The Battered Boss of Windsor

GERALD ANGLIN March 15 1951

The Battered Boss of Windsor

GERALD ANGLIN March 15 1951

The Battered Boss of Windsor


Handsome Arthur Reaume wooed and won his lusty city for five terms as mayor, then her ardor cooled after a succession of scandals and investigations. But Reaume is back for a sixth term, slightly shaken after waiting 33 days for Windsor to say “Yes” again — by 16 votes


ARTHUR J. REAUME, a boyish, brash but not un bloodied politician of 44, has been mayor of Windsor, Ont., continuously for 10 years and two-and-a-half months excepting eight days last January when he was temporarily evicted in as cockeyed and bitter a political battle as ever beset a Canadian community.

A bustling bordertown of 121,000 under the stony frown of Detroit’s skyscrapers, Windsor elected Art Reaume mayor for his sixth successive term last Dec. 6. But nobody knew for sure who was mayor and who wasn’t for 33 days of tortuous suspense. On election night after the polls closed the balance teetered between Reaume and his hard-scrapping opponent, ex-newspaperman Tom

Brophey, every time another of the city’s 187 subdivisions was heard from.

At 3 a.m. Reaume delivered a victory speech when “unofficial returns” showed him elected by 36 votes. At 3.25 a.m. Tom Brophey delivered his victory speech over the same CKLW microphone when “official and final” returns from city hall declared him elected by 171 votes. Before noon a jangling telephone jerked Brophey from exhausted slumber to tell him City Hall had checked its arithmetic and cut his majority to 129 — no, wait a minute, 38. Reaume promptly demanded a recount and Windsor’s trial by suspense had begun.

For, instead of releasing tensions piled up during 10 years in which the Reaume administration had been battered by a war boom, a 99-day strike, a tornado and a series of sensational civic investigations, the indecisive election simply heightened

them. The battle moved from the polls to the courts, where Reaume got a Windsor judge to order a recount and Brophey won an injunction from a Toronto judge to stop the recount.

On Dec. 29, two days before his term ran out, Mayor Reaume got city council to order a recount. Mayor Tom Brophey was sworn in on Jan. 1 but spent most of his brief stay at City Hall watching three judges conduct a recount during which his 38-vote victory dwindled dismally to a 16-vote defeat.

Tight-jawed from the strain, Reaume was sworn in to succeed his own successor on Jan. 8. He fled across the river to Detroit for the night with his attractive wife and daughter to escape the pent-up adulation of his followers, but he seemed to be his debonair, wise-cracking self when he returned to City Hall to sign a cheque for a month’s salary to Tom Brophey for his eight days in office. In private, however, Reaume revealed himself shaken by the bitter uprush of feeling among Windsor’s aroused citizens which had all but swept him out of office.

The first time he was sworn in, 10 years ago, Art Reaume declared: “I want to be mayor for all classes of people.” After he had been sworn in for the sixth time last January he was asking: “Why do people hate me so?”

Following the 99-day Ford strike of 1945, which made him a hero to labor and unpopular with Windsor’s management and business class, Reaume liked to blame all opposition on anti-labor forces. But by 1951 it was plain that Reaume had split Windsor into two hostile camps, union men included. The fact was that fewer voters were for Reaume than against him, for the opposition vote had been split between Brophey and two also-ran candidates who polled 3,000 votes.

What had soured the long-standing love feast between the handsome, politically wise Reaume and his native city? Reaume, who stands 5 ft. 10 ins. and weighs a trim 160, has an infectious smile and so much offhand charm that many Windsorites call him “our Jimmy Walker.” Last year when he sent out 150 invitations for a party at his home to celebrate his daughter’s graduation as a nurse, 300 friends turned up. “I was worn out pouring drinks after the fellow I hired to tend bar passed out,” he later remarked with some pride.

The Reaume personality is embossed by a ready wit. In spite of a slight stammer he’s a confident speaker, prepared or impromptu. He once talked a boisterous crew of teen-agers into going back to school after they went on strike. “If you land in jail,” he greets visiting conventioners, “just call me.”

But worldly wisecracks have backfired lately in a city which has come to wince at mere mention of such words as “police enquiry,” “vice probe” and “royal commission.”

