Showing posts with label alcohol. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alcohol. Show all posts

Thursday, July 22, 2010

William W. Rose: beer bandit

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History has been kind to William Warren Rose. Though his decision to flaunt a court order may not have put him in the best light, his expulsion from office was a politically-tinged affair resulting in his refusal to uphold an unenforceable law.

Rose was born in Oyster Bay, New York in March of 1864. As a child, he moved to Ogdensburg and later spent time in New York City apprenticing in architecture with G.A. Schellinger. Rose left to start an independent practice in Birmingham, Alabama and partnered with Charles E. Reid. The business was a successful one, and received contracts for several public buildings including a hospital, college, and church. Rose then moved again, settling down in Kansas City, Missouri in 1886 to partner with James Oliver Hogg. Their business extended to the city of the same name in Kansas, and Rose relocated there in 1896. He ran for mayor almost immediately, appearing in the 1897 contest as a fusion candidate.

Rose did not win in that year, but succeeded in the race almost a decade later; it was the first of several times in a two-year span when he appeared as a candidate. In April of 1905, he was elected on a Democratic ticket after establishing a platform urging public rather than private ownership of municipal infrastructure such as the water company and the electric grid. After the election, Rose found that buying out the Metropolitan Water Company was more complicated than he expected due to tax methods and limited debt allowed for the city. He settled for an ordinance allowing a buyout for cost of construction with franchise value excluded. The measure was debated for 10 months, but the city finally purchased the company. William Elsey Connelley wrote in his history of Kansas that Rose had "shown a practical energy and a common sense attitude towards public affairs which have won him a large and loyal following and has made him a leader properly credited with much of the material advancement of Kansas City." However, Rose also got on the bad side of businesses such as packing houses and railroads controlled by Republican political bosses who had managed to avoid their fair share of taxes, by firing the tax assessor. Rose's allies blamed these foes when the mayor was targeted for his involvement in a rather common practice.

A nationwide prohibition on the consumption of alcohol was still several years away, but Kansas already had a law on the books making it a dry state. The prohibition wasn't very strictly enforced, however, and Rose even announced during his campaign that he had no intention of upholding this particular law. In Kansas City alone, some 150 saloons kept the liquor flowing. Varying practices existed in the state to ensure that the saloons paid de facto liquor licenses in exchange for continued operation, such as arresting a barkeep, collecting bail, and keeping it when the person didn't bother to show up in court. Such bartering could easily lead to money going into private hands, but Rose tried to ensure that it would go to the municipal coffers.

When Kansas City was targeted for stricter enforcement, Rose was one of the louder protesters. He argued that prohibition would have little effect on actually stopping the liquor traffic, and that those who fancied a drink would simply take their money to Missouri. By his calculations, the city would lose lose over $100,000 a year in indirect liquor license fees with stricter enforcement. As saloon crackdowns made this financial squeeze a reality, diminished property values and the city's inability to push the tax rate past an established limit forced Rose to slash the budget. He cut about half the police budget and two engine crews in fire department, suspended street cleaning operations, laid off several city engineers, and asked higher-paid city employees to accept voluntary salary reductions.

Worse still for the mayor, the Kansas Supreme Court took him to task for his failure to enforce the prohibition. The court accused him of collecting $50 monthly contributions from the violators without every informing the county attorney of the infractions. The justices said he had failed to enforce anti-gambling laws as well. A lawsuit seeking his ouster was filed against Rose in September of 1905, and in January of 1906 the court approved such an ouster. In April of 1906, liquor issues proved a major point in the aldermen elections and the officials brought in were opposed to Rose's stance. Three days before the court injunction was to go into effect, Rose and police chief Vernon J. Rose resigned.

With a special election set for May, Rose once again ran for mayor to fill the vacancy caused by his own resignation. Republican councilman Edward E. Venard was named acting mayor and served about a month before becoming his party's mayoral candidate. Council president Joseph C. Laughlin became acting mayor for all of four days before the election. Rose's name wasn't even on the ballot due to the court's ouster decision. Nonetheless, he earned a plurality of 1,600 votes over Venard and Socialist candidate David Harris. In the midst of the year, which was quite a tumultuous one for Rose, the Democratic state convention nominated him for a House of Representatives seat by one vote; Rose opted not to accept.

