Saturday, June 27, 2015

Truman H. Newberry: Senate for sale


Given the enormous amounts of money used to shore up one candidate or another in every modern federal election cycle, the uproar over Truman Handy Newberry's financing of a 1918 campaign almost seems quaint. While the total expenditures admitted by Newberry were the equivalent of about $2.76 million in today's dollars, there were suspicions that the campaign had shelled out more than six times this amount. Even this upper limit would not seem out of place in today's elections, where the average cost of a Senate campaign is $10.5 million.

Yet in Newberry's time, a new electoral system in the Senate and a nascent effort at campaign finance reform made voters suspicious of anyone who poured too much money into an election. The Seventeenth Amendment had taken the power of appointing senators out of the state legislatures, which were considered more vulnerable to corruption, and placed it in the hands of the electorate at large. The amendment had only been in effect for five years at the time of Newberry's election, and even members of his own party were horrified by the frenzied spending of his campaign.

The Newberry affair was one of the earlier examples of a candidate being accused of trying to buy his way into elected office. The case would also lead to a Supreme Court ruling that obliterated the early Progressive efforts to keep money from having too great an influence in politics.

Newberry was part of a wealthy family, with several businessmen among his relatives who had profited from timber and mining enterprises. He was born in Michigan (in Detroit, on November 5, 1864), but much of Newberry's childhood would be spent outside of the state. After attending the Michigan Military Academy, he went on to the Charlier Institute in New York City and L.F. Reid's Classical School in Lakeville, Connecticut. He remained in Connecticut to attend Yale University, graduating in 1885.

Newberry became the superintendent of construction, paymaster, and general freight and passenger agent for the Detroit, Bay City, and Alpena Railway. He was soon promoted to manager of this railroad, holding the position until 1887. Following his father's death, Newberry took over the family business and became president and treasurer of the Detroit Steel and Spring Company. He remained here until 1901 and concurrently served as a director of several other businesses including the Union Trust Company, Union Elevator Company, and Michigan State Telephone Company.

In 1893, Newberry organized a naval militia in the state known as the Michigan State Naval Brigade. When the United States went to war with Spain five years later, Newberry was commissioned as a lieutenant and served aboard the cruiser Yosemite off Cuba.

Soon after his return from military service, Newberry became involved in the automotive business. He and his brother-in-law, Henry Joy, were walking through New York City when a Packard automobile caught their eye. They were impressed when the driver was able to quickly start the vehicle and race off to a fire. Newberry and Joy subsequently invested in the Packard Motor Car Company and oversaw its relocation to Detroit. Newberry began serving as director of the company in 1903.

Newberry's first foray into politics in 1904 would help lead to the creation of Michigan's campaign financing law. He sought the Republican nomination for a House of Representatives seat but lost to Edwin Denby, who spent three terms in Congress and later became Secretary of the Navy under President Warren G. Harding. Newberry spent a good deal of money in the race, and one publication would describe his conduct as "not illegal, although contrary to public morals." Michigan subsequently limited candidates from spending more than $3,750 of their own money on a campaign. The Federal Corrupt Practices Act, passed in 1910, would limit the funds a candidate could personally put toward a campaign to $5,000 in House races and $10,000 in Senate races.

Despite the 1904 loss, Newberry found himself in a government office within a year. He was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy, taking over for Charles H. Darling after his resignation at the end of October of 1905. When Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf resigned in November of 1908, Newberry moved into this post. Since Roosevelt was not opting for a third term, Newberry was only Secretary of the Navy for seven months. He spent this time working to reorganize the Navy bureaucracy and improve the ability of the land-based portion of the service to respond to emergencies.

In September of 1911, Newberry was involved in a tragic incident in Narragansett, Rhode Island. A young girl named Helen Ellis from Milton, Massachusetts, had nearly finished crossing the street when her mother warned her of an approaching car. For some reason, the girl turned back into the street and stepped directly into the path of Newberry's vehicle. He was unable to stop, and Ellis was killed instantly. Though Newberry was briefly charged with manslaughter, the court soon dismissed the matter. Ellis's father said he did not blame Newberry for his daughter's death and prosecutors concluded that he was not criminally responsible in the accident.

When Republican campaigners tapped Newberry to run for political office in 1918, he said he would be willing to run for any position they thought he was suited for. In addition to the biennial House of Representatives race, Michigan voters would also choose a new U.S. senator to replace William A. Smith, a Republican who was retiring after 11 years in office. Newberry's supporters decided to run him in the Senate race.

Meanwhile, President Woodrow Wilson had personally urged Henry Ford to run for the same office. The renowned automaker had been a notable opponent of the decision of the United States to join the Allies in World War I, even sponsoring a much ridiculed expedition of a "Peace Ship" to Europe in 1915. Yet Wilson considered that Ford's aversion to the conflict would make him a guaranteed supporter of his postwar initiatives to avoid other major wars. Michigan state law permitted a candidate to enter both the Democratic and Republican primaries, and Ford accordingly did so in an effort to become the choice of both major parties.

Newberry was at a distinct disadvantage in the election. While Ford was a household name across Michigan and the United States as a whole, Newberry was relatively unknown. Moreover, he had returned to the Navy when the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917. When he joined the race for the Republican primary, he was stationed in New York City as a lieutenant commander of the Navy Fleet Reserve and an assistant to the commandant of the Third Naval District of New York. With the war not yet over in the run-up to the 1918 election, Newberry was duty-bound to remain at his post and had no chance to hit the campaign trail in person.

While Ford ran an inexpensive and muted campaign, relying mostly on name recognition, Newberry's campaigners mounted a massive public relations effort to promote their candidate. His campaign manager, Paul King, oversaw a staff of about 20 people at the campaign headquarters. Field operatives and organization representatives were dispatched throughout the state to drum up support for Newberry. Publications were packed with advertisements lauding his character.

While some of the effort sought to promote the virtues of Newberry as a candidate, there was also a sustained smear campaign against Ford. His pacifist and anti-Semitic views were criticized, and his son Edsel was painted as a draft dodger. Ford had tried to get Edsel a deferment from military conscription so that he would be able to oversee the Ford company's munitions production, but the request was denied; however, Edsel was later exempted from service after the draft board declared him to be indispensable to the war effort. Capitalizing on the ongoing war fervor, Newberry's campaign contrasted their candidate (who, along with his two sons, had served in the military) with the Fords. Newberry even won endorsements from former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, with the former criticizing Edsel's deferment while praising the service of Newberry's sons.

Newberry's opponents soon began to question the unrestrained spending in his campaign. Though critics would later charge that Newberry must have known about, approved, and likely supplied the vast amounts of money that were being committed to the race, the candidate maintained that he was focused on his naval duties and had no knowledge of any wrongdoing. "The campaign for my nomination for senator has been voluntarily conducted by my friends in Michigan," he said on August 21. "I have taken no part in it whatever and no contributions or expenditures have been made with my knowledge or consent."

Six days later, Newberry won the Republican primary. The victory ensured that Ford, who won the Democratic primary, would not be uncontested in the general election. However, Newberry was already being pressured by some GOP colleagues to resign due to the allegations of excessive campaign financing. Lieutenant Governor Loren D. Dickinson wrote to him shortly before the primary, formally requesting that he withdraw from the race.

The campaigns were required to disclose how much they had spent on the primary, and Newberry's team reported an astonishingly high sum. The vast PR effort had cost $176,568.08, the modern day equivalent of almost $2.8 million. The official paperwork suggested that the funding had been above board, since Newberry had not contributed any of his own money. However, almost $150,000 of the total had come from the candidate's relatives. Newberry's opponents suspected that he had personally funded his campaign and exceeded the limits set by Michigan law and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act many times over. While a resolution was introduced in the Senate on September 17 to investigate the primary, this was later dismissed in committee.

In the general election, Newberry defeated Ford by 7,567 votes out of about half a million cast. It was an especially narrow victory, considering the Republican candidates in the races for governor and five other state offices won with majorities of more than 100,000. The Republicans had only a two-vote majority in the Senate after the 1918 election. Had Ford won in Michigan, the chamber would have been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. 

While a New York grand jury voted 16-1 that Newberry had done nothing for which he could be indicted, the criticism of his campaign and challenges to his ability to hold office were only just beginning. Ten days after the election, Michigan resident Albert H. Fowler filed charges of corruption against Newberry.

Ford filed his own petition on January 6, 1919, demanding a recount. While the second tally reduced Newberry's plurality to 4,337 votes, it affirmed that he had still been the winner in the general election. Newberry took the oath of office on March 4, and Ford filed another petition a day later accusing the newly seated senator of unlawful expenditures and voter intimidation. The matter was sent to the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Determined to prove that Newberry had not won the election fairly, Ford used some of his personal wealth to hire private investigators to look into the matter. Some of the information they gathered would be used by a federal grand jury, which on November 29 indicted Newberry and 134 associates who had worked on his campaign on charges of violating state and federal election laws. This development finally spurred the Senate to start its investigation into Newberry's eligibility; it adopted a resolution to look into the election in December.

