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Bad Mayors

You think Dick Murphy messed up? Check out these mayors!

WHEN IT COMES TO PICKING MAYORS, San Diegans have a spotty track record. Long before Dick Murphy’s year-long implosion culminated with the announcement he’s quitting July 15, City Hall had been repeatedly rocked by shame, scandal and degradation—ever since the 1852 resignation of San Diego’s very first mayor, Joshua Bean, in the wake of the state legislature deeming San Diego broke and suspending the city’s two-year-old charter. Even Charles Dail, fondly remembered as one of San Diego’s greatest mayors (downtown’s Community Concourse is named for him), survived two Grand Jury indictments and a recall effort before retiring from office in 1963.

Here’s a look at four of our more scurrilous scalawags:

William H. Carlson William H. Carlson (1893-1897) A real piece of work, Billy Carlson was the quintessential handshaking, baby-kissing politician. Vague promises of building an eastern railway helped get him elected, but his frequent spats with civic leaders over his overuse of his veto powers and other shenanigans ultimately brought him down. In his second term, he demanded Fire Commissioner George Marston resign because Marston endorsed Carlson’s opponent; Marston went public, and the mayor’s waning popularity took a nosedive. In his bid for a third term, Carlson finished fifth.

Louis J. Wilde Louis J. Wilde (1917-1921) He beat George Marston in the fiery “smokestacks versus geraniums” election by advocating a strong push toward industrialism. But Louis Wilde’s day of infamy came in 1920, when he grabbed a gavel and lunged at a city councilman who had taken him to task for berating a reporter. Wilde wound up smashing his own finger and injuring his leg. From that day on, he refused to set foot in City Hall, setting up his own office at the U.S. Grant Hotel and conducting business through a messenger.

Rutherford B. Irones Rutherford B. Irones (1934-1935) Probably the worst of the bunch, Rutherford Irones was a respected physician—and vehement anti-Prohibitionist—who was appointed mayor by the city council in August 1934 to finish the term of Mayor John Forward, who had resigned. A month after he took office, Irones raised eyebrows when he demanded a brand-new Lincoln from the city. He got in a fight with a sentry when he wanted to park in front of the National Guard garage (to catch a wrestling match nearby). Finally, Irones crashed his Lincoln into another car, injuring its occupants, before speeding away to plow into a telephone pole. He was convicted of hit-and-run driving, bounced from office and sent to jail for four months.

Howard B. Bard Howard B. Bard (1942-1943) Another appointee, Howard Bard was a doctor of divinity who for 30 years had been pastor of the First Unitarian Church of San Diego. Tapped to take the reins of the city after the death of Mayor Percy Benbough, Bard created a furor five days after he took office when he fired his secretary, an eight-year veteran, and replaced her with his daughter. A city councilman publicly called the appointment of Bard “a mistake.”
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