The Kansas Supreme Court was none too pleased with Rose's victory. The mayor said that his resignation nullified the ouster, and that even if it remained in effect he was serving in the capacity of his latest election rather than the 1905 one. He had been duly elected, Rose argued, and the court had no right to take him out of office. The court did not agree, and in July it fined him $1,000 for contempt for holding office despite the ouster. Rose needed to pay the fine within 20 days or else face jail. However, his defense attorneys successfully filed a writ of error, staying the judgment and allowing him to continue his duties as mayor. In September, however, both Mayor Rose and Police Chief Rose resigned, along with police captain John F. Kelly, in exchange for the court dropping its contempt investigations against the trio. One month later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the matter, leaving the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling in effect.

Laughlin once again took over the office, this time holding it from September until a special election in December. Rose was debarred from holding the mayor's office until after the term he was elected to expired. Instead, he backed Democratic candidate M.J. Phelan. Victory in the December election went to Dr. George M. Gray.

Rose returned to architectural work after his time in office, starting work with David P. Peterson in 1909. The partners won contracts for several more public buildings, including schools, libraries, and hospitals. He remained involved in politics to some degree, serving as a member of the Government War Labor Board during World War I. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate in 1916, and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920.

Rose died in May of 1931. Writing in the Kansas City Kansan, A.E. Neal declared, "W. W. Rose was perhaps the boldest and most original political thinker that has attracted attention in Wyandotte County."

Sources: The Political Graveyard, The Kansas Collection at the Kansas City Public Library, "Results Of Prohibition" in the Feilding Star on Jan. 27 1906, "A Temperance Defeat" in the New York Times on Apr. 4 1906, "Ex-Mayor Rose Of Kansas City Re-Elected" in the Deseret News on May 9 1906, "Jail Threat For A Mayor" in the New York Times on Jul. 6 1906, "Rose Gets A Writ" in the Deseret News on Jul. 12 1906, "Mayor Rose To Quit" in the New York Times on Sep. 7 1906, "Mayor Must Pay $1,000 Fine" in the New York Times on Oct. 23 1906, A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, Volume 4 by William Elsey Connelley, The Public Vol. 9 edited by Louis Freeland Post and Alice Thatcher Post and Stoughton Cooley, The Lawyers Report Annotated Book 6 edited by Burdett A. Rich and Henry P. Farnham

Thursday, October 8, 2009

J. Herbert Burke: only there for the articles

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By 1978, J. Herbert Burke had firmly established himself as the representative from Florida's 10th District. He had won six elections, was set to run for a seventh term, and, though not one of the more well-known members of Congress, had still earned a reputation as a respectable congressman. That would literally change overnight, however, with an incident in Burke's home state and a questionable explanation for it.

Burke was a native of Chicago, born in the city in 1913 and attending Central YMCA College there as well as nearby Northwestern University. In 1940, he graduated from Kent College of Law and was admitted to the bar. Burke's entry into the legal profession was soon delayed by World War II, and he served with the U.S. Army in Europe between 1942 and 1945. He was discharged as a captain, having picked up the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, European Theater Medal, and American Theater Ribbon along the way. Upon his return to the United States, Burke began practicing law in Chicago and stayed there until 1949.

In that year, Burke decided to move to Hollywood, Florida. Three years later, he was elected as a Republican to be a Broward County commissioner. He held the position until 1967, and continued to build his political resume in other ways, including serving as a Republican state committeeman from 1954 to 1958. Burke's first stab at a national office came in January of 1955, when he ran for an opening in the House of Representatives created by the death of Democratic Representative Dwight Rogers. In the late stages of that campaign, Burke personally visited President Dwight D. Eisenhower and declared that he could "get more done under President Eisenhower than a Democrat can get."

Burke lost the race to Paul Rogers, another attorney and the late congressman's son. Eisenhower was apparently impressed with Burke, however, as he appointed him to the Southeastern Advisory Board of Small Business in 1956. That same year, Burke became the assistant campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate William A. Washburne, Jr. Burke's law practice and commissioner's duties likely kept him busy, as he disappeared from the state and national radar for the next decade. When a new congressional district was allotted to Florida in 1966, though, Burke threw his hat into the ring and this time was successful in his bid for the House.

Burke's first serious challenge came only two years later, when the 10th District was redrawn. As a result, a more conservative portion of northern Broward County was excised and the more liberal areas of northern Dade County attached. Burke complained that the move amounted to gerrymandering, but was nonetheless able to eke out a victory over Democratic state representative Elton Gissendanner. In September of 1967, less than a year into his first term, the ultraconservative group Americans for Constitutional Action rated Burke (and 23 other congressmen) as 100 percent in alignment with their ideals.