Newberry maintained his innocence, suggesting that it was hypocritical for his opponent to criticize him for spending too much money on the election and then dedicating a large sum to investigating the campaign. "Such charges are lies made out of the whole cloth, and I believe the country will realize the political animus inspiring them," he said. Surprisingly, Ford said he did not hold Newberry personally responsible for any violations of election law; rather, he said the "big interests have simply victimized him." 

The indictment charged that the Newberry campaign had ultimately spent between $500,000 and $1 million on the campaign leading up to the primary and general election. The modern day equivalent would be between $7.9 million and $15.7 million. 

Several newspapers criticized the amount of spending in Newberry's campaign. Some suggested that the amount spent to win the Senate seat was unprecedented, noting that William Lorimer's slush fund only came to $100,000 while Isaac Stephenson (a former GOP senator from Wisconsin) had been criticized for a mere $107,793 in election spending. "The chair of a Michigan senator should be onyx and gold inlaid with glittering gems, if we may accept the findings of the federal grand jury," commented the Grand Rapids Press. The Brooklyn Citizen said that even if Newberry was innocent of personal malfeasance, he was still "the beneficiary of perhaps the very worst misuse of money ever made in an American election." The Raleigh News and Observer in North Carolina was especially harsh, saying Michigan had "defiled her political system and shamed the whole country."

The humorist Will Rogers would take a more tongue-in-cheek view. One joke he wrote to appear on theater screens before a show declared, "A senator in Michigan was convicted for buying his seat in the Senate. The law says you can buy your seat but you must not pay too much for it."

Some of the 135 people indicted in the matter would quickly admit guilt. Allie K. Moore, a former staffer at the Marquette Mining Journal, and printer William E. Rice each entered a plea three days after the indictment. Meanwhile, several witnesses testified to a variety of malfeasance in the election. One witness estimated that the election cost Newberry's campaign about $800,000, while another claimed that he had seen a pile of money in King's office that looked like it amounted to at least $1 million. Prosecutors alleged that Newberry's supporters had forged signatures on a petition supporting candidate James W. Helme in the Democratic primary against Ford. In one of the more sensational incidents, former Flint mayor Bill McKeighan said the Newberry campaign told him to swing his district for the GOP candidate or face the entirety of a two to 15-year sentence for his conviction of accessory to robbery and assault with deadly weapons; the district went for Newberry, and McKeighan's sentence was later reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court.

Along with 16 co-defendants, Newberry was found guilty on March 20, 1920. He was sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The Senate had again proved sluggish on pursuing an investigation. Spurred by the verdict, the Committee on Privileges and Elections directed a subcommittee to look into the 1918 election on April 9. It would not issue its findings for another 17 months.

In the time it took for the Senate committee to reach its conclusions, Newberry's case proceeded to the Supreme Court on appeal. The 5-4 decision in Newberry v. United States, issued on May 2, 1921, determined that the state had the authority and responsibility to regulate primary elections and party nominations. For this reason, the majority opinion declared, measures passed by Congress such as those in the Federal Corrupt Practices Act would "interfere with purely domestic affairs of the state and infringe upon liberties reserved to the people." The justices were also unanimous in finding that the judge in Newberry's case erred in his instructions to the jury.

Four months later, the Committee on Privileges and Elections finally reached its own conclusions regarding the 1918 election in Michigan. The majority report concluded that Newberry had been elected legally and that the charges of voter intimidation and fraud were unfounded. The findings reflected Newberry's own claims of innocence: the candidate had been in New York as a naval officer, the money in the race had been largely contributed by his family and friends, and he had not known about or solicited such campaign donations.

The majority report did express disapproval of the amount of money spent on the election, concluding that Newberry's campaign had used at least $195,000 to get their candidate elected. However, it found that "there was no concealment whatever...and it was spent entirely for legal and proper purposes." The report declared that Newberry was entitled to his seat and should continue to serve in the Senate.

The minority report was written by three Democrats on the committee. While it agreed with the majority in determining that Ford had not won the general election, it also concluded that Newberry had been fully aware that his campaign was breaking election laws and acquiesced to this behavior. The report concluded that Newberry was not entitled to hold his seat and that his office should be declared vacant.

Extensive debates on the issue took place between November of 1921 and January of 1922. Senator George W. Norris, a Progressive Republican from Nebraska, said that one of Michigan's seats in the Senate had essentially been up for "public sale" in the 1918 election. He argued that exonerating Newberry would lead to a Senate full of wealthy tycoons in future years, sarcastically commenting that this would "insure a high-class membership." 

Newberry spoke in his own defense on January 9, 1922. He regretted that the spending in the 1918 election had reached the level it did, though he claimed to have no knowledge of how much money his campaign received, where it came from, or what the funds were used for. He said his lack of knowledge about the campaign was the reason he had opted not to appear before the investigating committee, but that he wanted to speak before the Senate as a whole to clear up any misunderstandings. "I did not solicit or spend, directly or indirectly, one single dollar in the campaign," he said. "Nor did I know of the contributions made until afterward."

There were three attempts to adopt the minority view and declare Newberry's seat vacant, but each one failed. Before a vote was taken on the majority report, it was amended with a statement that "severely condemned" the expenditures in Newberry's campaign as "harmful to the honor and dignity of the Senate and dangerous to the perpetuity of free government." Some senators were appalled by the amendment. William S. Kenyon, a Republican from Iowa, questioned how the Senate could vote on a measure that validated a member's eligibility while simultaneously claiming that their behavior had been injurious to the nation's principles. "My God!" Kenyon exclaimed. "You can never lessen the dignity of the Senate after today."

The amended majority report was approved in a 46-41 vote, which split largely along party lines. Nine Republicans joined 32 Democrats in opposing the decision to declare Newberry's election to be valid. While many observers thought that five Progressive Republicans would join the opposition, they unexpectedly swayed the result by casting their votes in favor of seating Newberry.

It would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the senator and his supporters. The exorbitant spending in Newberry's campaign had had been criticized from all quarters, and the practice was even nicknamed "Newberryism." Campaign spending became an issue in several elections in 1922, and Ford eagerly donated to candidates who were running against the senators who had voted in favor of Newberry. 

One of the incumbents defeated in the 1922 election was the other senator from Michigan, Charles E. Townsend, who lost the general election to Democratic candidate Woodbridge N. Ferris. Though the GOP retained a majority in the Senate, it lost six seats to the Democrats. Since Newberry had retained his seat by only five votes, the shift was just enough to pose a new threat. Robert La Follette, the Progressive Republican senator from Wisconsin, promised to bring the issue of Newberry's election up again.

Soon after the election, Newberry announced that he would resign effective November 21. He cited Townsend's defeat as the reason for his departure, noting that the discontent over his campaign spending had probably played a role in this result. "[A] fair analysis of the vote in Michigan, and other votes where friends and political enemies alike have suffered defeat, will demonstrate that a general feeling of unrest was mainly responsible," he said. 

Newberry maintained that he had been elected fairly, and suggested that he would continue to be "hampered by partisan political persecution" if he stayed in office. Cordell Hull, the chairman of the National Democratic Committee and future Secretary of State under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, interpreted Newberry's resignation differently. The senator's departure in the face of an altered Senate, he said, was "a confession of moral guilt of the offense charged."

Governor Alexander Groesbeck appointed James Couzens, the mayor of Detroit, to fill the remainder of Newberry's term. It was something of a belated victory for Ford; Couzens had worked as the automaker's business manager between 1903 and 1915. Couzens was re-elected in 1924 and 1930, but was not nominated in 1936.

The Newberry v. United States decision would endure for two decades, frustrating Progressive efforts to limit corruption in elections through campaign finance rules. A newly revised Federal Corrupt Practices Act, based on the Supreme Court ruling as well as the Teapot Dome scandal, was passed in 1925 to adjust the federal campaign finance law. While it repealed the disclosure requirements for primaries, it also declared that all committees operating in two or more states had to file quarterly reports for all contributors giving $100 or more. The law also raised the personal financing limit on Senate races in some states with large populations to $25,000.

Unfortunately, the new law proved easy to skirt and difficult to enforce. The Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925 would only exclude two people from office due to campaign violations, and both offenses occurred in 1927; though the law granted the authority to levy fines for these violations, no candidates were ever ordered to pay a penalty. It was finally replaced by the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971.

In 1941, the Supreme Court reversed itself in United States v. Classic. This 4-3 decision determined that the Constitution gave Congress the ability to regulate primary elections.