Three times in four years Windsor’s police commission, of which Reaume is a member, has been forced by newspaper headlines and public opinion to probe the city’s police department for rumored laxity and graft. At least three times Ontario’s provincial government has sent trained sleuths to investigate charges that racing handbooks, bootleggers and bawdy houses operate wide open in Windsor.

At one point Detroit Police Commissioner George

Boos charged Windsor with harboring the regional headquarters of an underground racing wire which had been driven from Detroit, and he suggested Windsor could rout out this bookies’ information centre if it wanted to. Finally two Ontario provincial police inspectors turned in a report which rocked the roof.

They said they found “a lack of confidence by citizens in the existing law enforcement agencies” and reported “ugly rumors about members of the morality squad.” They declared that the activities of a notorious bootlegger “must have been known to numerous officers of the department and yet nothing was done.” And

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they confirmed a tie-up between Windsor bookies and a “big-time gangster syndicate in the States,” which, they said, had already resulted in the abrupt disappearance of two men and the revenge shooting of a third.

This broughtswiftaction by Ontario’s attorney-general Dana Porter. The Essex County crown attorney was retired, along with two out of three members of the Windsor Police Commission. Then the new commission held an enquiry of its own and retired both the chief of police and his deputy.

This left “Li’l Arthur, the Playboy Mayor”—ascantankerous Windsor Star columnist Dick Harrison calls Reaume — just about the only familiar face in sight. “By statute the mayor, so long as he holds office, must remain as a police commissioner,” the attorneygeneral noted, “so his retirement is out of the question.”

$11,000 to Probe a Ball

If not retired Reaume was certainly retiring throughout the departmental investigation conducted by the new commission; he had scarcely a word to say. This behavior contrasted sharply with his reaction to a royal commission which investigated the affairs of the city-owned Metropolitan General Hospital in 1949.

The hospital investigation arose flaming out of a photographers’ ball in Detroit attended by several hundred people including the hospital superintendent, Horace E. Atkin, his old friend and a member of the hospital board of governors, Arthur J. Reaume, and four Metropolitan nurses.

The probe cost Windsor $11,000, filled columns and columns of the Windsor Star over a period of seven months, and avid taxpayers pronounced it worth every penny and every word.

Judge Eric W. Cross, the one-man royal commission, concluded that “the evidence discloses no improprieties, no immoderation of food or drink, no light amours, no scenes of passion. To the scandal seekers it was almost unbelievably dull.”

However, Judge Cross declared that “it was improper and indiscreet for . . . two married men to entertain unchaperoned in a suite in a Detroit hotel four nurses from the hospital where one was the chief executive officer and the other a member of the board of governors.”

The judge recommended the firing of the superintendent and a reorganized board which would no longer include the mayor. Both recommendations were adopted. However, he pointed out that while he had criticized Reaume’s conduct as a member of the hospital board “I have refrained from comment as to his conduct as mayor. As to what standards the citizens of Windsor expect from their mayor it is for them to pass upon.”

The mayor’s social life was exposed to publicity in the hospital flare-up, but his business interests also brought discussion once in city council.

Fireworks at City Hall

The year before last Reaume and his brother Ernie built a $160,000 bowling alley and snack bar, called the Campus, on Wyandotte St. W. Businesswise, the location was ideal—right at the entrance to the Ambassador bridge and nudging the Assumption College playground. When it transpired that

Windsor’s proud new zoning ordinance prohibited all commercial building in the area the bylaw was amended to change the Campus site from a “green area” to “C3”—the lowest commercial classification.

“I didn’t even know about it myself until council had passed it along with a list of other changes,” said one of the staff of the Windsor Area Planning Board. The matter caused brief fireworks in city council when Controller Ernie Atkinson declared, “Why, you could bowl one through the back wall into somebody’s living room!”

After the hospital probe Dick Harrison thundered in his “Now” column in the Star: “Li’l Arthur’s meteoric course has definitely come to an end. Bright, personable, clever, suave, handsome, willing to shake hands with everybody ... he has represented Windsor as it was. Representing Windsor as it is, however, is somebody else’s job.”

Prophet Harrison must have nodded his head sagely when 1950’s police probe broke on top of 1949’s hospital scandal, but came election day in December and Li’l Arthur’s meteoric ride missed the ditch by 16 votes. Apparently Windsor-as-it-is isn’t yet quite a match for Windsor-as-it-was.

