John K. Snyder

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For other people named John Snyder, see John Snyder (disambiguation).
John Kenneth Snyder, Sr.
Mayor of Alexandria, Rapides Parish, Louisiana
In office
June 1973 – June 1977
Preceded by Ed Karst
Succeeded by Carroll E. Lanier
In office
December 1982 – December 1986
Preceded by Carroll E. Lanier
Succeeded by Edward Gordon "Ned" Randolph, Jr.
Personal details
Born John Kenneth Snyder
(1922-08-29)August 29, 1922
Pineville, Rapides Parish, Louisiana
Died January 11, 1993(1993-01-11) (aged 70)
Alexandria, Louisiana
Nationality American
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) (1) Marcella Kinder Snyder (born 1921);

(2) Pauline Edwards Snyder (1926-1978)

Children John K. Snyder, Jr.

Shirley Ann Snyder

Parents Joseph Z. "Joe" Snyder and Eva Spotten Snyder
Occupation Farmer; political consultant
Throughout his two non-consecutive terms as mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana, John K. Snyder is most remembered for his political and personal eccentricities.

John Kenneth Snyder, Sr., sometimes known as Tillie Snyder (August 29, 1922 – January 11, 1993), was a colorful, outspoken Democratic mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana, from 1973 to 1977 and again from 1982 to 1986.

Snyder was an admirer of the late Governor Earl Kemp Long, after whom he claimed to model his quixotic political practice. A tall, physically large man, "the good" Snyder smoked cigars, was soft-spoken and usually relaxed and accommodating. However, "the bad" Snyder had a temper that could snap quickly, at which point he might say or do practically anything. Even popular Louisiana Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, who was in office in Baton Rouge for seven of the eight years that Snyder was mayor in Alexandria, was said to have feared Snyder's unpredictability.

Early life and education[edit]

Snyder was born in Pineville, across the Red River from Alexandria, to Joseph Z. "Joe" Snyder (1886–1971), originally from La Salle Parish, and the former Eva Spotten (1891–1980), a Pineville native. He grew up on Lakeview Street about a block from Fred Baden, who served as mayor of Pineville during the time that Snyder headed the Alexandria municipal government.[1] As a child, Snyder was given the nickname "Tilly" because he liked to play the game "Tiddly-Winks". He graduated in 1940 from Bolton High School, prior to the establishment of Pineville High School in 1952. He was a naval aviation cadet during World War II. He attended Georgia Tech in Atlanta but did not graduate.[citation needed] He was a speech writer for political candidates in Louisiana and neighboring states. He also had certain farming operations.

Snyder and Karst[edit]

Snyder first won the mayoral election in the spring of 1973, when the incumbent, Charles Edward "Ed" Karst, did not seek reelection.

Snyder and Karst had been bitter rivals in the April 5, 1969, Democratic primary. In that campaign, Karst led with 4,093 votes (36 percent) to Snyder's 3,128 (27.5 percent). The third place candidate, John B. Honeycutt (1911–1998), who like Snyder had run unsuccessfully for Rapides Parish sheriff, received 2,021 votes (17.8 percent). The 16-year incumbent, W. George Bowdon, Jr., who had first won the position in 1953 to succeed Carl B. Close, trailed in fourth place with 1,784 votes (15.7 percent). Three other candidates polled a total of 359 votes (3.2 percent).

In the mayoral runoff held on May 17, 1969, Karst prevailed, 6,016 (53.7 percent) to Snyder's 5,188 (46.3 percent). After Karst defeated Snyder, Governor John McKeithen cancelled the general election because only Democrats had filed for any of the Alexandria municipal offices.

After his mayoral defeat, Snyder unsuccessfully challenged the renomination of U.S. Representative Speedy O. Long in the 1970 Democratic primary. He polled 24,112 votes to Long's 59,032.[2] Then, in 1971, Snyder failed in a bid to oust Sheriff Marshall T. Cappel in the party primary.

In 1972, Karst switched affiliation to the Republican Party and retained the former head of the Louisiana States' Rights Party, Kent Howard Courtney (1918–1997), as his administrative assistant. Karst's mayoral tenure, however, was not particularly known for conservative initiatives. Karst, an attorney who was born in New Orleans, later left the GOP, returned to the Democrats, and thereafter was "No Party" under Louisiana's registration procedure.

Snyder's first term as mayor[edit]

In the pivotal 1973 Democratic primary runoff, Snyder faced former state Representative R. W. "Buzzy" Graham, the favorite of the downtown business establishment and one of the legislative "Young Turks" led by future Louisiana House Speaker E. L. "Bubba" Henry. Snyder's victory was obtained largely through his solid support among blue collar voters and in the large African American community, which by the year 2000 became the demographic majority in Alexandria. After Snyder's nomination, the general election was again cancelled because of the lack of opposition to the Democratic nominees.

