Tuesday, January 31, 2023 Jan 31, 2023
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RETRO Hot Dog Mayor

When J. Waddy Tate was around, running Dallas was fun.
By Tom Peeler |

MAYOR ANNETTE STRAUSS MAY FIND stimulation in the challenge of her job, thrive on the prestige of the office, even feel fulfilled by her work, but to the casual observer, refer-eeing shouting matches in council chambers and dodging scuffles in the corridor doesn’t look like much fun. It wasn’t always that way for Dallas mayors. J. Worth-ington “Waddy” Tate (1870-1938) had the time of his life as mayor of Dallas sixty years ago.

The political atmosphere in 1929 was perfect for the iconoclastic Tate, a retired railroad man and ex-druggist. Tate had made a bundle in real estate and oil investments since retiring, and he was bored. He saw his chance to liven things up when the once-powerful Citizens Association, which had dictated Pallas politics for years, split into two factions over a bitter dispute concerning whether the city should attempt to reclaim the Trinity River bottoms just north of downtown from the bullfrogs and water moccasins. With the powerbrokers in disarray, Tate thought he saw his chance.

One of the splinter groups, the United Dallas Association, was controlled by a Who’s Who of prominent Dallas retailers: Simon Linz, Edward Titche, Herbert Marcus, Myron Everts, and W.A. Green, to name a few. As its candidate for mayor, the UDA proudly offered Temple Houston Morrow, a grandson of Sam Houston and a prominent business figure in his own right. The other faction, the Greater Dallas Association, had an equally impressive list of supporters from the business community and an attractive candidate in Colonel William Everett, president of Empire Building and Loan and a fire-breathing Methodist to boot.

The Daily Times Herald endorsed Morrow and The Dallas Moning News backed Everett, Tate ran as the only candidate of the Waddy Tate Party, was endorsed by no one, and said that he wanted only the votes of those who “liked to fish or owed money.” Normally, one or the other of the establishment factions would have rolled to victory and left Tate as an amusing footnote in Dallas history, but for the occurrence of a seemingly insignificant event. The organized parties, in an effort to dispense with Tate so that they could get on to head-to-head combat, jokingly referred to their third-party opponent as the “hot dog candidate,” a derisive reference to the fact that while running for mayor in 1927, late had opposed a proposal to build an elegant roadhouse on the shore of White Rock Lake and had said that, personally, he would prefer a hot dog stand.

Rather than shrinking from what was intended as a rather unflattering moniker, Tate seized upon it, adopting it as the theme of his campaign. Though he himself dressed the part of a dandy, wearing a morning coat over a striped vest and brandishing a gold-headed cane, Tate somehow managed to present himself as the champion of the plain people.

On the Saturday before the election, Tate held a gigantic hot dog bash at Fair Park. The whole city was invited. “There is contained a lesson in the hot dog form of living,” said Tate. “I would rather see a hot dog stand, where a tired fisherman can dine for a nickel, than a place that charges a dollar for a chicken sandwich.” Several thousand citizens gratefully accepted his invitation and repaid the kindness with a vote for the hot dog candidate on the first Tuesday in April. Tate easily led in the voting, and three weeks later he soundly thrashed Morrow in a runoff to become mayor of Dallas.

That’s when the fun started. When Tate marched down the aisle at City Hall a week later for his inauguration, a spontaneous chant erupted from the audience. “Hot dog, hot dog, hot dog,” the crowd roared. “That’s mighty sweet of you folks,” said Tate, obviously overcome by this emotional outpouring. Rather than holding his inaugural ball at one of the fashionable hotels, such as the Baker or the Adolphus, Tate held it in the Automobile Building at Fair Park, charged a ten-cent admission fee, and donated the proceeds to the orphan’s home to buy milk.

Dallas elected commissioners in those days, not council members. One commissioner got to run the water department, another was in charge of the streets, a third looked after the city’s finances, and the last one ran the police and fire departments. It was customary for each commissioner to clean house, replacing the fire chief, police chief, city judge, and all of the board members and department heads. What made this so much fun for Tate was that the mayor had the final word on all appointments.