After his resignation, Newberry returned to his work in manufacturing in Michigan. He died in Grosse Point on October 3, 1945.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Historic Elmwood Cemetery and Foundation, The Miller Center, "Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses" by the United States Justice Department, "The Election Case of Truman H. Newberry of Michigan" at Senate.gov, "Newberry Car Kills Girl" in the Gazette Times on Sep. 6 1911, "No Prosecution Against Newberry" in the Lewiston Saturday Journal on Sep. 11 1911, "Lieutenant Governor Demands Withdrawl of Truman Newberry" in the Oswosso Argus-Press on Aug. 22 1918, "Two Confess Guilt in Newberry Scandal" in the Ludington Daily News on Dec. 2 1919, "Newberry Aide Had 'Money Pile'" in the Spokesman-Review on Feb. 13 1920, "Sensation Stirs Newberry Trial" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Feb. 13 1920, "Ford-Newberry Contest Case Reported" in the Deseret News on Sept. 29 1921, "Newberry Spoke in Own Defense" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Jan. 9 1922, "Senate Seats Newberry; Censures Vast Spending" in The Day on Jan. 13 1922, "Newberryism Means Death to Democracy" in The Searchlight on Jan. 31 1922, "Newberry Resigns from U.S. Senate" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Nov. 20 1922, "Newberry Quitting Confession of Guilt, Chairman Hull Thinks" in the Schenectady Gazette on Nov. 21 1922, Successful Men of MichiganMichigan Biographical DirectoryThe Literary Digest Vol. 63Reforming the Electoral Process in America by Brian L. Fife, The Papers of Will Rogers edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johannson, Drawing Conclusions on Henry Ford by Rudolph and Sonya Alvarado, Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections by Larry J. Sabato and Howard R. Ernst, Making and Selling Cars: Innovation and Change in the U.S. Automotive Industry by James M. Rubenstein, The Power of Money in Congressional Campaigns, 1880-2006 by David C.W. Parker, The New International Yearbook: A Compendium of the World's Progress for the Year 1918 edited by Frank Moore Colby

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Marion Barry: up in smoke


The first brush Marion Barry Jr. had with the law was a dispute over a parking violation in 1969. After spotting two police officers ticketing vehicles, Barry said to one of them, "If you put a ticket on my car...I'll kill you." When the officer called Barry's bluff, he tore the ticket up and threw the pieces into the policeman's face. In the ensuing scuffle, he struck the other officer in the face and tore his shirt. Barry, charged with assault, could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Instead, his case ended with a hung jury and two co-defendants were acquitted.

Barry would get in hot water for much more serious charges over the years, none more sensational than a 1990 incident in which he was caught on videotape smoking crack cocaine. Nevertheless, he became such a popular local figure in Washington, D.C. that both his supporters and detractors referred to him as the "Mayor for Life." Going from the son of an impoverished black family in the South to a leadership role in the nation's capital proved to be an inspiring story for many of his constituents, even as Barry's transgressions continued to checker his record well into the 21st century.

The third of 10 children in a family of sharecroppers, Barry was born on March 6, 1936 in Itta Benna, Mississippi. After his father died when Barry was four years old, his mother moved the family to Memphis and eventually married a butcher. Barry worked several jobs in his youth to support the family including selling newspapers, picking cotton, inspecting soda bottles, and bagging groceries. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1954, successfully becoming an Eagle Scout before doing so.

As the civil rights movement heated up, Barry joined the cause at a local level. He was the president of the student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at LeMoyne-Owen College, and was nearly expelled for criticizing a member of the college's board of trustees for a racially insensitive remark. Graduating with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1958, Barry went on to earn a master's degree in the subject at Fisk University two years later.

Since there was no NAACP chapter at this school, Barry formed one. He became a more noticeable civil rights figure, helping to organize lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville and participating in voter registration drives in several Southern states. He continued to pursue his studies, working for a year as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas before transferring to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. There, he founded a newspaper on civil rights issues entitled the Knoxville Crusader and learned that he was barred from tutoring white students.

This discrimination likely influenced the decision which would prove to be a major turning point in Barry's life. Although he was only a few credits short from receiving a doctorate in chemistry, Barry quit his studies. He had been part of a group of black student leaders who met to form what would become the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1965, Barry moved to Washington, D.C. to begin full-time work as the organization's first national chairman.

By the time of Barry's arrival, "white flight" to the suburbs had transformed the city to one with a majority black population. Despite this demographic shift, whites continued to dominate city positions. This authority was rather restricted, however, given that the status of the city gave its residents rather limited representation. The District of Columbia had not even been allowed to vote in presidential elections prior to the 1964 election. It would not receive its own school board until 1968, and its representation in Congress was limited to a nonvoting delegate in the House of Representatives, a position not created until 1970.

"Home rule" for residents of Washington, D.C. became a major part of Barry's civil rights efforts in the capital. He organized the Free D.C. Movement and frequently wore a dashiki during his speeches. In January of 1966, he organized a one-day boycott of the city's transit system to protest a proposed fare hike. In 1967, he was successful in winning millions of dollars in federal grants to support jobs programs for poor blacks in the city. Two years later, he resigned from SNCC to turn his attention to this issue, founding an organization called Pride Inc. to find work for inner city youth.

Barry was elected to a string of municipal entities in the early 1970s, starting in February of 1970. He earned a spot on the Model Police Precinct, a board set up to improve relations between the police department and the people of Washington, D.C. He resigned a year later to run for the city's school board, defeating chairwoman Anita F. Allen for an at-large seat. He served until 1974, when he was elected to the City Council. At this point, he resigned from Pride Inc. to begin a full-time government career.

The City Council itself was a creation of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973. Though a mayor-commissioner and nine councilors had been responsible for managing the city since 1967, these positions were appointed by the President. The new legislation allowed the city to elect its own mayor and City Council in 1974, but Congress still had overarching authority in the district. Its members reviewed all of the Council's decisions, reserving the right to veto them, and retained the ability to set the city's budget and taxes.

In his first term, Barry worked to get a pay raise for the D.C. Metro Police and was instrumental in defeating a 1 percent gross receipts tax on city business. He was also an early supporter of gay and lesbian rights. Having built a base of support among numerous different groups and interests, he easily won re-election in 1976.

A year later, Barry was nearly killed in an incident that would help bolster his respect among the city's residents. On March 9, 1977, a dozen members of the Hanafi Muslims (a breakaway entity from the militant black group Nation of Islam) took almost 150 people hostage when they seized three buildings in the nation's capital. The group took over a Muslim religious center, the headquarters of a Jewish organization, and the District Building. They demanded that seven men convicted of murdering seven relatives of siege leader Hamaas Abdul Khaalis be presented for judgment before the Hanafi group. The hostage takers also demanded the destruction of all copies of "Mohammed, Messenger of God," a movie they considered sacrilegious to Islam.

Barry was on the fifth floor of the District Building, which functioned as the District of Columbia's city hall, when the gunmen took over the building. He heard two shots, which killed a radio journalist named Maurice Williams and injured a security guard who later died in the hospital of a heart attack. There was a third blast, and Barry realized he had been hit in the chest. One witness suggested that Barry had been a target; he said that when one gunman learned that he had shot Barry, he commented, "Oh good, we did get who we wanted to get."

Barry stumbled into the City Council chambers, where he was assisted by other people who had taken shelter in the room. He was later evacuated by firefighters who used an extension ladder to take him out through the window. Doctors found that a shotgun pellet had lodged less than an inch from Barry's heart, presumably after losing some of its speed in a ricochet. The slug was surgically removed, and Barry returned to work a week later.

When Barry ran for mayor in 1978, he received support from a variety of sources including the police, firefighters, young white professionals, and retirees. He was an early supporter of gay rights, working to prevent discrimination in housing and hiring, and he won acclaim among Hispanic voters by advocating for bilingual and adult education. The editorial board of the Washington Post named him as their choice for mayor. Though he won only 35 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, it was enough to defeat City Council chairman Sterling Tucker and Walter E. Washington, the city's first elected mayor. In the strongly Democratic city, Barry easily won the general election by defeating Arthur A. Fletcher, a Republican who had served in both the Nixon and Ford Administrations.

Barry took the oath of office on January 2, 1979, in a strongly symbolic ceremony. He was sworn in by Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice appointed to the Supreme Court. The Post would describe Barry as a "national symbol for self-governance for urban blacks," noting that he secured jobs for black citizens in middle and upper level positions that had been traditionally dominated by whites. He also appointed a number of women to these positions.

Though there were certain racial issues in the District of Columbia—a 1991 study reported that 42 percent of the city's black men between the ages of 18 and 35 were in jail, on probation or parole, or wanted by the police—the city was burdened by numerous other problems as well. Washington, D.C. had little in the way of tax base to rely on. There were few heavy industries, most government employees commuted from suburbs in Maryland or Virginia, and many of the federal buildings and other structures were tax-exempt. Unlike urban areas elsewhere in the United States, the city could not rely on contributions from a state for assistance. The fire department was so strapped that it could only respond to one two-alarm call at a time.

In his first term, Barry completed an audit of the city's budget and trimmed the payroll by 10 percent. Most of the cuts were through attrition, but there were also deep cuts to the city's police force; about 1,500 people working for the D.C. Metro Police lost their jobs.

Barry led an effort to encourage hotel and business development in the downtown area, personally working with developers to help get their building permits approved. The mayor also strove to help the populace as a whole, championing programs that provided summer jobs to the city's youth, helped middle class families purchase a home, and offered food assistance to seniors.

Although Barry could point to some successes in his first term, other problems worsened or remained unresolved. Drug use, homelessness, and unemployment were on the rise. The crime rate increased, and critics pointed to Barry's gutting of the police department as the cause of the problem. In advance of the 1982 election, Barry abandoned the fiscal restraint he had shown in his first term and poured more money into public programs, including $180 million for elderly assistance and job programs. He easily won the Democratic primary and general election, and these victories were repeated in 1986. Though he won more support among the city's more affluent districts in the 1978 election, this trend reversed itself in subsequent contests as he was lionized among poorer voters.