Burke's most notable activities in Congress were his trips to numerous foreign countries as part of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In February of 1969, he and Democratic Representative Charles Diggs of Michigan visited Biafran leader Odumegwu Ojukwu at his official residence in Nigeria to discuss the civil war in that country. Noam Chomsky later criticized him for his reaction to congressional testimony from James Dunn, who had interviewed refugees from East Timor about atrocities committed in that country after Indonesia invaded in December of 1975. A ranking minority member on the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Burke wrote, "I have my own suspicions regarding what might be behind the testimony, and I agree with you that it is in all our best interests to bury the Timor issue quickly and completely."

Burke's most notable action regarding foreign affairs was his recommendation that Ukraine and Byelorussia be expelled from the United Nations. He argued that despite the strong sense of nationalism in the regions, they were still a part of the Soviet Union and serving to give that country an extra two votes in the UN. Not sparing any words, Burke said the two regions "have been transformed into one constituent part of one vast slave state created from the blood of countless millions of murdered people who believe in their independence and who lost their lives because of that basic belief that we take for granted." In July of 1974, he criticized news coverage of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which had recently kidnapped Patty Hearst, of creating sympathy for the organization.

Burke also opposed welfare reform, arguing it would lead to an increased allocation of tax money and "socialism." When Congress voted to seat Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at the cost of a fine, Burke said, "I couldn't conscientiously vote to seat him. Things haven't changed from two years ago. But I am glad the thing is disposed of." Despite these opinions, another conservative group, the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, ranked him only "moderately conservative" in October of 1977. One possible reflection of this opinion is Burke's about-face regarding President Richard Nixon. Though he was one of 36 House members urging Nixon to declare his intentions to run for President in January of 1968, Burke opposed granting immunity to Nixon after he resigned in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

While Burke's activities sometimes earned him mention or even headlines in the news, he was a fairly low-key individual. That changed in the early morning hours of May 27, 1978 when police were called to the Centerfold Bar, a night club in Dania, Florida that included the attractions of naked go-go dancers. According to a police report, Burke was there, being "belligerent and verbally abusive," and "yelling, shouting, disrupting business." He was arrested on charges of disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest, without violence, by the two officers.

Burke was released after being briefly jailed, and almost immediately threatened to sue the Dania Police Department for wrongful arrest. He said that he was only at the club because he'd followed two men there after overhearing them discussing a narcotics deal. Burke said he never took in the dancers, but instead stayed outside to witness what looked like a drug exchange. After finding that his car wouldn't start, he told the bar manager, a man named Joseph Dangles, to call the police. He claimed to be caught completely off-guard when the cops put the cuffs on him instead.

Aside from his word, the only thing backing up Burke's story was the fact that he was a member of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control at the time. Aligning more with the drunk and disorderly version was a rambling rant Burke wrote on the wall of his jail cell: "My name is J.H. Burke. The time is 12:20 a.m. I have not been charged. I want to make a charge against the (illegible) by the Dania police. I was molested by the Dania police without right of counsel with charges being made against me. I was abused, molested, abused and prevented from calling a lawyer, a friend or making a complaint. J. Herbert Burke."

Burke was indicted by a grand jury in June, and another charge was added to the two he'd been arrested on: influencing a witness. This charge alleged that Burke had tried, without intimidation or bribery, to get Dangles to falsely testify about the incident. The indictment concluded, perhaps a little melodramatically, that Burke had provided an "evil example" and offended "the peace and dignity of the state of Florida." Three months later, Burke pleaded guilty to disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest without violence, and no contest to the witness tampering charge. He was fined $177.50 and put on probation for three months.

The plea took place with only about a month to go before Election Day. The Democratic runoff chose Ed Stack, a Broward County sheriff and former Republican who had unsuccessfully challenged Burke for the party's nomination for the House in 1966 and 1968, over state representative John Adams, who had tipped off the press to Burke's arrest. Both Stack and Burke said they did not think the incident at the Centerfold Bar would significantly affect the contest, but it was later blamed for the election result that turned Burke out of office. "I never felt what I did was a sinful thing," he said. "I didn't rob anyone. No one wanted to face my side and when I faced the whole thing and pleaded guilty, I felt if one incident can wipe out 26 years of public service, well..."