Windsor is a patchwork of religious and racial minorities. Economically, the city that has manufactured 3,370,000 motor cars recognizes a clear division between management and labor. Politically, it is at one and the same time a compact Canadian community and a sliver-sized suburb of a booming Ameiican metropolis.

Friends Across the Border

The inhabitants of this border melting pot seem to realize that they must get along together to survive, and in none is this instinct surer than in Art Reaume. By birth he is almost a symbol of racial and religious equality. His father was of French Catholic extraction, his mother’s family English Protestant. “My brother Ernie’s an Anglican!” declares the mayor with delight, “and I’m a Mick ”

Reaume’s political footwork keeps him in step with all factions—at least most of the time. Raised in a workingclass district, he can preside urbanely at the opening of Birks’ new diamond shop, but he’s the best picket the unions have when there’s a strike. He reacted with horror once when a political opponent suggested Canadians would like to join the United States, but he extends an untiring hand-across-theborder. Both the mayor of Detroit and the governor of Michigan were among the guests in Reaume’s suite at the photographers’ ball.

The river that glides between Windsor and Detroit looks about as wide as Winnipeg’s Portage Ave., and slowmoving lake freighters seem to elbow their way between the buildings as they head through town from Lake Huron to Lake Erie. Every day Windsorites and Detroiters visit back and forth—calling on relatives, attending each other’s colleges, shopping in each other’s stores. Many smuggle cigarettes from the States to Canada and a few smuggle high-graders’ gold the other way. Culture seekers cross the border to attend the theatre and concert hall, the entertainment-hungry to sample each other’s night clubs and bars, the sinful to patronize bookie joints, bootleggers and brothels. In its illicit aspects trade of late years is reported to be largely in Windsor’s favor.

Having a muscular, wealthy Yank for a big brother makes Reaume’s city industrious, confident and hungry for uplift as well as fun.

Windsor boasts the highest average

pay-cheques in Canada and, instead of the usual rural-flavored fall fair, the city holds an annual industrial exhibition to spotlight the things it makes—penicillin, paints, playing cards and dozens of other things besides motor cars.

Windsor has a boys’ choir which is annually featured in Detroit’s choral festival and this city stages a lively music festival of its own every spring. A determined symphony orchestra and a hard-working Little Theatre group flourish. Art and handicraft lectures draw good crowds.

Windsor is also expansive, easygoing and tolerant. The housewife who draws your attention to the finer features of the city’s life (“Writers never bother with these things!”), a moment later breaks into a chuckle. “But say,” she exclaims, “I must tell you about yesterday when I went to the door to pay the bootlegger for the beer. I call the bootlegger, you see, because he gives faster delivery than brewers’ retail. Well, as he went back to his car I saw a policeman sitting right in the front seat, riding around with him!”

From the window of his downtown office a businessman waves a hand

4) and Sandwich (Ward 5). All had defaulted their bonds early in the depression and the five-way marriage was blessed with a dowry debt of $36 millions. War and postwar prosperity has permitted the Reaume administration to pay off all but $16 millions. This has required strait - jacket financing which doesn’t permit any luxuries.

Among other things, Windsor economics account for the patched-up state of most Windsor streets. Over these the mayor’s sporty black Ford bobbles as he heads north down Ouellette— Bordertown’s main street—and then turns right along the riverfront for a swing through the east end. Here the first settlers marked out their long narrow farms soon after Cadillac founded his French fur-trading post on the other side in 1701 and called it Detroit. But it wasn’t till 1904, when Henry Ford crossed the river to set up a Canadian branch factory to make his Model T, that Windsor got a firm grip on the future.

The mayor’s Ford noses along the edge of Ford’s 240 acres (129,000 cars and trucks a year, 14,260 employees, annual payroll $44 millions) in what was first called Ford City and later ] East Windsor, before it became Ward j 1. Here occurred one of the greatest crises of Reaume’s career when, in 1945, the police commission of the day —Mayor Reaume dissenting—called in 250 provincial police and Mounties during the 99-day auto workers’ strike.

toward the Detroit tunnel entrance and says: “We’ve always taken our children across the river to see a show on Sunday. Why should we be hypocrites when we’re on this side?” Windsor has no Sunday shows but voted two years ago for Sunday sport.