The appointment business was somewhat taxing, however. After a couple of days in office, late announced that he had instructed the city attorney to conduct an inquiry to find out why ice cost more in Oak Cliff, where Tate lived, than it did east of the river. He said also that he was toying with the idea of selling Love Field. Beyond that, all he had to say was that he was retreating to Mineral Wells (a popular resort community during the era because of its mineral water baths) to engage in “municipal gestation.”

A week later, late was back on the job with renewed vigor. He abolished the position of Censor of the Movies and ordered that the spikes be removed from the brass rails around City Hall, which he said were obviously “devised by some aristocrat to keep the plain folks from sitting around.” He had all “Keep off the grass” signs removed from city property and issued a proclamation assuring the bums that it was all right for them to sleep in the parks. “The grass is there for the people as well as the chiggers,” said Tate. As the final act in a prodigiously productive week. Mayor late ordered the municipal greenhouse to send a potted flower to the funeral of every Dallas citizen thenceforth expiring.

Tate exhibited a spirit of compromise when his more innovative programs met with opposition. One such notion was Tate’s proposal to make the city’s swimming pools free to the public three days a week. Tate said that “by the time a man pays a fee, rents a suit and towel, and buys a bottle of pop, it could cost him fifty cents just to go swimming.”

The city fathers objected vehemently “for reasons of health.’1 Tate, not wishing to be unreasonable, agreed to include in his proclamation a requirement that anyone gaining free admission to the swimming pools would be required to take a shower bath, using soap and water, before entering the pool.

Another controversial proposal was Tate’s order that married women could not work for the city. The opposition complained that this would work a hardship on married women who needed to work. Again Tate compromised, amending his order to provide that a married woman could work for the city if her husband was an invalid. In an editorial, the Daily Times Herald pointed out the obvious fallacy in the mayor’s rationale, noting that such a policy would work an injustice. “What do you do about single girls with rich fathers?” asked the Herald editor. The mayor appointed a Municipal Pastor to marry poverty-stricken couples and counsel drunkards, and he was off again to Mineral Wells.

late returned triumphantly to Dallas for what was to be one of the crowning moments of his reign. One of the planks of his campaign platform had been a promise to put donkeys in Marsalis Park for the children to ride, and he was about to make good. He had asked President Herbert Hoover to proclaim June 12,1929, as “National Donkey’s Day” in honor of the occasion, but the Republican president, obviously more of the elephant persuasion, had not responded. Undaunted, late led a procession of twenty donkeys through the streets of downtown Dallas to the park. (The donkeys were donated, not surprisingly, by the mayor of Mineral Wells.) Placards proclaimed that “the old gray mayor is still what he used to be” and praised Tate as the city’s greatest “burro-crat.”

And so it went. Tate had telephones installed on the Oak Cliff Viaduct, cleared the city jail so that the prisoners could celebrate Armistice Day, and said that Lake Dallas should be sold to the U.S. government for use as a hydroplane training base. Then, as suddenly as it began, the party was over. During his campaign, Tate had promised to call an election to change the City Charter and adopt a council-manager form of government. But he reneged, claiming that putting the city in the hands of a city manager would be tantamount to hiring a Russian czar to run the town. The citizens were outraged, a referendum was passed demanding the election, and Tate was finished.

In defeat, and quite unintentionally, Tate made his most important contribution to the city. The Citizens Charter Association was formed to overcome Tate’s opposition and ramrod the change in the structure of local government. For decades, this organization would be responsible for developing capable leadership and lending stability to city government.

But Tate himself would have been prouder of the bathhouse and swimming beach that were built at White Rock Lake before he left office, which were the focal point of summer recreation here for twenty years. And his philosophy that the parks were for the people rather than the politicians resulted in a lasting redirection of city policy.

As J. Waddy Tate might have said, “Extremism in the name of the hot dog is no vice; moderation to appease some chicken sandwich-eating rich guy is no virtue.”