Burke did not return to political life, and split his time between homes in Falls Church, Virginia and Fern Park, Florida. The most prevalent result of the scandal was that it inspired Carl Hiaasen, a resident of Burke's district, to write a novel entitled Strip Tease. The story follows a congressman who becomes obsessed with a stripper, and was later made into a movie starring Burt Reynolds and Demi Moore. In June of 1993, Burke died of a heart attack at a hospital in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Candidates For Congress Busy With Campaign" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Jan. 9 1955, "Washburne Names Aide In Governor Campaign" in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 20 1956, "Right Wing Rates Congressmen" in the St. Petersburg Times on Sept. 6 1967, "36 In House Urge Nixon To Declare" in the New York Times on Jan. 12 1968, "Two New Faces Added To Florida's Delegation" in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 7 1968, "Gibbons Decries 'Fee'" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 4 1969, "Florida's 14 Congressmen Voted, Fought...And Sat" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 2 1972, "Florida's Congressmen Got Around" in the St. Petersburg Times on Apr. 26 1972, "S.L.A. Sympathy Charged" in the New York Times on Jul. 24 1974, "Leaders Divided On Nixon Immunity" in The Ledger on Aug. 8 1974, "Congressional Rating Game Is Underway" in The Ledger on Oct. 24 1977, "Florida Congressman Arrested At Nightclub Featuring Nude Dancers" in the St. Petersburg Times on May 28 1978, "Burke Says He Will File False Arrest Suit Against Police" in the Boca Raton News on May 29 1978, "Burke Still Tough Foe Despite Arrest" in The Ledger on May 29 1978, "Attorney To Represent Rep. Burke" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Jul. 21 1978, "Burke Will Skip Hearings" in the Boca Raton News on Jul. 18 1978, "Burke Says Plea Won't Hurt Bid" in the Boca Raton News on Sept. 27 1978, "Congressional Police Blotter" in The Village Voice on Oct. 30 1978, "U.S. House: Democrats Now Have 12-3 Margin" in the St. Petersburg Times on Nov. 9 1978, "J. Herbert Burke Dies; Was Florida Congressman" in the Washington Post on Jun. 18 1993, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Beyond Entitlement: The Social Obligations of Citizenship by Lawrence M. Mead, Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Michael K. Deaver: drunk with power

Michael Deaver's unflattering Time cover shot. From

Renowned as a public relations guru, Michael Keith Deaver was a successful advocate of Ronald Reagan. However, he had a serious misstep not long after leaving the White House behind.

Born in California in 1938, Deaver graduated from San Jose State University and went to work on the campaign of one of Ronald Reagan's competitors for the Republican nomination for Governor of California. Deaver switched teams after Reagan's nomination and worked with him during his two terms as Governor, starting in 1967. It was the start of a longtime friendship with Reagan and his wife, Nancy. After Reagan left office, Deaver continued to do public relations work on his attempts to reach the White House. He was also credited for rescuing Reagan from choking on a peanut in 1976 by administering the Heimlich maneuver.

After Reagan was elected President in 1980, Deaver joined his staff as Deputy Chief of Staff. He was largely credited with setting up several successful photo ops for the President, including one atop the Great Wall of China and one where Reagan helped fill sandbags in the aftermath of a Louisiana flood. In 1985, Deaver gave May 15 as his final day of White House service, saying he intended to go on to found his own lobbying firm.

Unfortunately, his reputation as an image-maker suffered a blow only weeks before his departure when he arranged for Reagan to take a trip to a military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany during a tour of Europe. The 2,000 or so graves in the cemetery included 49 members of the infamous Nazi SS and the visit provoked anger in the Jewish community. The incident did not shake the relationship between Deaver and Reagan. "I have never found any fault with anything he is doing, with his loyalty, with his friendship, and with the common sense he has always used," said Reagan. "And that extends to the arrangements for this trip, and the part that he has played in the arranging of this trip." He likened Deaver's resignation to an "amputation."

Deaver's firm was met with almost instant success. His clients included CBS, Trans-World Airlines, and Philip Morris. He negotiated a $1.7 million contract with the South Korean government and associated businesses, as well as a $1.5 million contract with the Saudi Arabian government. He also lobbied for the Canadian government on the issue of acid rain. The firm collected some $3.2 million in fees in its first year, and a London-based firm offered to buy it out for $18 million. The deal never went through, as accusations about Deaver's practices started to fly.

