Editor's Note: Former Daily News reporter Jerry Cooper has compiled a list of the mayors and city commissioners of Texas City.
In 1971 for the Silver Jubilee of the city Cooper wrote a piece for The Daily News on the city’s history of governance. With the help of former city secretaries Kenneth Nunn and Pam Lawrence and today’s City Secretary Nick Finan Cooper updated his 1971 story to provide an extensive look at the men and women who have been elected to office in the city’s 100 years.
TEXAS CITY — Undoubtedly the founding fathers had little idea in 1911 of the things in store for the small city that ”lay on low ground facing the sea subject to hurricanes and utterly unsuitable for vessels of large draft to dock at” as it was referred to in a 1915 editorial in the Army and Navy Journal.
Little did they know that Texas City would some day be suitable for the docking of large ships and barges to carry the multimillion-dollar products that today stream from the numerous oil refineries and chemical plants.
W.P. Tarpey Sr. was the city’s first mayor. He was elected at the same time incorporation was approved along with Frank B. Davison and H.M. Coats the first city commissioners. The three were re-elected in April 1912.
Tarpey resigned on Dec. 2 1912 after serving 14 12 months and J.R. Goodson was appointed mayor until April 7 1914.
Goodson didn’t enter the 1914 race in which W.W. Insley defeated Carl Nessler Sr. for the mayor’s post. The incumbent commissioners didn’t run for re-election either and their jobs were won by John G. Terry and George E. Whitney.
Nessler came back in 1916 to run uncontested taking all but two write-in votes that went to Insley and H.B. Emken. This was the first of two times that Nessler would be mayor of Texas City and before he was finished he served the city a total of 18 years in that position.
Terry and Whitney didn’t run for re-election that year and C.P. Paul and Henry U. Kilgore won over two other candidates.
The slate of Nessler Paul and Kilgore ran uncontested in the 1918 election that saw the smallest voter turnout in the city’s history. Nessler received 43 votes and Paul and Kilgore got 44 votes each.
The three men were re-elected again in 1920 and 1922. Then in 1924 all three declined to run.
That year S.T. Walker won a close race with E.L. Noble for the mayor’s chair and J.E. Edgar and D.L. Grant ran unopposed for the commissioner positions.
In 1926 Noble came back to defeat Walker in the mayor’s race Grant was re-elected and H.R. Bennett polled the largest vote to unseat Edgar.
Noble Grant and Bennett were re-elected in 1923 and 1930. Then some interesting developments occurred that eventually saw Carl Nessler Sr. back in the mayor’s job this time for 10 years.
Bennett resigned as commissioner on Jan. 1 1931 because he was moving from Texas City and W.P. Tarpey Sr. the city’s first mayor was appointed to his position.
A little more than a year later Jan. 11 1932 Grant resigned because he too was moving from the city. M.E. Agee was appointed to the commission post.
Then on March 21 1932 Noble resigned to be appointed to the Galveston County Commissioners Court and Nessler was named mayor of Texas City.
Nessler Tarpey and Agee ran unopposed in 1932 and 1934.
Nessler Elected Mayor
In 1936 Nessler handily defeated C.H. Meyers for the mayor’s post while the two commissioners again were unopposed.
All three were unopposed in 1938 and in 1940 Nessler defeated Dee Walker and Agee was again re-elected. Tarpey chose not to run for re-election and W. C. Steed won the race for his seat on the commission.
Nessler was defeated by E.A. Johnson almost 2-to-1 in 1942 the last time he ran for mayor. L.A. Robinson was the top vote-getter in the commissioners’ race. Steed was re-elected. This was the first of three times Robinson served on the commission.
Mayor Johnson defeated challenger W.J. Peterson in 1944 while Steed and Robinson held off three opponents to be re-elected.
The 1946 election marked the initiation of a new election system and institution of a larger commission. The new arrangement called for the major to be elected on even-numbered years and four commissioners to be elected to alternating two-year terms with two commissioners being elected each year.
J.C. Trahan came marching home from World War II to capture the mayor’s post in the newly formulated commission by ousting Johnson with an almost three to one plurality.
L.C. DeWalt and J.A. Matthews top two vote getters in the commissioners’ race were elected to two-year terms while W.P. Voiles and W.P. Ludwig being the next two in number of votes were elected to one-year terms.
Commissioner Killed In TC Disaster
Ludwig and Voiles were re-elected to two year terms on April 1 1947 but 15 days later Voiles was killed in explosions that rocked the city’s dock area in what was to become known as the Texas City Disaster that claimed at least 578 lives.
W.C. Steed was appointed to the commission and about three months later on July 25 he was appointed mayor after Trahan resigned to run an unsuccessful race for the U.S. Congress.
On Aug. 23 1947 Steed was unopposed for mayor in a special election and polled 752 votes.
W.P. Tarpey Jr. won a special election to fill the vacated commissioner position on Oct. 11 1947 by receiving 438 votes to top seven other candidates. He served continuously until 1958 and later served another two-year term.
