When R. L. Thomas agreed in 1938 to take charge of the almost defunct Citizens Charter Association or CCA, it was thought by many to be dead already. Weakened by its two successive defeats at the polls, it was without funds and had only a cubbyhole in the Santa Fe Building for headquarters. In a meeting with business leaders, Thomas asked for pledges on the spot for enough funds to revitalize the association and run its 1939 campaign. Among those attending was banker R. L. Thornton (later a four-term mayor of Dallas). He said he first wanted to know who would be named on the ticket, as he was not accustomed to backing undisclosed entries in a horse race. Thomas simplified the matter by replying that he was naming Thornton on the nominating committee.
By this time the council-manager system was under open attack, with George W. Owens, a leading businessman, as its most potent critic. He started circulating petitions for a charter amendment election to scrap the city manager ,plan in favor of a strong mayor system.
Thomas correctly sensed that the first emergency task was to rally citywide support of the system inaugurated in 1931. Among his chief lieutenants in a spirited fight to save the city manager plan were former Councilman M. J. Norrell, E. O. Cartwright, O. D. Brundidge, Mrs. Kirk Hall, and W. H. Painter. By the time the 1939 campaign opened, the fight to retain the council-manager system appeared to have been won. Owens abandoned his plan for an election to change it. Attention could now be turned to growing public dissatisfaction with the incumbent administration of Mayor George A. Sprague, especially after disclosures of petty graft affecting the park department were causing serious repercussions.
Suddenly the question of major improvements at Fair Park broke loose on the eve of the campaign. The Dallas Citizens Council asked for renovation of Fair Park Auditorium (today’s Fair Park Music Hall), but it was opposed by Park Board President Jim Dan Sullivan. “All of the big businessmen and civic leaders want an auditorium built downtown,” said Sullivan. “And I don’t see any use in throwing more money into that rat hole [of the Fair Park Auditorium].”
Then on February 16 a new city party announced itself, the Nonpartisan Citizens Association, headed by Jack Burroughs. It offered a slate of nine candidates. It was promptly followed by another new party, the Progressive Civic Association, with Tony Brignardello as chairman and former District Judge R. B. Allen as president. It also offered a full slate of nominees.
Charter Association speakers branded both newcomers as only divergent wings of the old Catfish Club. CCA Manager Thomas said that both represented “the same old gang of politicians” who would destroy the council-manager system and reinstate the spoils system at the city hall, At this point George Lintner, a young attorney who had served as “public defender” in city corporation court under Mayor J. Waddy Tate, anounced the Plain Peoples’ Party. Its avowed aim was outright scrapping of the city manager plan in Dallas.
CCA prospects now hinged on its ability to offer the strongest possible ticket in the April election. Thomas insisted that a completely fresh slate of candidates be offered, none of whom had ever held any city office. A forty-eight-year-old attorney and retiring president of the Dallas Bar Association, Woodall Rodgers, was one selection. Another was Ben E. Cabe11, Jr., son and grandson of two former mayors, Ben E. Cabe11, Sr. and Gen. W. L. Cabe11. Other nominees were Hal Noble, R. D. Suddarth, Bennett H. Stamps, C. P. Haines, W. B. Johnson, L. L. Hiegel, and M. M. Straus.
The campaign swung into action with three full slates of nine men each and eight independents. Under Thomas’s drive, the CCA campaign was carried into every section of Dallas. Rabbi David Lefkowitz, Earl B. Smyth, noted Baptist leader, and Mrs. Kirk Hall were stalwarts among the score of speakers. When the ballots were counted on election night, it was seen that the Citizens Charter Association had won a smashing victory, without a single runoff, in the field of thirty-five candidates.
The new council chose Woodall Rodgers mayor and Ben E. Cabell, Jr. mayor pro tern. Thomas was lauded by the newspapers, which had unanimously supported the CCA ticket, for the brilliant and astute way in which he had managed the campaign. At a victory dinner, Mayor Rodgers declared that “credit for the Charter victory goes largely to R. L. Thomas, the hard-working president who has given his entire time for two months” to the Charter Association.
Thomas was to remain as president of CCA during the next eight years, or through the four elected terms of Mayor Rodgers. The Charter Association was unopposed the next time up in 1941, and it has retained its majority position in every election since then.
Other Dallas mayor history can be found here.