In 1986, Time published an article accusing Deaver of using his connections to the White House to boost his own success. It was revealed that Deaver retained a White House pass, as well as tennis privileges, and still received the President's confidential daily schedule (he later gave up these perks). Specifically, he was accused of violating the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which forbids senior government officials from influencing the government where they had worked until two years after they left. Congressman John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, called for an independent counsel investigation into Deaver's practices. Deaver readily complied, and denied any wrongdoing before Congress and a grand jury. As the investigation progressed and an indictment looked more likely, Deaver tried to get an injunction by contesting the constitutionality of the Ethics in Government Act. It didn't work, and in March of 1987 Deaver was indicted on five counts of perjury. These charged him with lying about not contacting any government officials on behalf of the Canadian and South Korean governments as well as TWA, Smith Barney Harris Upham & Company, and Puerto Rican interests.

During a seven-week trial, Deaver revealed that he suffered from alcoholism and suggested that it may have blurred his memory enough to make him forget making calls to government officials. Believing the state did not have a solid case, Deaver's lawyers called none of over 200 potential witnesses they had. The gambit backfired, as the judge ruled that Deaver's alcoholism defense could not be used without backing from expert witnesses.

After 27 hours of deliberation, the jury found Deaver guilty in December of 1987 on three counts of perjury (specifically, the charges related to TWA, South Korea, and Puerto Rico, where Deaver was charged with approaching Reagan's Security Adviser and trying to secure a tax break for the island). He was sentenced in 1988 to three years of probation and a $100,000 fine, and also ordered to do 1,500 hours of community service.

Deaver sought to appeal the conviction, but was dealt a blow later in the year when the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that the appointment of special prosecutors was not unconstitutional. In 1989, he dropped his attempts at appeal. Though barred from lobbying for three years after his conviction, Deaver returned to global public relations work in 1992 when he joined Edelman International. He remained close to the Reagans, even helping to coordinate the former President's funeral in 2004. For 16 years, he served on the board of the Washington substance abuse treatment center Clean and Sober Streets. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2007.

Sources: Historical Encyclopedia of U.S. Independent Counsel Investigations by Gerald S. Greenberg, Civic Repentance by Amitai Etzioni, "Deaver to Leave May 15" in the New York Times on March 27 1985, "Reagan Praises Aide Deaver, Who is Leaving" in the St. Petersburg Times on May 11 1985, "Topics; Boasts and Insults; Strange Loyalty" in the New York Times on May 18 1986, "Deaver is Indicted by U.S. Grand Jury on Perjury Counts" in the New York Times on March 19 1987, "Deaver Found Guilty of Lying 3 Times Under Oath" in the New York Times on Dec. 17 1987, "Supreme Court Upholds Law on Special Prosecutors" in the New York Times on June 30 1988, "Deaver Abandons Appeals on Convictions for Perjury" in the New York Times on Feb. 14 1989, "Michael Deaver, 69, Dies" in the New York Times on Aug. 19 2007, "Reagan Image-Maker Changed American Politics" in the Washington Post on Aug. 19 2007

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Robert Bernerd Anderson: from tax policy to tax evasion

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Like John Swainson, Robert Bernerd Anderson successfully maneuvered a political career before encountering scandal outside of office.

Born in 1910 in Texas, Anderson ran for a seat in the state legislature in 1932, the same year he was wrapping up law school at the University of Texas. After serving one term, he held several posts in the Texas government, including assistant attorney general, chairman of the state's unemployment commission, and tax and racing commissioner. He was exempted from service in World War II due to a childhood case of polio that left him with a limp. He did serve as a civilian aide to the Army Secretary during the war, however. In 1941, he became the manager of a half million-acre cattle ranch, which included supervising oil and gas leases with several Texas oil companies. He served as an officer with the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association of Texas during the late 1940s.

Originally a Democrat, Anderson supported Dwight D. Eisenhower for President in 1952. The next year, Eisenhower appointed him Secretary of the Navy. It was Anderson, at Eisenhower's request, who desegregated that branch of the military. He later became Deputy Secretary of Defense and resigned from government work, switching parties to become a Republican before Eisenhower's re-election in 1956. While heading a Canadian mining company, Anderson kept close ties with the President, making a trip to the Middle East in 1956 to encourage better relationships between Egypt and Israel. In 1957, he returned to Eisenhower's cabinet as Treasury Secretary. Remaining in the position until the end of Eisenhower's presidency, Anderson encouraged the use of a budget surplus to reduce the national debt instead of lower taxes.

Over the next few decades, Anderson worked as an investment specialist in New York City, served on the boards of several companies, including Pan Am and Goodyear, and was an economic adviser to the Sultan of Oman. He also maintained ties with the succeeding presidential administrations, with Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson appointing him to special committees on foreign aid and the federal budget. Anderson was also appointed special ambassador to Panama to address the issue of ownership of the Panama Canal. He resigned from that post in 1973 after a coup overturned a preliminary treaty, and his successor negotiated the treaty which ultimately turned over the canal to Panama at the turn of the millennium.