In his second and third terms, Barry was heavily criticized as he seemingly abandoned his earlier commitment to financial responsibility. A 1990 report noted that one out of every 13 citizens in the District of Columbia was employed by the city, and enemies charged that the mayor awarded jobs based on patronage rather than skill. Carl T. Rowan, Jr., a former FBI agent, complained eight years later that the D.C. bureaucracy was "a source of jobs for people whose main qualification was their eligibility to vote for Barry." When Barry's second wife, Mary Treadwell, was sent to prison for embezzling from Pride Inc., he secured her a city job when she was freed.

Over the course of these three terms, 11 city officials appointed by Barry would be involved in scandals. Ivanhoe Donaldson, a former deputy mayor, was convicted in December of 1985 of embezzling $190,000 in city funds during Barry's first and second terms.

When Barry traveled to California to attend the 1987 Super Bowl, he was heavily criticized for not returning to the District of Columbia to oversee emergency management after the city was pounded by two blizzards in a row. These junkets were not uncommon; he met with heads of state in Africa in his first term, was a regular presence at prize fights in Las Vegas, and led a delegation to the Virgin Islands in 1988. Many questioned why Barry was heading to the Caribbean to assist the local government with with overhauling their personnel system, pointing out that Washington, D.C.'s swollen payroll and debt hardly made it a model for this reform.

There were also persistent rumors that the mayor was a philanderer and drug user. The Post said that attractive women were "omnipresent" in Barry's company, and he had been married three times and divorced twice by his third term (he would ultimately be married four times). When he suffered chest pains in September of 1983, he blamed it on a hiatal hernia; a physician not associated his his opinion opined that he had suffered a drug overdose, although this report would not be made public for another six years. A similar incident occurred in January of 1987. A federal grand jury called Barry to testify in January of 1984 during an investigation into the alleged sale of cocaine to the mayor and other D.C. officials. Barry was also in a number of accidents with his municipal vehicle and was rumored to have taken cocaine at a lavish "100 days in office" party, sexually harassed a model, visited a topless club where cocaine was being sold.

The drug rumors would gain steam later in Barry's third term. In June of 1987, he publicly denied a television news report alleging that he used cocaine with a former city employee. An attempted sting operation to purchase drugs from a former city employee named Charles Lewis at a hotel room in December of 1988 was called off when police learned that Barry was present; trace of cocaine were later found in the room. A week later, U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens announced that the incident would be investigated further. Barry apologized for his "bad judgment" in visiting Lewis, but insisted that he had not taken drugs. In January of 1989, Lewis also claimed that he had never used drugs with the mayor.

Lewis changed his story later in the year. In April, he was convicted of four counts of drug possession in the Virgin Islands; a month later, he was indicted on 16 counts of drug possession and perjury in the United States. He accepted a plea bargain in November, pleading to two counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and claiming that he had purchased crack cocaine for Barry in 1988 and used drugs with the mayor on the Virgin Islands trip.

The event which would offer undeniable proof of Barry's drug use had its roots in 1985, when Barry met an unemployed model named Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore. She would later claim that they engaged in a two-year affair. Moore was also the beneficiary of $180,000 in city funds over the course of three years, with the money going toward an "image consciousness" campaign aimed at city youth.

On January 18, 1990, Moore invited Barry to visit her at the Vista International Hotel in the northwestern part of the city. Unbeknownst to Barry, Moore was collaborating with the FBI and a surveillance camera was hidden in the room. The tape captured the mayor fondling Moore's breast and leg and inquiring about drugs. She provided him with a crack pipe, and Barry took two deep drags. FBI agents and D.C. police officers stormed the room, placing Barry under arrest.

"Bitch set me up," Barry grumbled as he was placed in custody. "I shouldn't have come up here. Goddamn bitch."

The FBI surveillance footage showing Barry smoking crack cocaine (Source)

The arrest occurred just three days before an event where Barry was scheduled to announce that he would be running for a fourth term as mayor. Some of his advisers had privately suggested to him that he would be better off if he quietly left politics and accepted a university teaching job. He faced more of an uphill battle, due to his past controversies and the possibility that he would face a more powerful challenger. There were rumors that civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, who had recently moved from Chicago to Washington, D.C., would run for mayor; polls showed that he would easily defeat Barry in a mayoral race. 

Barry had been criticized for his remarks in a Los Angeles Times article, published on January 7, in which he was reported as saying, "Jesse don't wanna run nothing but his mouth. Besides, he'd be the laughingstock of America. He'd be run outta town if he ran against me." The article also said that Barry had boasted of his sexual prowess, threatened to punitive action against Jewish constituents who did not support him, and led schoolchildren in anti-drug pledges while denouncing rumors of his drug use as a "racist conspiracy."

This argument gained a good deal of traction among his constituents. There were suspicions that the government was using "selective prosecution" to target black leaders; Barry's supporters pointed out how the popular Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell had been expelled from the House of Representatives in 1967 for contempt of court, even though a House committee recommended that he be allowed to take his seat. "If they had accused Barry of stealing millions, creating a slush fund, awarding corrupt contracts, that would be one thing," said Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP. "But a personal habit that is bad, dangerous, lethal, that makes him a bad role model? There are 4 million people out there doing it. If there are 4 million, why did they pick out one and stick on his case for eight years?"

Barry's critics accused his supporters of trying to whitewash the crime. Some said that since prosecutors lacked the resources to go after every single offender, it made sense to arrest people whose behavior had compromised a position of public trust. Stephens said Barry's behavior was particularly egregious because he had been held up as a role model for black youth. In a column entitled "Don't Judge Black Politicians by Marion Barry," Mona Charen said there was no indication of racism or selective prosecution in Barry's case, since most of the politicians who had been ousted in recent years had been white. She denounced Barry as a hypocrite, adulterer, and lousy mayor who would be judged on these qualities rather than his race. "Most blacks do not use drugs, do not commit crimes, and do not philander," Charen concluded. "They work hard, pay taxes, and wash the car on weekends. It is no reflection on them that the mayor of Washington self-destructed. And it is no reflection on them that febrile leaders like Ben Hooks imply otherwise."

Three days after his arrest, Barry admitted that he had been wrestling with an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. He spent seven weeks at rehab in Florida and South Carolina before returning to Washington, D.C. During the jury selection for his June trial, he announced that he would not seek re-election. Sharon Pratt Kelly, who was working as vice president of public policy for the D.C. utility PEPCO and had been an active member of the Democratic National Committee, was later elected to succeed him.

Barry faced 12 drug possession charges, with one stemming from the hotel sting and the remainder from past instances in which witnesses said he had used cocaine. He had also been charged with three felony counts of perjury, which charged that he had given false testimony before the federal grand jury.

The trial lasted for two months. Lewis, who had started cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced sentence, claimed that he and Barry had used cocaine as far back as the 1986 trip to the Virgin Islands. Moore said she had agreed to help in the sting operation against Barry after a religious conversion and because she was worried about the mayor's health. The defense sought to discredit Moore as an unreliable crack cocaine addict, though they also argued that Barry's actions on the tape suggested that he had gone to the hotel in search of sex rather than drugs. Moore admitted that she had lied to a federal grand jury, since she had told the jurors—and the agents setting up the sting—that she had last taken cocaine in April of 1989; in fact, she had taken it in early January, even as she prepared for the sting.

In one dramatic moment on June 28, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan arrived at the court with about a dozen followers. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, declaring that their presence would prove disruptive to the trial and intimidating to the jury, declared Farrakhan to be persona non grata in the courtroom. Farrakhan complained that Barry's trial "demonstrates the wickedness of the United States government and the lengths to which this government will go when it targets a black leader to be discredited."
In their closing arguments, prosecutors said it was ludicrous to claim that Barry was the victim in a racist conspiracy. Ten witnesses had attested to the mayor's cocaine use, they said, and the only conspiracy was one of "silence and deceit" to ignore or tacitly accept his behavior. "Mr. Barry is asking you to shut your eyes, cover your ears, to close your mind," said U.S. Attorney Richard Roberts. "Really, he's asking you to insult your intelligence by forgetting the facts."
The defense admitted that Barry used cocaine occasionally, but denied that he used the drug as frequently as the prosecution alleged. If that were true, they contended, he could have easily been arrested much earlier in a more conventional method than a sting operation. In an autobiography published shortly before his death, Barry offered a similar opinion. "They desperately tried to paint my cocaine use into something much more than it ever was," he said. "I had never used cocaine as much as they tried to say I had."

The jury, which included 10 black members and two white members, mulled over the charges for eight days. Five days into these deliberations, Barry announced that he would run an independent campaign for an at-large position on the City Council.

