It was on June 25, 1937, that voters in the city of Tracy, for the first and only time, recalled a member of the City Council.
In turning Dr. J. Frank Doughty out of office a year after he had been elected, voters gave a signal that Tracy wasn’t about to abandon its ribald “Poker City” ways.
The results of a special election that day three-quarters of a century ago showed the recall effort to be successful by 97 votes: 536 in favor of recalling the outspoken local physician and 439 opposed.
The results also showed everyone in town that Doughty’s announced goal of “cleaning up Tracy” when he was elected to the council in April 1936 was not going anywhere fast.
The big winner, although his name was not on the ballot or on recall petitions, was Charles A. “Charlie” Clark, Tracy’s reputed “slot-machine king,” who operated the Terminal Grill at Sixth Street and Central Avenue. It was hardly a secret that Clark was the behind-the-scenes leader of the opposition.
What alarmed the operators of slot machines, card rooms, Chinese lotteries and houses of prostitution was a statewide campaign to rein in cities such as Tracy that flouted state laws on gambling and prostitution.
That pressure was already impacting the enforcement actions of Tracy’s new police chief. Floyd G. Wise, formerly of the Berkeley Police Department, an incubator of reform police work.
Getting Doughty off the City Council gave Clark and his allies a majority of three votes, sufficient to slow down and even derail any city cleanup efforts.
Wise was killed a short time later in a traffic accident near Livermore. In 1940, Evan Wyman started a 14-year tenure as police chief, and he was much less interested in enforcing anti-gambling and anti-prostitution laws.
In seeking the recall in 1937, petitioners didn’t state any specific wrongdoing by Doughty, only that his actions on the council “have been in opposition to the will and preferences of his constituents and obstructive to the best interests of the city of Tracy.”
The feisty Doughty, who stood 5-foot-2 and sported a waxed upturned mustache, fired back, asking, in part, in the Tracy Press: “What are the specific charges made? … Shall violators of the law run the city’s business? … Shall the city be run from a Sixth Street basement, or honestly and openly from the City Hall?”
The recall petition filed with the city clerk contained 315 names of registered voters, a comfortable cushion over the 223 names required to force the election.
On Election Day, June 25, 1937, voters cast ballots at two polling places. At Central School (where the new section of the Tracy Inn is now located on Central Avenue), voters narrowly defeated the recall, 266 opposing to 227 in favor.
Farther south on Central Avenue — closer to Sixth Street — the recall was favored 309-172, a margin that secured passage and prompted more than a few questions about who actually was registered to vote in that precinct.
In addition to the recall, the ballot asked voters what method of replacing Doughty they preferred, if the recall were successful. Overwhelmingly, voters opted for a special election. It which was held Aug. 13, and Lynn Stark, manager of the Peterson Creamery restaurant, won the seat by defeating auto dealer Guy Stewart.
For “Doc Doughty,” the recall ended his strong public campaign for reform and meant that Tracy would continue until the end of the 1940s to be, at the very least, tolerant of the gambling and prostitution that gave our town the “Poker City” nickname.
Doughty declared, “I would rather be right than councilman,” and didn’t dispute the election. Instead, he accepted the outcome of the recall without rancor and began focusing his attention and energies on another community project — the need for a hospital in Tracy.
In 1946, following the end of World War II, he intensified his efforts, and a community campaign to finance construction of a hospital was launched. The result was the opening of Tracy Community Memorial Hospital in late 1948.
Within a year of the hospital’s opening, San Joaquin County’s district attorney began closing down Hazel’s and other sporting houses and cracked down on slot machines and Chinese lotteries.
It was a good time for “Doc Doughty.” Vice in Tracy was finally being “cleaned up,” and the hospital he had so intensely promoted was up and running.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.