From 1983 to 1985, Anderson ran the Commercial Exchange Bank and Trust of Anguilla in the British West Indies with a partner, David Gould. Unfortunately, this was an illegal offshore bank, one where anonymous clients could deposit illegally obtained funds or hide income from the Internal Revenue Service. The bank had offices in New York, but was not registered or subject to regulation, and had no deposit insurance. Investors lost about $4.4 million, which Anderson gave to longtime friend Newton Steele. Steele used the funds to buy oil and gas leases in Oregon and pay off debts.

Anderson was charged with tax evasion for the years of 1983 and 1984, under-reporting his income by some $240,000. He was also suspected of being involved in a plot to sell arms to Iran, but never charged. After pleading guilty to the charges in 1987, Anderson was sentenced to serve one month in jail, five months of house arrest, and five years of probation. He was also ordered to pay back taxes to the IRS, pay restitution to the investors, and enter an alcohol treatment program. The judge noted that Anderson had been treated for alcoholism 10 times since 1981 and may have been negatively affected by his struggle to care for his late wife, who had suffered from Alzheimer's, over the course of a decade.

The conviction came very close to the end of Anderson's life. He was disbarred, and in 1989 died from complications after surgery for throat cancer.

Sources: The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, "Moon Sentenced to 18 Months in Jail" in the Washington Post on July 17 1982, "Ex-Treasury Chief Admits Tax Fraud and Banking Crime" in the New York Times on March 27 1987, "From Treasury Secretary to Guilt in Fraud" in the New York Times on June 16 1987, "Ex-Treasury Chief Gets 1-Month Sentence in Bank Fraud Case" in the New York Times on June 26 1987, "Robert B. Anderson, Ex-Treasury Chief, Dies at 79" in the New York Times on Aug. 16 1989

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wilbur Mills: the electorate doesn't mind strippers

Wilbur Mills and Fanne Fox. Photo from

Wilbur Daigh Mills was born in 1909, and 30 years later he began serving as a Democratic congressman from Arkansas. In the short time between his schooling and political service, he worked as an attorney, bank manager, and judge. Mills became a member of the House Ways and Means Committee in 1942, and began serving as its chairman in 1958.

Mills had been serving in Congress for 35 years when the U.S. Park Police stopped his vehicle in Washington, D.C. in the early morning hours of October 7, 1974. Five people were in the vehicle, and what followed was a bizarre scuffle with police in which a woman dashed into the shallow waters of the nearby Tidal Basin. She was apprehended by police and briefly hospitalized.

Mills initially denied any involvement in the incident, but later admitted to being in the car and intoxicated (though not the vehicle's driver). His embarrassment deepened when the woman in the Tidal Basin, then 38-year-old Annabell Battistella, was found to be a stripper. Under the name Fanne Fox, Battistella was billed as the "Argentine Firecracker" at the Silver Slipper club. Sources told the Washington Post that Mills and Fox became companions, if ones that quarreled loudly at times, and that Mills spent "lavishly" at the club. Mills said that he suffered cuts and scratches on his face when he tried to prevent Fox from leaving the car.

Despite the incident's proximity to Election Day, Mills was returned to office by a 59 percent majority. However, Mills made the ill-advised decision to visit Fox at a burlesque house in Boston soon after the election. After being introduced by Fox, Mills joked with the audience, received a kiss on the cheek from Fox, and left the stage. Though he said the appearance was meant to dispel rumors that he was having an affair with Fox, Mills' public appearance with her in a strip joint did nothing to help his image. He resigned as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in 1975, went into treatment for alcoholism, and retired from Congress in 1977.

Mills worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C. after his resignation, raised funds for alcohol abuse programs, and died in 1992. His name is prominently featured in several Arkansas locales, including an alcohol treatment center, a social sciences building at his alma mater of Hendrix College, and a freeway.

Sources: Notable Names Database, Encyclopedia of Arkansas, "Pre-Dawn Escapade; Congressman Mills Denies Part in Incident" in the Evening Independent on Oct. 9 1974, "Mills Admits Being Present During Tidal Basin Scuffle" in the Washington Post on Oct. 11 1974, "The Fall of Chairman Wilbur Mills" in Time Magazine on Dec. 16 1974