On August 10, the jury found Barry guilty of one count of drug possession. Surprisingly, it was not related to the January sting where his drug use had been caught on camera; in fact, the jury had acquitted him on that charge. Rather, the jurors agreed that the prosecution had proved that Barry used cocaine with Alabama businesswoman and Democratic political consultant Doris Crenshaw at the Mayflower Hotel in November of 1989. The jury could not reach a verdict on the remaining 10 drug charges or perjury charges, leading to a mistrial on those counts. It was a small victory for Barry; if he had been found guilty of perjury, the felony conviction would have barred him from holding any elected office.

Before his sentencing, Barry acknowledged that he was a drug addict and said he was "deeply sorry for his actions." He asked for a light sentence of probation or community service. The prosecution sought the maximum punishment of one year in prison, saying Barry was not sorry for his actions but rather upset that he had been caught. Stephens said that Barry had admitted to prosecutors that he used cocaine on at least a dozen occasions. Prosecutors also argued that he had "seriously impugned the integrity" of the mayor's office, especially since he had urged the city's youth to not use drugs.

On October 26, Barry was sentenced to six months in federal prison and one year of probation. He was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine as well as the cost of his incarceration, with additional drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Jackson told Barry that he had "given aid, comfort, and encouragement to the drug culture" and set a bad example for the citizens of Washington, D.C. Although Barry told the judge that he was "truly remorseful," he continued to make claims of racial prejudice when talking to the press. "I understand that there are different standards for different people, and that's the American injustice system," he said after his sentencing.

In November, Barry experienced his first electoral loss when he finished third in the City Council race with only 20 percent of the vote. After his appeals were exhausted, he began his sentence at a minimum security facility in Virginia in October of 1991. He again claimed to be the victim of a "racist plot," accusing prosecutors of pursuing him while ignoring the malfeasance of white government officials. Barry was required to spend the entire six-month period behind bars, since sentences of under a year were not eligible for early release. Two months into his sentence, he was transferred to a medium security penitentiary in Pennsylvania after another inmate reported seeing a female visitor giving Barry fellatio in the prison's family reception room.

The drug conviction failed to put a dent in Barry's popularity. When he was released in April 1992, he was chauffeured home in a limousine and accompanied by six busloads of supporters. He immediately sought a Council seat to represent Ward 8, the poorest district in Washington, D.C. and the only one he had carried in the 1990 race. He won the Democratic primary with three times as many votes as incumbent Wilhelmina Rolark and was successful in the general election as well.

In May of 1994, Barry announced that he would seek a fourth term as mayor. "I'm in recovery and so is my city," he declared. He faced a three-way contest in the Democratic primary. Kelly had tried to reduce the city's debt, lobby the federal government for a higher budget, and reign in bureaucracy by eliminating about 6,000 jobs; she was not about to give up the office without an attempt at re-election. Councilor John Ray also entered the primary. Barry managed to defeat both of his opponents, earning 47 percent in the vote. Ray earned 37 percent of the vote, Kelly only 13 percent.

While the Democratic primary win typically guaranteed a victory in the general election in D.C., the Republicans had plenty of past scandals to use against Barry. The GOP chose Carol Schwartz, a city councilor who had unsuccessfully contested Barry in the 1986 election, for their candidate. Schwartz had run a hard campaign against Barry in that year, accusing him of incompetence and corruption during his first two terms; in the 1994 election, she could criticize him for his drug conviction as well. She suggested that Barry's cocaine use had played a part in the District of Columbia's increasing homicide rate.

Schwartz managed to keep the general election from becoming a runaway, but she only managed to take 42 percent of the vote. Barry came away with 56 percent. Despite the many charges of mismanagement and the infamous video of his drug use and arrest, he had been elected to a fourth term.

Washington, D.C. continued to be a city beset by serious problems. Several city agencies had been placed into receivership due to their appalling conditions. One judge described the conditions in a home for juvenile delinquents as "unacceptable for a civilized country." In a nursing home run by the city, some patients were found to have bedsores so severe that limbs needed to be amputated. The high rates of murder, high school dropouts, and infant mortality had not dropped significantly since Barry's first term, and the city was also dealing with high levels of crack cocaine addiction and AIDS infections.

Upon taking office in 1995, Barry appealed to Congress for a bailout to help shore up the city's finances and remedy its widespread problems. Instead, Congress established a financial control board to take over budgetary management from the local government amid allegations of extensive mismanagement and graft. Barry would feud with the board for the remainder of his term, decrying the loss of local level management as a "rape of democracy." He accused Congress, which had swung to the control of the Republican Party after the 1994 election, of trying to limit the home rule allowances which had been won two decades before.

In July of 1997, Congress passed a reform act which stripped Barry of much of his remaining power. Oversight of nine major departments was transferred to the financial control board, leaving only the parks and libraries under Barry's watch. He was essentially a mayor in name only. Barry announced in May of 1998 that he would not seek a fifth term, and he left office in January of 1999.

Barry left a polarizing legacy. He pointed to the revitalization of downtown areas as his signature achievement, including a decision to locate government offices in an area hard-hit by the 1968 race riots to help turn the neighborhood around. Supporters saw him as someone who had risen to success on his own initiative, who was committed to helping the city's youth and poor. Many thought that the frequent criticism directed at the mayor was part of a widespread effort to discredit him and roll back the power achieved by black residents of the District of Columbia. Critics said Barry had done more to harm the city then help it through persistent graft, moral bankruptcy, poor fiscal management, and his inability to stem crime or improve the schools.

Although Barry's fourth term as mayor would be his last, he was not out of politics for good. After working for a few years as an investment banker, he announced that he would run for City Council in March of 2002. However, he abandoned the bid after police found traces of cocaine and marijuana in his illegally parked car. Barry said he had been framed, and no charges were filed. Two years later, he was again elected to the Council from Ward 8. He would hold the position until his death.

A number of troubles continued to plague Barry in his later years. He was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of assault after a female janitor at the Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport accused him of exposing himself to her in an airport bathroom in 2000. Barry pleaded guilty to the charge and received a sentence of community service, and was later ordered to pay $35,000 when the woman filed a lawsuit against him.

At a court-ordered screening in 2005, Barry tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Marion Christopher Barry, his son by his third wife Effi Barry, was convicted of drug possession six years later and received a suspended sentence. Polly Harris, Effi's mother, publicly blamed Barry for his son's drug use.

An audit discovered that Barry had failed to file federal or local income taxes for 1999, 2000, or 2004. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges in October of 2005, and was sentenced to three years' probation in March of 2006. The punishment came without a fine, allowing Barry to start paying back $195,000 in missed federal taxes and $54,000 in D.C. taxes plus penalties. When he also failed to file his taxes in 2005 and 2007, Barry reached an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to settle the accounts; he blamed poor health for missing the deadlines.

Even in the midst of these incidents, Barry continued to enjoy widespread support. In 2005, he joined local businesses and volunteers in starting a program to distribute 2,000 turkeys for the holidays. A year later, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators awarded him the Nation Builder Award, recognizing his work as a civil rights activist and politician.

However, Barry would also face some embarrassments in his later years on the City Council. He was arrested in July of 2009 after he was accused of stalking Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, who was described as an occasional girlfriend. Though the charges were dropped, Barry was censured, stripped of a committee chairmanship, and removed from another committee a year later after councilors learned that he had awarded $15,000 to Watts-Brighthaupt as a "personal service" contract. Since Watts-Brighthaupt owed him money, she had simply repaid him from the same funds which Barry had assigned in his capacity as a councilor. A similar incident occurred in September of 2013, when Barry was found to have accepted cash payments from city contractors; he was again censured and stripped of a chairmanship.

Like his first brush with the law, Barry's final controversy involved parking tickets. He was involved in a car accident in August of 2014 after driving on the wrong side of the road. After this smash-up, it was revealed that he had $2,800 in unpaid moving violation fines and parking violations. He promptly paid the outstanding sum to the city.

In June of 2014, Barry published an autobiography entitled "Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr." He said that there were many who "judge me but don't really know me," arguing that he had completed a number of professional accomplishments in his life. "I always felt like I was two different people in politics; one as a personally religious man who was quiet with a lot of doubts and frustrations; and the other as the politician who had to be brave and courageous, while representing the desires of the people," he wrote. "I seemed to be brave enough to take on anything for the people. But deep down inside, I hurt like anybody else."

