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The Eight Day Mayor

In 1950 reporter Tom Brophey beat long-time
Windsor mayor Art Reaume. Or did he?

by Pat Brode

Although Art Reaume’s political career in Windsor lasted until 1967, (shown at left) his reputation was never the same after the police commission probe in 1950. Some of the only salient information revealed during the probe was in relation to Reaume’s character, which, until the allegations of moral laxity against the police force, had been considered unassailable.
See“Portrait of a Scandal,” The TIMES March 2002 issue (available at The TIMES office).

By 1950, Arthur Reaume had been mayor of Windsor for nine years and he looked as if he would remain in office indefinitely. During the war years, he had run a progressive administration with an emphasis on providing low-cost worker housing. Through his efforts, 2,500 Wartime Housing Ltd. dwellings and 114 Housing Enterprise units were constructed. Many Windsorites were homeowners largely due to Reaume’s efforts.

When the Ford strike of 1945 threatened to deprive many families of support, it was Reaume who urged City Council to provide relief for strikers’ families. His strong support for the fledgling UAW was highly prized by the Union and was a signal to them that they did not have to fight City Hall, as well as the company. In subsequent elections, he could rely on labour’s unwavering support.

Art Reaume was a man who looked like he should be mayor. A dapper dresser, with a confident, worldly swagger, Reaume was everyone’s ideal mayor – some even compared him with New York’s famous “Jimmy Walker” as both a capable administrator and man-about-town.

Beginning his career in municipal politics in 1930 at the age of 24, )Reaume was elected to the town council of Sandwich. Three years later, he became the town’s mayor and the youngest chief executive in Ontario. He was profoundly affected by the misery known as the Great Depression and did what he could both personally and through the municipal government to alleviate suffering.

He was challenged by a political opponent, Ed Donnelly, with ordering a work stoppage at a riverside park. Reaume replied that yes, he had gone to the park on a bitterly cold day where about 100 men on relief were working. “They will not work until they are properly clad,” said Reaume, and he sent them home. This was illegal, roared Donnelly, who felt that because of it, Reaume would not get one vote. “I will not only get one vote, I will get thousands,” Reaume calmly replied.

He did, and was easily re-elected.

Later, after Sandwich’s amalgamation with Windsor, he sat as an alderman and in 1941 succeeded David Croll as mayor of Windsor. In the 1948 municipal election he easily defeated a challenge from a young reporter, Tom Brophey. The lack of “ballot box fever” was so apparent that the Windsor Daily Star thought that the Reaume regime was “approaching the status of a monopoly.”

Yet there were cracks showing in the administration. Organized crime was so well established in Windsor that bordellos, gambling and illegal drinking establishments operated openly in many parts of the city. In early 1950, Magistrate Hanrahan tried and convicted bootlegger Joe Assef for running a number of illegal operations in the City. It was becoming apparent that crime was widespread and little was being done to control it.

Another Magistrate, Angus W. MacMillan, the chairman of the Police Commission, initiated a hearing on charges of laxity on the part of the Windsor police force. Yet, as The Windsor Daily Star reported, “even while preparations for the probe are under way, many of Windsor’s vice centres continue to carry on business as usual. Virtually everything in the way of diversion for the ‘tired businessman’ is readily available in Windsor.”

As a member of the Police Commission, Reaume sat in on the hearings, and yet when he challenged Hanrahan that some of the accusations might just be hearsay, the Magistrate was outraged that the Mayor was not taking these charges seriously. “There is an apparent air of hostility that is amazing and certainly not justifiable by any remarks I have made,” he noted. However, Ontario’s Attorney General Dana Porter closely followed the investigation. Changes in law enforcement in Windsor were obviously overdue.

The mayor himself became directly embroiled in scandal when it became known that he and the administrator of the municipality-run Metropolitan Hospital had entertained a bevy of nurses at a fashionable party at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. Miss Maybee, the superintendent of nurses quit and another public enquiry was held. This time, Reaume could not avoid being caught up directly, and Bruce MacDonald, the lawyer for one of the groups charged that “I do not think the mayor can escape censure for his part… I think that anyone with any experience in the world will doubt his story.”

While his probe was less that edifying, there was no proof of wrongdoing. Art Reaume faced the municipal election of December, 1950, still relying on the support of labour and the common people.

Once again, his opponent was the reporter, Tom Brophey. Brophey had given up journalism and decided to study law. Even though he was in the middle of his studies in Toronto, he nevertheless ran a spirited campaign.

Having sold his car in order to go to law school Brophey was forced to walk the streets of Windsor. He argued that during Reaume’s “decade of progress” the property tax burden had become unbearable. “I recall having been in communist halls only twice,” Brophey declared, “and each time I found Arthur Reaume in the centre of attention.” Had the mayor, through fast and clever footwork avoided the effects of two major investigations?

Reaume fought back that through his influence, the most recent strike at Ford of Canada had been settled in less than 12 hours. Was this communism, or just good government? As well, he had taken efforts to assimilate the ethnic groups that were coming into Windsor and for this he deserved another term in office.

Interesting as the campaign had been, no one seriously expected Art Reaume to be upset.

On the morning of December 7, 1950, Windsorites woke up to find out that by a margin of 38 votes they had a new mayor. The strongest political machine in Windsor’s history had been beaten by a neophyte. The razor-thin margin of victory did not seem to bother the mayor-elect who proclaimed that “38 votes is as good as 38 000.” Inevitably, Reaume demanded and got a recount. However, the count could not be held before the New Year, and on January 1, 1951, Tom Brophey was sworn in as mayor of Windsor.

A 24-hour police guard was mounted on the ballot boxes until Acting Judge Charles Sale began the recount on January 3. On the first day, Brophey gained an additional two votes. However, as the tedious process of recounting 33 000 ballots wore on, Brophey saw his plurality slowly slipping away. By January 9, Reaume had pulled head by 16 votes and he was declared re-elected as mayor.

It was hardly a vote of confidence.

As the Toronto Daily Star warned, the paper-thin victory spoke “of an aroused electorate which nearly elected a young man like Mr. Brophey despite all that the well-established Reaume organization could do.”

Art Reaume would continue to serve Windsor as mayor until 1954, and as a member of the provincial parliament until 1967. Despite several more tries for the mayor’s office, Tom Brophey would never again get close to executive office.

There was one more piece of unfinished business resulting from the contested election of 1950. After serving eight days in the mayor’s office, Brophey was entitled to be paid. After some discussion, the Board of Control decided that he had earned a month’s pay for his eight days in office.

One of Art Reaume’s first acts back in office was to sign Tom Brophey’s pay cheque for the shortest term in the Mayor’s office in Windsor’s history.

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