was elected to Congress, Mayes and Emmett would have made a powerful pair in Florida politics. I’m not sure why Mayes, who was excellent at seeing people and issues as they really were, either didn’t see these flaws with Emmett, or, if he did, why he chose to back a political ingenue.)

Whatever Mayes’ reasons, obviously, he saw the potential in Emmett, which must have impressed him so greatly that he was willing to take a chance on Emmett.

Emmett still had to win the General Election in November; odds were greatly in his favor, as Florida was a heavily Democratic state in 1912. Still, Emmett’s public relations machine (unofficially headed by Mayes, naturally) regularly published editorials praising Emmett’s youth, potential, clean-cut and energetic personal, and (interestingly) his appeal to women. During the summer of 1912, Mayes published at least some positive mention of Emmett in his paper, even if Emmett wasn’t doing anything particularly newsworthy that day.

A screenshot of one of my data tables on Emmett’s media coverage from June-July, 1912, featuring a summary of the article, the location of the clip and the media source. While Emmett was in Frank Mayes’ good graces, this was typical of Emmett’s media coverage, the goal of which was to keep Emmett and/or his well connected siblings’ names in current news articles. Once Emmett fell from Mayes’ favor (1915 onward), his presence in local media was almost nonexistent.

Mayes knew what he was doing; and, perhaps he wasn’t ignorant of Emmett’s troubling political flaws. After all, he did see Emmett’s potential, and knew Emmett’s history, that Emmett was able to rise above his problems when given a chance — likely this is what Mayes was banking on with Emmett, long term.

Perhaps Mayes also figured that once Emmett was now fully committed, perhaps he’d realize sobriety was critical, and he’d drop the drink habit. Mayes knew personally of others (some involved in politics) who had done just that — were alcoholic, but had gone cold turkey — with good results. At this point, it would have to be a cold turkey approach, because if Emmett sought outside help, word could and would leak out about Mayes’ flawed protegee, reflecting badly on Emmett, but worse, in Mayes’ eyes, on himself.

After all, Emmett’s success was really all about Frank Mayes’ success.

Categories: Book Congressman Florida History

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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