L.A. Robinson outpolled Steed and J.A. Matthews in 1948 to get into the mayor’s office a position he held until 1956. Bert E. Conely and Charles L. Vance unseated DeWalt and outdistanced four others challengers for commissioner places that year.
The only recall attempt in Texas City’s history occurred in December 1948 when some citizens circulated petitions calling for the removal of Robinson Conely and Vance. Although court hearings were initiated in early 1949 to determine the validity of the petitions the recall election was never held.
Ludwig and Tarpey were re-elected in 1949 beating out three challengers and two others who received write-in votes.
Mayor Robinson won re-election in a close race against L.D. Godard in 1950 and handily beat W. P. Tarpey and J. C. Trahan. H. K. ”Griz” Eckert and Carl A. Rust succeeded in unseating Conely and Vance by beating them and two other opponents in the commissioners’ race that year.
Tarpey held onto his commissioner post in 1951 while Ludwig lost to Burris F. Babin. Vance and Conely ran third and fourth respectively in that race.
Robinson withstood a strong challenge by W.C. Steed in the 1952 mayoral race while Charles L. Vance unseated Eckert and Rust was re-elected to the commission. A scattering of votes went to 13 other commissioner candidates most of them write-ins.
Change In Charter
The election system changed again when charter amendments were approved in September 1952 calling for two commissioners to be elected for one-year terms in April 1953.
”On the first Tuesday in April 1954 and on the first Tuesday in April of each even year thereafter a mayor and four commissioners shall be elected” the amendment read. The mayor and commissioners were to be elected to two-year terms with commissioners running an at-large race.
Tarpey and Babin were elected to the one-year terms in 1953 when they defeated challengers Grady G. Martin C.R. Johnson and M.A. Williams.
In 1954 Commissioner Rust made an unsuccessful bid for mayor and Robinson was again re-elected. Tarpey and Vance held onto their commission posts as A.B. Waggoner and Foster Jones were elected beating out six other candidates that included Jack Lawrence who was later to be elected a county commissioner.
W.J. ”Jack” Godard outpolled Robinson for the mayor’s job in 1956 with a campaign accenting ”something for the youth” that featured many supporters not yet old enough to vote.
Tarpey and Jones were re-elected that year while Emmett F. Lowry and Gail G. Bradley made their debut in city politics by beating Vance and Waggoner and six other candidates.
Godard continued to hold a substantial edge over Robinson in the 1958 mayor’s race and Walter Holland slipped past Tarpey by 96 votes for a seat on the commission. Lowry Bradley and Jones were re-elected.
In 1960 it was L.A. Robinson’s turn again as he outpolled Godard to regain the mayor’s office. W.P. Tarpey Jr. garnered more votes than any other candidate to regain a commission seat and Holland was re-elected.
Lowry didn’t run for re-election that year as Charlie Lerman and Noah J. Welch unseated Bradley and Jones.
Hot Politics In The 1960s
There were 17 active candidates for commissioner posts in 1960 the most for any election in the city’s history.
Commissioner Holland made a successful bid for mayor in 1962 defeating Robinson by more than two to one. Welch was re-elected Carl A. Rust and Gail G. Bradley again gained places on the commission and former Mayor W.J. ”Jack” Godard was elected commissioner with more votes than any other candidate.
In 1964 Emmett F. Lowry polled 5066 votes (the largest number received by any candidate in any city election) to beat out a bid by Godard to return to the mayor’s office.
C.T. ”Chuck” Doyle won the commission chair vacated by Godard that year to become at 29 the youngest man ever elected to the commission. Welch Bradley and Rust were again re-elected.
The commission elected in 1964 was re-elected to a man in 1966 1968 and 1970. Lowry was unopposed in 1966 and 1968 and held off a bid for the mayor’s post in 1970 by John H. Place.
Four challengers unsuccessfully sought places on the commission in 1966 two tried it in 1968 and nine men made bids to unseat the well-entrenched foursome in 1970. But Doyle Bradley Welch and Rust held doggedly to their positions.
In 1972 Bradley Doyle and Welch held onto their seats while Carl Rust was outpolled by Emken Linton. Rust completed his tenure with 10 years on the commission.
The next several years changed both the composition and the format of city elections. Commission candidates were required for the first time in the city’s history to file for election to four specific positions rather than all running at-large. The four candidates with the highest vote totals for each position were declared winners.
Gail Bradley did not run in 1974 ending his tenure on the commission at 12 years. Noah Welch and C.T. Doyle held off single opponents for Position 1 and Position 4 respectively while Emken Linton outpolled two opponents for Position 2 and D.D. Haney Jr. joined the commission with a solid win over five opponents. Emmett Lowry easily stayed in the mayor’s chair.
In 1976 the commission returned to an at-large system. C.T. Doyle Welch Linton and Haney were re-elected by convincing margins and Mayor Lowry was unopposed.
The 1978 election installed a system that has lasted for more than three decades. Two at-large candidates now sit on the commission with four candidates elected from districts that roughly represent the north south east and west areas of the city.