By this point, Barry had been suffering from a number of health problems. He had survived a bout with prostate cancer, received a kidney transplant in 2009, and suffered from diabetes. On November 23, 2014, he died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

Sources: Council of the District of Columbia, "Black Muslims Terrorize U.S. Capital; Reporter Killed, Many Hostages Held" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Mar. 9 1977, "Bullet Stopped Short of Heart" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Mar. 10 1977, "Tale of Hanafi Moslem Terror is Related" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Mar. 13 1977, "D.C. Coalition Leads 'Back to Cities' Move" in the Milwaukee Journal on Dec. 6 1978, "D.C. Mayor Denies Drug Involvement" in the Pittsburgh Press on Dec. 28 1988, "Marion Barry Keeps D.C. Guessing" in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 7 1990, "Marion Barry Plans to Enter Race in Full Stride: 'I'll Win'" in the Free Lance-Star on Jan. 16 1990, "D.C. Mayor Arrested in Drug 'Sting,' Agents Say" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Jan. 19 1990, "Events in Marion Barry's Career" in the Star-News on Jan. 20 1990, "Don't Judge Black Politicians by Marion Barry" in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Feb. 5 1990, "Blacks Claim Barry Singled Out" in the Spokesman-Review on Jun. 9 1990, "Jurors View Videotape of Barry Drug Arrest" in the Washington Post on Jun. 29 1990, "Pained and Shamed, Barry Says" in the Pittsburgh Press on Aug. 3 1990, "Mayor Barry Guilty of Cocaine Charge" in the New Straits Times on Aug. 12 1990, "Marion Barry Seeks Probation" in the Argus-Press on Oct. 26 1990, "Barry Gets 6-Month Prison Term for Cocaine Possession" in the Boca Raton News on Oct. 27 1990, "Marion Barry Begins 6-Month Prison Term" in the News-Journal on Oct. 26 1991, "Ex-Mayor Marion Barry Trying to Make a Comeback" in the Star-News on May 22 1994, "Barry's Tenure Was a Roller Coaster Ride" in the Washington Post on May 22 1998, "Schwartz Launches Third Bid for Mayor" in the Washington Post on June 18 1998, "Tax Charges Net Marion Barry 3 Years' Probation" in the Free Lance-Star on Mar. 10 2006, "Some Things You Never Forget" in the Washington Post on Mar. 12 2007, "Barry Again Fails to File Tax Forms" in the Washington Post on Jan. 29 2009, "From the Archives: The Charmed Life of Marion Barry" in the Washingtonian on Feb. 19 2014, "Marion Barry Dies at 78" in the Washington Post on Nov. 23 2014, "Marion Barry, Washington's 'Mayor For Life,' Even After Prison, Dies at 78" in the New York Times on Nov. 23 2014, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr. by Marion Barry Jr., Democratic Destiny and the District of Columbia: Federal Politics and Public Policy by Ronald Walters and Toni-Michelle C. Travis, African-Americans and Criminal Justice: An Encyclopedia by Delores D. Jones-Brown and Beverly D. Frazier and Marvie Brooks

Sunday, March 8, 2015

William Langer: breaking away


William Langer and his wife Lydia vote in the 1940 election (Source)


Often described as one of the most colorful characters in North Dakota politics, it would perhaps be more fitting to say that William Langer is one of the more colorful characters in United States political history as a whole. Throughout every step of his career, from state judicial offices to the U.S. Senate, Langer was dogged with accusations of overstepping his power and ignoring the rule of law. At the same time, he was an immensely popular figure credited with looking out for the interests of the downtrodden at the height of the Great Depression.

Langer was born on a farm in Everest Township, near Casselton, North Dakota, on September 30, 1886. He attended the local schools and graduated as valedictorian of Casselton High School's Class of 1904. He completed his studies in the law department of the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks in two years, graduating in 1906. Although he passed the bar exam in this year, the state did not allow people to begin practicing until they were 21 years old.

Rather than waiting out the extra time, Langer decided to travel to New York City to further his education at Columbia University. He again graduated at the top of his class in 1910 after serving as the class president. Despite an offer of employment at a New York firm, he decided to return to his home state. He was admitted to the bar in 1911 and began a practice in the city of Mandan, a neighbor to the capital of Bismarck.

After serving as assistant state's attorney of Morton County in 1914, Langer was appointed as state's attorney in the same year. He lost no time in aggressively pursuing a number of causes, namely enforcing North Dakota's ban on alcohol. He reportedly swore out 167 arrest warrants against liquor dealers and vice operators on his first day in office. He filed suit against the Northern Pacific Railway, charging them with underpaying their state taxes, and managed to recoup $1.25 million; similar suits were filed against Standard Oil and the Occident Elevator Company.

Langer also went after parents whose children were not abiding by the state's compulsory 16-year school attendance law. As a result, 800 parents received letters saying they were in violation of this statute because their children were not in class. In addition, Langer advocated for a number of improvements to the school system, including transportation for any students who lived more than two-and-a-half miles from their school and fire guards at the school buildings.

In pursuing justice, Langer's zeal sometimes extended outside the limits of the law. This would prove to be a persistent habit, one which would give his critics plenty of ammunition in later years. After easily winning election as North Dakota's attorney general in 1916, carrying every county in the state and earning 58,000 more votes than his nearest competitor, he continued his campaign against prostitution and bootleg liquor. On the evening of May 7, 1917, he made the questionable decision to have deputies take over the Northern Telephone Company in advance of a series of raids on vice dens. His rationale was that silencing the phone lines would prevent anyone from warning the targeted establishments. Tensions quickly arose between the lawmen and the telephone workers, and an attorney for the company was accused of pointing a gun at one of the deputies.

A number of charges were filed in the wake of the excitement. Langer and two deputies were charged with obstruction of justice and inciting a riot. The attorney, L.J. Palda, was charged with assault with the intent to kill. The cases eventually petered out, in part due to the entry of the United States into World War I. Langer would serve as the legal adviser for the Council of Defense during the war, and one of the deputies charged in the incident traveled overseas to assist in the assembly of tractors for the French government. The charges against Palda were dismissed, and Langer was tried and acquitted on the inciting a riot charge.

In the midst of this clamor, the Nonpartisan League—a faction of the Republican Party—declared its support for Langer's actions in a unanimously adopted resolution. Langer won re-election as attorney general in 1918, running on the Nonpartisan League ticket while endorsed by the Progressive Republicans. Among his other actions in office was the censure of 275 schools in the state for failing to display the American flag.

Despite his popularity, Langer was nearly ousted from office during his second term. He split from the Nonpartisan League in April of 1919, saying to party founder Arthur C. Townley, "You and your hirelings have lied to and are deceiving the farmers of North Dakota." In November, Langer and state auditor Carl Kositsky began distributing a magazine entitled The Red Flame, which described the NPL as being a Communist organization. A month later, as the NPL targeted the budgets of Langer and his allies while removing them from certain boards where they held power, a formal request to remove Langer from office alleged that he had "betrayed the farmers of this state" and tried to undermine banks friendly to farmers. The accusation also said he had described Governor Lynn Frazier and the state supreme court justices as "crooks and conspirators." An attempt in the legislature to impeach Langer fell short by a single vote.

On March 23,1920, Langer announced that he would seek the nomination for governor of North Dakota. He had the support of the Progressive Republicans as well as the Independent Voters Association, a bipartisan group opposed to NPL influence in state politics. After losing the Republican primary by fewer than 5,000 votes, Langer returned to private practice and moved his business to Bismarck. Although he later reconciled with the NPL, he lost an attempt to be nominated for attorney general in 1928.

In 1932, Langer was elected as governor of North Dakota on the NPL ticket. The incumbent Republican governor, George F. Shafer, made a bad misstep when he threw his support behind President Herbert Hoover. Although Hoover and Shafer shared the same political party, Shafer had also expressed his opposition to any government relief to alleviate the hardships of the Great Depression - a platform championed by Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thousands of suffering North Dakota voters threw Shafer out of office, and the state (and an overwhelming electoral vote) went to Roosevelt in the presidential election.

When he took office in January of 1933, Langer sought to take whatever steps possible to counter the effects of the Great Depression in North Dakota. He cut state appropriations in every department except education and declared a moratorium on foreclosures, going so far as to call out the National Guard to stop sheriff's sales. In an effort to support farmers in the state, he declared an embargo on shipments of wheat and beef out of North Dakota until the prices rose to a satisfactory point. He again used the National Guard to support this action, which a federal court later declared unconstitutional.

Though these actions earned Langer high standing in the minds of the general populace, especially the farmers, they made him plenty of enemies elsewhere. The railroads, grain syndicates, and electricity companies were all irked that the governor had forced them to lower their rates. Langer was also an unabashed loyalist, clearing out several executive departments and replacing their employees with people who had supported him. He was a strong critic of the New Deal, accepting the federal relief effort but criticizing its programs as not doing enough to help the poor.

Divisions again developed in the NPL during Langer's first year in office, and the party's executive committee was soon at odds with the governor over the distribution of state patronage jobs. Because of this split, there would be rumors that Langer was the target of a conspiracy to oust him. In addition to his enemies in the NPL, it was suggested that Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and federal relief administrator Harry Hopkins were eager to get Langer out of office. No matter what the origin of the investigation against him, Langer soon found himself in trouble over a fundraising scheme he had concocted.

After he became governor, Langer revived the Leader, an NPL newspaper which had folded in 1932, as a publication to represent both the party and his administration. Many farmers in the state were already paying a membership fee to be part of the NPL, and the reintroduction of the paper simply meant that they would get a subscription to the Leader as part of their dues. Langer caused more controversy when he began to ask the members of his administration who owed their jobs to his 1932 election to contribute five percent of their salaries toward a Leader subscription. By soliciting donations from people who were working in the state relief offices and receiving part of their salary from the United States government, the activity passed from a state matter to a federal one.

In the spring of 1934, Langer was indicted by a federal grand jury for "soliciting and collecting money for political purposes from federal employees and of conspiring to obstruct the orderly operation of an act of Congress." Eight others were indicted alongside him, including state highway commissioner Frank A. Vogel, relief secretary R.A. Kinzel, and Leader publisher Oscar Chaput.

