After years of being administered by a board of five trustees, San Diego had, in 1887, chartered the election of a mayor and a council and set the election for November. Two parties emerged to run candidates. The first party, the Citizens, was composed of "genuine San Diegans." These men had settled San Diego and believed the boom threatened the quiet of the city and the quality of its civic life. The other party, the Workingmen, were the newcomers, men looking for work and men looking to invest in land and to open new businesses. The Citizens dubbed them "carpetbaggers," a post-Civil War term that referred to anyone whose profit motive might destroy what the "genuine" San Diegans held dear.
The mayoral candidate of the Citizens' party was D.C. Reed, an elegant Victorian and bewhiskered insurance salesman. The Workingmen put up William Jefferson Hunsaker, a portly, campaign-loving lawyer who had worked in Tombstone, Arizona, where he had defended vigilantes. The story of their campaigns comes to us from two newspapers. The Daily San Diegan, which supported the interests of laborers, backed Hunsaker and the Workingmen. The San Diego Union, the paper of capital, which opposed labor's desire to unionize, aligned with Reed and the Citizens. Both papers practiced the sensational style of the late 1800s called yellow journalism. During election season, the front pages were full of vituperative attacks against the candidate the rival paper was backing. The papers were as wild as the West and as bellicose as the boom. With few graphics, their table-size pages, either four or eight in number, featured tiny print and airless columns. The columns changed willy-nilly from city hall news to gossip, help wanted ads, ship arrivals, and letters from tourists.
In September, the quarreling between the two parties was launched when the Daily San Diegan published the Workingmen's platform. The laborers wanted a larger share of the wealth and profit their bosses were reaping; they believed their "producing interests...should be of first consideration in the legislation pertaining to the city government"; and they called for businesses to hire native-born workers instead of foreign-born, namely, the Chinese who had arrived by the thousands throughout California during the 1880s.
The Union didn't print the Citizens' platform but, rather, declared that by voting for the Workingmen, investors and workers would lose their money. In one story, the paper said "idle capital" was lying in the vault of a "leading banker" and that several big depositors had refused to "make any large investments in city property or improvements unless the Citizens' ticket should be elected." The Daily San Diegan responded that it would "produce twenty-five reputable, legitimate real estate men" who'd prove that land sales were increasing. The list of men included the McGarvin brothers, who held that articles in the Union "would have no effect on people of brains."
Next, on the front page, the Union printed a visitor's letter. The man warned that with Hunsaker's election, San Diego would become like Chicago, "an object of terror to other cities on account of the domination there of brutal, dastardly hordes of law-defying, bomb-throwing Anarchists and Socialists." He was referring to the 1886 riot in Haymarket Square: seven policemen had been killed by a bomb while fighting strikebreakers. The letter implied that San Diego's Workingmen would, if elected, unionize, strike, and, if necessary, riot.
The Daily San Diegan accused the Union of labeling the Workingmen "an irresponsible mob of Stingaree gutter snipes" and Mr. Hunsaker "the friend and bosom companion of drunkards, blacklegs, and thieves." Attorney Hunsaker had defended "saloon criminals, the denizens of Chinatown and other disreputables." The paper also reminded its readers that the Citizens had bought votes during an earlier primary election "wherever they could find wretches low enough.... They bought whisky by the barrel and pumped it into their rotten and degraded followers with a hose, until many of them became noisy, reeling drunk, and on the public street were indiscreet enough to show and boast how much they had been paid" by the Citizens' party.
The Union trotted out its moral servant, Reverend Harwood, pastor of the First Congregational Church. On the Sunday prior to election day, the paper printed his "political sermon": "The tendency of life in the cities is downward.... All the institutions of sin and evil are there. The saloons are there. The houses of ill-fame are there. The gambling places there. The vicious congregate there. Thieves ply their trades there.... Multitudes of the sons of the best families are corrupted by these things." To underscore the evil, the Union carried a story three columns to the right sympathetic to Harwood's claim. One of its headlines read, "How Men Are Made Captives and Robbed -- Dens of Vice on Second and Third Streets." Affixing salvation, the Golden Rule, and the love of Christ to the principles of citizenship and prosperity, Harwood made his truest feelings known: "I would not vote for the capitalists against labor, never; but I would vote for the people against the saloons, always." It was a careful bit of religious-cum-political rhetoric, designed to impugn the morality of the Workingmen.
Lost in all this "reporting" were comments by the two candidates, Hunsaker and Reed. At one point the Daily San Diegan quoted Reed as declaring with "his usual gusto and contempt for the laboring classes" that no workingman was fit to hold office. Little else, however, from either candidate was deemed attributable. Presumably candidates spoke on soapboxes in Horton Plaza. Presumably they said things that the newspapermen reasoned they could say better.
On November 9, across the Daily San Diegan's six front-page columns ran a graphic of six crowing roosters. "Hip. Hurrah!" "The Result." Of the men-only vote, Hunsaker received 1041; Reed, 867. At the bottom of the page, beneath a jab about the Union's mudslinging (the paper had enough "unused mud to start a brickyard"), was a rooster vomiting.
Although Hunsaker won, the majority of the new council were members of the Citizens' party. For 11 months Hunsaker and his conservative opponents stalemated: his every proposal was turned back, he stopped attending meetings, and he resigned in November 1888. With the Citizens controlling the council and the boom faltering, the Workingmen disbanded.