That year Mayor Lowry again was unopposed. Haney and Doyle were re-elected to the at-large positions while Linton and Welch declined to run. Thomas F. Carter defeated three others for District 1 Dick Wiley topped six opponents in District 2 Lynn Ellison won District 3 against two others and F. Ted Dudley captured District 4 over two opponents.
Carter and Ellison were the first African-Americans elected to the city commission. While both were sworn in on the same day Carter was sworn in first so he technically holds the title as first African-American to serve on the city commission.
Re-elected in 1980 along with Mayor Lowry were at-large commissioners Haney and Doyle and District Commissioners Carter (1) Ellison (3) and Dudley (4). Billie Moore defeated Wiley and two others for the District 2 seat.
In 1982 Doyle didn’t choose to run and closed his first tenure on the commission with 18 years of service. His at-large position was won by Bobby Earle and H. Frank Simpson was elected by District 4 voters when Dudley tried to move to an at-large position. Mayor Lowry and Commissioners Haney Carter Moore and Ellison were re-elected.
The 1984 election saw Lowry re-elected mayor as F. Ted Dudley joined Haney as an at-large commissioner. Moore fought off a challenger while Carter Ellison and Simpson were unopposed.
A month after the election Ted Dudley’s death required a special election Aug. 11 in which Carlos Garza won the at-large seat over 10 opponents.
In November 1985 Moore resigned and Dorothy Curbello was appointed to complete the District 2 term.
All of the incumbents were re-elected in 1986 with the exception of Curbello who lost the District 2 seat to Carl D. Sullivan. In 1988 each incumbent was re-elected by a wide margin.
End Of Lowry Era
On Aug. 17 1989 Mayor Emmett F. Lowry died in office. His quarter century of service is the longest tenure of any elected city official since Texas City was incorporated in 1911. At-Large Commissioner D.D. Haney Jr. was appointed mayor and Dorothy Curbello was appointed to his seat on the commission.
Former at-large Commissioner C.T. ”Chuck” Doyle was elected mayor in 1990 over Haney Bill Chuoke and Glenn Erwin. All of the incumbent commissioners were re-elected except for Curbello who was replaced by Harold L. Fattig Jr.
Thomas F. Carter’s 14-year tenure ended in 1992 when we was defeated by Connie Jackson in District 1. Mayor Doyle and the five remaining commissioner were re-elected handily.
Garza and Fattig declined to run in 1994 and the at-large positions were won by Randy Dietel and Larry Edrozo. Mayor C.T. Doyle Jackson Sullivan Ellison and Simpson held onto their seats.
Fattig rejoined the commission in an at-large position in 1996 as Edrozo the mayor and four other incumbents were re-elected. All of the district incumbents were unopposed.
In 1998 the entire commission was re-elected with Sullivan the only incumbent without opposition.
End Of Doyle Era
C.T. Doyle declined to run in 2000 as Carlos Garza captured the mayor’s job by nearly doubling the votes of his closest opponent. Doyle’s son Matthew T. Doyle beat out Fattig for an at-large position while Dedrick D. Johnson. Sr. won the District 3 seat in his second attempt and Hugh L. Landrum won the District 4 seat. Edrozo Jackson and Sullivan were re-elected.
Connie Jackson didn’t run in 2002 and the only new commissioner was Donald B. Singleton who replaced her in District 1. Mayor Garza Edrozo Matt Doyle Sullivan Johnson and Landrum were re-elected. Garza Sullivan and Landrum were unopposed.
In 2004 the mayor and all four of the district incumbents were re-elected while Dee Ann Haney and Mike Land were elected to the at-large positions over five other opponents. Singleton Johnson and Landrum were unopposed.
On Nov. 2 2005 Rick Wilkenfeld who had previously tried to be elected commissioner in 1998 was appointed to replace District 4 Commissioner Hugh Landrum who resigned.
In the 2006 election Tommy Clark beat Les Green for the District 4 seat while Mayor Matt Doyle and the remaining commissioners were reseated without opposition.
Carl Sullivan declined to run in 2008 and the District 2 position was won by J.W. ”Scooter” Wilson Jr. The mayor and the five remaining commissioners were re-elected. Johnson and Clark had no opposition.
On Sept. 16 2009 Rick Wilkenfeld was once again appointed to the District 4 position after Tommy Clark resigned.
In 2010 neither the mayor nor any of the commissioners drew any opposition so the entire slate of incumbents was officially certified as being unopposed and therefore elected and the election was canceled.
Emmett F. Lowry had the longest tenure of any Texas City mayor serving from 1964 until his death in 1989 — 25 years. Carl Nessler Sr. ranked second with 12 years from 1916 to 1924.
Lynn Ray Ellison holds the record for the most number of years as a commissioner with 22 years from 1978 to 2000. W.P. Tarpey Jr. had 20 years service (1931-40 and 1947-58). Noah J. Welch 1960-78; H. Frank Simpson 1982-2000; and Carl D. Sullivan 1986-2008 each had 18 years of service on the commission.
These 18 mayors and 52 commissioners all contributed in some measure to Texas City ”Port of Opportunity” on Galveston Bay.
Jerry Cooper lives in Bryan.