Langer and his supporters denounced the indictment as being "politically inspired," as the charges happened to arrive just a few months before the primary for the 1934 election. The defense pointed out that one grand jury had declined to indict Langer and his co-defendants, and that the charges only came down after a second grand jury was handpicked to include an overwhelming number of people opposed to the NPL. The judge in the case, Andrew Miller, was also a former political opponent of Langer's.

During the trial, the defense maintained that no one had contributed a portion of their salary unless they wanted to. The request for donations had been clearly published in the paper, and anyone who didn't contribute had not been punished in any way. The prosecution showed that six employees out of 30 employees had donated a portion of their salary, accounting for a sum of less than $200. However, the records also indicated that $12,000 had been transferred from the Leader's books to Langer's personal bank account.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Langer admitted that he had received $19,000 through solicitations. However, Miller refused to admit testimony arguing that these funds were a repayment for a loan Langer made to the NPL. Langer said he had made the $12,000 transfer to his own account only to prevent its attachment by a hostile NPL executive committee. He also claimed that he had no role in the distribution of relief funds or taking funds from these salaried employees, since he had delegated relief responsibilities to a five-man commission of 1933.

After a month-long trial, Langer, Chaput, Kinzel, and Vogel were found guilty on June 17. Five days later, Hopkins removed Langer as head of federal relief activities in the state. The verdict had no effect on the primary. On June 27, Langer easily won the Republican nomination. He carried 48 of the 53 counties in North Dakota and tallied 65,646 more votes than the nearest candidate.

Two days later, Langer was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison and pay a $10,000 fine. Each of the three co-defendants received a 13-month sentence and $3,000 fine. Harold McDonald, who had actually solicited the donations, would be sentenced to only four months in prison. Langer's bond was set at $20,000, and a sympathetic farmer offered this sum to keep the governor out of prison as his appeal proceeded.

The conviction set the stage for a titanic power struggle in North Dakota. Lieutenant Governor Ole H. Olson contended that Langer had been disqualified from holding office, meaning Olson would have to take over as governor. He promptly took the oath of office and filed it with the secretary of state, but North Dakota Attorney General P.O. Sathre said Langer would remain in power at least until his sentencing. Supporters of Olson countered by appealing to the state supreme court, which also said they would not make a decision until after the sentencing.

The situation further split the NPL, with some members rallying behind Langer and other supporting Olson. Some members of Langer's administration bolted immediately after his conviction, saying they would refuse to abide by any of his executive decisions until the courts clarified the issue. These officials included Robert Bryne, the secretary of state; John Husby, the labor and agricultural commissioner; and Alfred Dale, the treasurer.

Langer was not about to give up his position easily. He stationed sheriff's deputies around his office, instructing them to bar entry to anyone who did not have his permission. On July 12, Langer asked the state legislature to convene in exactly one week. Only they had the power to investigate him, he declared; if they found him guilty of any crime, they could remove him by impeachment. The statement provided an impetus for the North Dakota supreme court to finally rule on the issue, since they needed to decide whether Langer still had the authority to call a meeting of the legislature. On July 17, in a 4-1 decision along party lines, the justices announced that Langer's conviction on federal charges had disqualified him from office.

Langer took a heavy-handed response. He declared martial law, ordering troops to be stationed around the state capitol. Ostensibly, calling out the National Guard was a way to prevent disorder by his supporters, who had been demonstrating in Bismarck. This was also the reason Langer gave for sending soldiers to surround Olson's hotel, since there were rumors that angry pro-Langer farmers were going to march on the city and uphold Langer's legitimacy by force if need be. However, declaring martial law also had the effect of prolonging Langer's rule since the military authority of the National Guard would supersede the civil authority of the courts.

An hour before declaring martial law, Langer had taken an even more drastic approach to staying in office. Holing up in the governor's mansion, he drew up a declaration of independence for the state of North Dakota. If the issue was that federal charges had made him unfit to govern the state, he reasoned, he could make this issue null and void by simply seceding from the United States. Twenty-six of his closest supporters signed the document with him. Once the state supreme court justices heard of this would-be defection, they visited Langer personally and managed to convince him of the absurdity of this strategy.

The next morning, a peaceful transition of power took place. The state adjutant general announced that he accepted the court's ruling and that the National Guard troops called by Langer would no longer answer to him. Olson, who now had a stronger claim to the governor's office, immediately canceled the order of martial law and called off the special legislative session scheduled for the next day. On July 19, accompanied by soldiers with the National Guard, he walked into the governor's office for his first full day on the job.

The drama was not yet over, however. At the urging of the ousted governor, the state legislature defied Olson's order and assembled later in the day. Several legislators were out for revenge, threatening to impeach any state officials—including Olson and the state supreme court justices—who had not stood by Langer.

The effort fell short, since several anti-Langer state senators abided by Olson's cancellation order and never showed up. Their absence left the chamber five members short of a quorum. The pro-Langer senators tried to strong-arm a meeting by ordering the sergeant at arms to compel these senators to attend by force; the first man was described as giving physical and verbal resistance as he was literally dragged to the legislature. Though Langer's advocates considered bringing the other recalcitrant senators into the chamber in the same way, they realized that the plan would be unpopular and abandoned it. The legislature was forced to recess on July 24, having done little more than adopt a resolution saying that they had met legally and that they had authorized the speaker to appoint an investigating committee to consider the impeachment of state officials.

Olson, meanwhile, ran into similar resistance as he tried to expunge Langer's appointees from his administration. When he named a new highway commissioner, Vogel refused to vacate his office and said he could only be removed for cause. Unsurprisingly, Olson was not keen to remain in office in the face of such confusion and hostility; he would fulfill the remainder of Langer's term, but would not be a candidate in the general election in the fall.

Though Langer had won the GOP nomination fair and square, he knew that his felony conviction and loss of citizenship rights would set him up for a challenge if he won the election. He opted to step aside in favor of his wife, Lydia. As several commentators pointed out, the strategy was similar to that taken by Texas governor James Ferguson; after his impeachment and removal from office, his wife Miriam "Ma" Ferguson had successfully won the Democratic nomination and subsequent gubernatorial election.

Olson and other NPL officials threw their weight behind Thomas H. Moodie, the Democratic candidate, in a three-way race for governor. Although Moodie succeeded in winning the 1934 election, he was soon forced out of office after it was discovered that he hadn't lived in North Dakota for five years as required. The legislature swiftly began an impeachment effort, but it was halted after Moodie agreed to step down in favor of Lieutenant Governor Walter Welford.

Despite the continuing effects of the Depression, supporters from all over North Dakota contributed to a legal defense fund for Langer's appeal. The renowned civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow agreed to take his case, though other lawyers had to take over after Darrow fell ill. On May 7, 1935, Langer won his first victory when the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction.

However, District Attorney P.W. Lanier convened another grand jury soon after and again managed to indict the former governor. Langer and his co-defendants also had a perjury charge levied against them after they accused Miller of being biased against them. This was an unprecedented use of the perjury charge, and Langer would later joke that he was the only person who had been charged with the crime for filing an affidavit of prejudice.

Langer was seriously injured in a car accident in July, but survived to attend a new trial in October. The jury deadlocked, 10-2 in favor of conviction. Another trial in December covered both the conspiracy and perjury charges. This time, Langer was found not guilty. The proceedings also acquitted Chaput, Kinzel, and Vogel.

In in the interim, Welford had built up his own prestige and further cleared the state offices of Langer appointees. The acquittal cleared the path for Langer to again seek nomination for the governor's office, and he directly challenged Welford for the Republican nomination in 1936. After losing this bid by about 500 votes, Langer instead joined the race as the NPL candidate against Welford and Democratic candidate John Moses. He was not nearly as popular as he had been in earlier races, earning only 36 percent of the vote, but it was enough to win in the three-way race.

In his second term, Langer successfully convinced the state legislature to appropriate $6 million for child welfare, old age pensions, and general relief programs. The appropriation was more than what had been made in the entire period between 1933 and 1935. He also directed the State Mill and Elevator company to pay above market price for wheat. In a move criticized by the students, alumni, and faculty in the state college system, Langer dismissed seven deans and instructors; some had been employed in the system for 35 years and received only a few hours' notice to leave. The dismissals prompted a brief recall effort, but the mood in the state was somewhat assuaged when Langer introduced a student aid fund.

There were lingering corruption allegations during Langer's second term as governor. Three of his friends were found to have purchased county bonds at a discounted price before selling them back to the Bank of North Dakota. In 1938, an investigation determined that an attorney for the Great Northern Railroad had received $25,000 in stock from Langer; the transaction occurred as part of a $3 million reduction in the assessment on the railroad.

Langer did not seek re-election in 1938, instead opting to run for the U.S. Senate. He lost the GOP primary to Gerald P. Nye, thanks in part to the persistent rumors about improprieties in his administration, and was an unsuccessful candidate in the general election.