Ina Windsor dining lounge the waiter almost never expects you to order food with your cocktail (as required by law) unless you’re really hungry. Licensed roadhouses outside town will serve you a highball with your Sunday dinner— another infraction.

“But, hell!” says the same businessman, “I can’t remember a time when Windsor didn’t have easy drinks, horse parlors and a few bawdyhouses. We never used to think there was much harm in it. But I’ll admit I don’t like these reports about Windsor getting mixed up with ‘ big-time gangster syndicates’ or these rumors of graft.”

“These reports,” plus the recent series of investigations and retirements of public officials, have set more and more Windsorites wondering just how tolerant a city can get and stay healthy. And this mounting feeling has inevitably been directed against the man who as mayor must assume final responsibility for civic morals as well as civic administration.

Art Reaume’s Windsor was created by a provincial act of 1935 which amalgamated the four “border cities” of East Windsor (Ward 1), Walkerville (Ward 2), Windsor (Wards 3 and

“Canada Belongs to All”

In protest the strikers barricaded the plant with 1,000 cars. Windsor police couldn’t break the blockade and Mayor Reaume conjured up such visions of riot and bloodshed should outsiders take a hand that Ontario and Dominion governments scarcely let the Provin ials and Mounties step outside their makeshift Windsor barracks.

Three days later the strikers were talked into abandoning the traffic blockade, with Art Reaume doing much of the talking, and both sides agreed to arbitration. This led to settlement of the strike by the famous Rand formula for union security.

That was when the United Automobile Workers made Reaume an honorary member and that’s why the three UAW locals have always solidly endorsed Reaume’s election—with some signs of revolt in 1950. Windsor businessmen sometimes feel that Reaume in turn endorses organized labor too wholeheartedly. Once, speaking to an auto workers’ rally, Reaume declared, “You know, I’m not just with you fellows when you’re right. I’m with you even if you’re only one-third right.”

Driving along Drouillard Road be>side Ford’s, Reaume points out a Russian, a Serbian and a Ukrainian club, then a Russian Orthodox Church and a Rumanian Baptist church, all within a few blocks. “I must have laid a hundred cornerstones around here,” he reflects.

On such occasions Reaume woos Windsor’s nationalist fractions with a constantly reiterated theme: “Canada belongs not only to the people who were born here, but also to the people who have come from many lands to help build a new land.”

Windsor is 52% Protestant, 48% Roman Catholic; 59% of her people are British in origin, while 18%—like the mayor—have French blood. Few speak French any more; nor can the mayor. However, he is equally at home speaking in English to groups of Windsor’s Poles, Italians, Germans, Ukrainians, Rumanians, Hungarians, Czechs and Finns. Windsor’s handful 'if Negroes presented Mayor Reaume

with a plaque for giving colored people equal opportunity in civil service after he pushed the appointment of James Watson as city solicitor.

Idling through the tree-lined residential streets of old Walkerville, where the late Hiram Walker built his distillery 92 years ago, Reaume says, “This is Ward 2 where I don’t do so well.” On Tecumseh Boulevard the black Ford unselfconsciously skirts the recently expanded Chrysler plant. “I turn my car in every three years and alternate between a Ford and a Plymouth”Reaume explains the political facts of life in a city dominated by two big car makers.

Quick Profit on Land Deals

Back downtown on Ouellette Avenue the mayor leaves the business section again to head west; by the time the car has flashed beneath the graceful span of the Ambassador bridge Reaume is on his home ground Ward 5, old Sandwich. Here is the Campus bowling alley, managed by brother Ernie and where the mayor is sometimes seen on Sunday setting up sodas. Here is the comfortable home on Rosedale Avenue which Art built for his young wife and baby daughter in 1932 for $5,700, depression price. Farther out Sandwich St., at McKee Road, almost at the town’s western limits, is the place where Art was born in 1906 in his dad’s Brighton Beach Hotel.

Reaume’s mother died when he was 18 months old but he found almost a second mother in the wife of a Michigan lumber baron named Yawkey, who bought up huge chunks of the Sandwich waterfront for a summer estate. Mrs. Yawkey used to take young Reaume on trips, helped him finance his schooling at Assumption College in Windsor and St. Jerome’s in Kitchener.