Two years later, Langer was again a Senate candidate in a race that featured a bizarre tangle of alliances. William Lemke abandoned his bid to run for re-election to the House of Representatives, instead opting to run an independent campaign against Langer in the Senate race. He hoped to strike a deal with Charles Vogel, the Democratic candidate, where Vogel would not campaign for the seat. Lemke had arranged a similar bargain in 1938, joining Nye in supporting Democratic candidate John Moses; in exchange, Moses convinced Democratic candidate Jess Nygaard to not campaign in the Senate race, thereby avoiding a split in the anti-Langer votes.

However, since Roosevelt was seeking a third term in the White House, Vogel feared that such a deal would compromise the vote for the President in North Dakota. He continued his campaign, causing the anti-Langer vote to split between Lemke and Vogel. Langer, running on the Republican ticket, won the Senate race by more than 100,000 votes.

Anti-Langer residents in North Dakota gathered signatures for a petition seeking to block the candidate's seating in the Senate. The document outlined the numerous excesses during Langer's time in the state, accusing him of everything from bribery in leasing government property to accepting kickbacks and fees for fictitious services and converting the proceeds from legal settlements. Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley, a Kentucky Democrat, asked that Langer be seated without prejudice while the issue was referred to the Committee on Elections and Privileges in January of 1941. Putting the task to the committee also meant that the Senate could expel Langer by a simple majority vote rather than a two-thirds majority when the question returned to the chamber.

The committee did not begin full hearings until November, and it did not issue its findings until January of 1942. By a vote of 13-3, the committee had decided that Langer was not fit to be a senator and should be expelled. The majority report declared that Langer had exhibited a "continuous, contemptuous, and shameful disregard for the high concepts of public duty" during his time in the North Dakota state offices. "He would defy the highest court of his state with force," the report stated. "[Langer] throughout his career had little use for law and order, but in attempting to prevent and suspend civil process upon himself he reached the high point in his continuous belief that might is superior to right."

The majority summarized some of Langer's misbehavior as including "gross impropriety, lawlessness, shotgun law enforcement, jail breaking, violation of oath as an attorney, rabble rousing, breach of the peace, obstruction of the administration of justice, and tampering with court officials." He was criticized for the raids he organized as state's attorney as well as his declaration of martial law and attempt to secede after his 1934 conviction.

One of the most bizarre incidents related to Langer's time as a private attorney. He was accused of kidnapping his own client from jail, taking him and his ex-wife across the state line, and persuading her to remarry him so she could not be compelled to testify against the client in a murder trial. Langer had promised to arrange for a divorce without fees once the case had been settled. However, when the woman tried to remarry nine years later she found that Langer had failed to keep his word.

Langer himself admitted that he had paid the son of the judge who had presided over his second and third trials in the Leader matter as well as an associate of the judge named Chet Leedom. The majority report determined that he had taken $56,800 in compensation for his approval of questionable bond issues in order to allow a broker named Gregory Brunk to net $300,000 in profits in 1937 and 1938. It also revived the accusation that Langer had received $25,000 for selling stock to the Great Northern Railway Company as part of the railroad's effort to reduce its taxes. Though several of the accusations had been publicized before the report, the majority felt that North Dakota voters hadn't been adequately aware of Langer's tumultuous past and that denying him a seat in the Senate was a proper action.

The minority report was just as strongly worded, saying the majority's conclusions about Langer's culpability had been based more on hearsay and gossip than on fact. It was the first time a member of the Senate had been the target of such a pointed investigation, the three minority members said. They accused the committee's investigation of being sloppy and one-sided, focusing on evidence against Langer without taking any that could exonerate him and allowing the process to be "swept away by a barrage of slander." Morever, the minority said the voters in North Dakota were well aware of Langer's lively personality since the same accusations had come up in the 1940 campaign.

"[T]he petitioners have evidently adopted the view that if you say enough things about an individual and extend the period of time sufficiently long, and use sufficiently abusive phraseology, those who try the case will finally lose patience in tracking down one false trail after another and give up in sheer exhaustion," one part of the minority report said.

Floor debate in the Senate opened on March 9 and continued for two weeks. Langer's supporters said they should not add morality requirements to those outlined in the Constitution when considering whether a member was fit to serve in Congress. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith, a Democrat from South Carolina, remarked, "I don't like this business of going back 25 or 30 years into the life of a senator. If we did that for every senator, we couldn't get a quorum here."

The Senate first repudiated the idea that Langer could be expelled by majority vote rather than a two-thirds majority, then rejected the majority report on Langer's fitness for office. Fifty-two senators were opposed to his expulsion, while 30 were in favor. In September of 1942, the Senate approved $16,500 to compensate Langer for the legal costs he had incurred during the committee hearings.

As a senator, Langer distinguished himself as having an independent streak that often put him in opposition with his own party. Though he supported the declaration of war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was strongly isolationist. In the lead-up to the war, he opposed the Lend-Lease Act, Destroyer Deal, and expansion of the Selective Service Act to peacetime. After the conclusion of World War II, he was one of only two senators to vote against the United Nations charter.

Langer's isolationism continued in the years after the war, as the United States became increasingly involved in international affairs in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. He opposed the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, all foreign aid, and the extension of conscription laws. Though he had kind words for Harry Truman's capability as President, he was against two of Truman's signature policies: the Marshall Plan to assist the postwar recovery in Europe and the Truman Doctrine to promote the containment of Communism.

This attitude earned Langer some criticism when he publicly expressed his disdain for former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a few occasions. In 1949, critics called Langer out for his erroneous statements claiming that Churchill had fought against the United States in the Spanish-American War. In advance of Churchill's visit to the U.S. in 1951, Langer asked the pastor at the Old North Church in Boston to hang two lanterns in the steeple to indicate that the British were coming.

Langer's firm opposition against internationalism was balanced by efforts to improve everyday life for the average person. He supported measures to bring electricity and telephone service to rural areas, and he was also in favor of efforts to make health care more affordable to citizens. He served for a time as chairman of the Judicial Committee, and was always recognizable by his longtime habit of chewing on cigars without removing the wrapper.

Langer remained popular in North Dakota, winning re-election in 1946 and 1952. Though he did not drop out of the race in 1958, the Republican Party chose another candidate and Langer never made a campaign speech since he refused to leave his ailing wife's side. Nevertheless, he won re-election in this year as well.

Langer continued to serve in the Senate until his death on November 8, 1959. He lay in state in the Senate for his funeral, which took place two days later. He would be the last senator to have this kind of funeral until 2010, when similar proceedings were scheduled following the death of Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia in 2010.

Thanks to James A. Davis of the State Historical Society of North Dakota for his assistance with this entry.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, The Mandan Historical Society, State Historical Society of North Dakota, The William Langer Papers at the University of North Dakota, "The Expulsion Case of William Langer of North Dakota" at Senate.gov, "William Langer and the Themes of North Dakota History" by Daniel Rylance for the South Dakota Historical Society, "Langer and the Dirty Thirties" in the January through spring of 1978 editions of Prairies, "Political Pulse: The NPL's Road to Ruin" in North Dakota Studies, "Wild Bill" at Senate.gov, "Impeachment of State Officials" report to the Connecticut General Assembly on Feb. 9 2004, "N.P. Solons in Attempt to Oust Atty-General" in the Prescott Journal-Miner on Dec. 12 1919, "Indict Governor Langer of North Dakota" in the Spartanburg Herald on Apr. 17 1934, "Six Bolt From Langer Cabinet in North Dakota, Joining Olson" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jun. 24 1934, "Langer Receives Prison Sentence" in the Spartanburg Herald on Jun. 30 1934, "Civil War Feared Between Factions in North Dakota" in the Evening Independent on Jul. 19 1934, "Olson Tightening Control of State" in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World on Jul. 21 1934, "Struggle Turns to Legislature in North Dakota Fight" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jul. 23 1934, "North Dakota Senate Fails to Get Action" in the Deseret News on Jul. 23 1942, "Wife of Deposed Governor Heads North Dakota Ticket" in the Gettysburg Times on Aug. 2 1934, "Ex-Governor Langer in Critical Condition" in the Lewiston Evening Journal on Jul. 23 1935, "Langer of North Dakota to be Retried Tuesday" in the Milwaukee Journal on Oct. 27 1935, "A Federal Jury Acquits Langer" in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World on Dec. 19 1935, "North Dakota Politics Boil Up Again; Of Course About Langer" in the Milwaukee Journal on Oct. 17 1937, "Oust Langer, Senate Urged" in the Milwaukee Journal on Jan. 29 1942, "Senate Asked to Oust Langer" in the Pittsburgh Press on Jan. 29 1942, "Three Clear Sen. Langer" in the Reading Eagle on Mar. 2 1942, "Senate Votes For Langer" in the Milwaukee Journal on Mar. 31 1942, "North Dakota Senator Has Wild and Wooly Career" in the Victoria Advocate on Mar. 7 1954, "Sensational Raid Made on Large Number of Places Last Night" in the Minot Daily News on Oct. 1 2008, "North Dakota Secedes from the U.S." in the Prairie Public Broadcasting's Dakota Notebook on Jul. 17 2013, Declarations of Independence: Encyclopedia of American Autonomous and Secessionist Movements by James L. Erwin, Establishing Justice in Middle America: A History of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by Jeffrey Brandon Morris