At 20 Reaume set up in the real estate and insurance business and was soon combining business with local politics. By 27 he was the “Boy Mayor of Sandwich.” At 34, five years after amalgamation of the border cities, he moved into his present job which pays him $6,500.

On the business side Reaume inherited a few pieces of property after the death of his father in 1934 and gradually left off acting as a sales agent to buy and sell on his own behalf. His boyhood benefactors, the Yawkeys, had died some years previously and for a time Reaume acted as their Canadian estate agent. After this agreement lapsed in 1935 he did occasional business with the heirs— son Tom Yawkey, owner of the Boston Red Sox, and his sister.

His smartest deal as a speculator was his 1946 purchase of a 61-acre lot which he bought from the Yawkeys for $6,280 on Jan. 7 and sold on Jan. 18 for $32,377 to Canadian Industries Ltd., which wanted to expand its adjoining salt fields. The Yawkeys sent a man from New York to investigate their holdings in Windsor and appointed a real-estate agent to handle future transactions.

Reaume in 1947 bought a gravel field adjoining the Yawkey property, which enclosed the corner lot on which the old Reaume hotel still stands—now the Westwood House. He paid a coal company $20,000 for the land. The following April the Ontario Hydro announced it was expropriating the Yawkey field as a site for a $21-million steam-generating plant; and in November, 1949, the Hydro also expropriated Reaume’s gravel field as a place to dump ashes from the steam plant’s furnaces.

When the Ontario Municipal Board held arbitration hearings to determine a fair price for Reaume’s ash dump the

mayor asked $44,000. In response to questioning by his own lawyer Reaume denied he had any inside knowledge of the coming of the new steam plant. The board finally awarded Reaume $24,945, but he is considering an appeal.

Mayor Reaume keeps the affairs of all five wards of his busy border city moving with snap and crackle from his big bright office in city hall, which occupies an 80-year-old former schoolhouse set in a quiet square downtown. He is assisted by a personal staff of three—a young war veteran who screens callers at the reception desk; a watchdog private secretary, Mrs. Agnes Block, who is as brisk and efficient as the boss himself; and a special trouble shooter on housing.

Housing has been a hot vote-getter ever since the great influx of war workers to Windsor’s vital factories jumped population 18,000, and Reaume has seldom missed an angle. He won favor with war workers by crying their housing needs to Ottawa until Windsor got Canada’s first government-financed housing units in the fall of 1941. Then he won new acclaim by defying the “war workers only” sign Ottawa hung on the development when he forced entry to the first two houses for the homeless families of two overseas soldiers. He staged the operation under cover of darkness and photographers’ flashbulbs which caught the mayor himself carrying one of the homeless waifs over the threshold.

Beating the Housing Drum

But the housing question later backfired. When the city was negotiating for more houses in 1947, Controller Tom Brophey urged that Windsor bargain for better tax terms instead of signing Ottawa’s first offer. Windsor elects half its council one year, the other half and a mayor the next, and this was an off-year in which Mayor Reaume wouldn’t have to defend his title. But Brophey was up for reelection and Reaume couldn’t resist the urge to beat the housing drum and perhaps oust an unruly controller whom he had at one time sponsored.

Reaume artfully painted housing as Windsor’s crying need, which it was, and smeared Brophey as housing’s greatest enemy, which he wasn’t. He knocked the controller right out of city hall.

But playing fast and loose with public questions has made Reaume more than one political enemy. Familyman Brophey had quit his Windsor Star job after 20 years to turn law student at 41, but he came back fighting as a candidate for mayor in 1948. He missed that time by only 2,500 votes and returned from law school for a second try in 1950.

Still Boss by 16 Ballots

Reaume headed a Windsor-wide labor slate and set up his campaign headquarters right in the offices of Local 200, the big Ford chapter of the U.A.W. On election day 200 cars paid for out of a $5,000 U.A.W. election fund drove voters to the polls.

But Tom Brophey had labor friends, too, who passed 5,000 “Vote Brophey” handbills along the assembly lines. A union steward at Ford drove the earless mayoralty candidate to election meetings in a beat-up V8.

Brophey also had non-union friends — citizens who volunteered to drive their own cars, and women from church and other clubs who spent hours telephoning and door knocking.

And when it was all over Art Reaume ended up still boss of bordertown—by 16 ballots out of 36,234. if