Jackie Pope Adams (1922-2013), a native of Marion County, Mississippi, was the secretary to the Alexandria City Council in the first Snyder administration and the city clerk after adoption of the home rule charter in 1977. She retired in 1980 after twenty-five years in city civil service.[3]

During his first term, Mayor Snyder often quarreled with the media, particularly the Alexandria Daily Town Talk newspaper, published then by a childhood friend and rival, Joe D. Smith, Jr. He attempted to manipulate individual reporters to present the "news" as he viewed it. The reporters in turn would find that their editors did not see the "news" in the same light as the mayor. Snyder, who had experience in the field of public relations prior to his mayoral tenure, would offer interviews to favored reporters and shun those who he thought were opposed to his administration. He would avoid specific questions and try to entice reporters to cover what he wanted to stress. In the tradition of many incumbents, Snyder attempted to take credit for improvements that happened on his watch and to blame others when things went awry.

One of his pet projects was a simple structure near the Red River, completed in 1975, called the "Alexandria Farmer's Market," by which farmers could take their produce directly to the people and avoid middlemen. Interest in the market was strongest in the spring and early summer, but many in time found the hours of operation inconvenient for their own work schedules. Supermarkets were just more accessible than were the farmers waiting patiently for customers to arrive.

Snyder also struggled with traffic and drainage, problems common to many municipalities. He secured Governor Edwards' pledge of state assistance to four-lane heavily traveled Bolton Avenue. He also pushed for construction of a new bridge atop the Red River into Pineville. The bridge was delayed for eight years because the cities of Alexandria and Pineville and Rapides Parish could not agree on its height. He helped to engineer the annexation to the city of the heavily African American and impoverished "Samtown" subdivision in south Alexandria. The neighborhood was named for its white developer, Sam Jacobs. Presumably, he expected to receive the support of many blacks in his future campaigns. In annexing Samtown, Snyder was borrowing a page from Earl Long, who attempted to register black voters in the 1950s in anticipation of most supporting him politically in the future.

Snyder also did eccentric things: he tried to raise fish in the city swimming pool, when the pool was not open to the public. The fish died. He drove around town in a police car in ways reminiscent of the fictitious Barney Fife, played by Don Knotts of CBS's The Andy Griffith Show.

He installed eavesdropping devices in City Hall, all of which were removed by his successor as mayor.

Snyder chose Morris Shapiro (1910–2008) of Alexandria as one of three city attorneys in his first term, but he sometimes retained the enterprising Lafayette lawyer J. Minos Simon (pronounced SEE MOAN) to represent him either personally or as mayor in controversial legal matters. Snyder would sometimes coerce his opponents by merely the threat of retaining J. Minos "The Minotaur" Simon.

A change in Alexandria city charters[edit]

Snyder served as mayor during his first term under the commission form of government in which he was the "executive" over the fire, police, and sanitation departments. His city commission colleagues were Malcolm P. Hebert, a mechanical engineer who was the "executive" over streets and parks, including Alexandria Zoological Park, which had been established in 1926, and Arnold Jack Rosenthal, an attorney and businessman, who was the "executive" over finance and utilities. At the time, a large part of Alexandria's municipal operational funds came from profit in the sale of water and electric utilities. Snyder, along with Hebert and Rosenthal, then acted as a "legislative" council to govern the city as a whole. Under this arrangement, two of the three commissioners could outvote the third and interfere with the other member's administration of his department.

Bickering at City Hall[edit]

Frequently hence, Snyder and Hebert joined to block initiatives of Rosenthal. At one point, the two fired Rosenthal's executive assistant, former Pineville Mayor Floyd W. Smith, Jr., on the pivotal 2-1 vote. They accused Rosenthal of having virtually turned over the operation of his office to Smith, a native of Winn Parish and also a political fighter in the Long tradition, who called himself a "half-Long" by heritage. In one of his more unusual antics, Snyder compelled city custodians in March 1975 to remove a door to a private restroom used by Commissioner Rosenthal.

The bickering in Alexandria City Hall provided momentum for a new charter—of the mayor-council format—rather than the commission system. Shreveport and Monroe similarly at the time changed charters. The cities were practically forced to make such changes by federal courts, which interpreted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to negate the commission system. With the at-large membership on the city commissions, blacks complained that they could rarely win elections because there were no single-member districts incorporating predominantly minority neighborhoods. The Alexandria charter was written by a citizens' panel chaired by a judge and sent to the voters. In a 1974 plebiscite, voters approved the charter by a 2-1 margin, 5,032 to 2,393.

Defeat in 1977[edit]

Therefore, Snyder would seek reelection in 1977 for a one-time-only 5.5-year term under the new mayor-council form of government, but he had alienated too many voters to be reelected. Rosenthal also ran for mayor but was damaged by his perceived indecisiveness and the bickering at City Hall. Instead, the new mayor would be Rosenthal's predecessor as the finance and utilities commissioner, an ambitious electrician named Carroll Edwin Lanierm who could at that junction in his political career point fingers to City Hall as an outsider. Rosenthal had unseated Lanier in a bitter 1973 primary runoff. Malcolm Hebert, meanwhile, covertly supported Lanier for mayor and became head of the new Department of Public Works established by the charter in the Lanier administration. Hebert served until a debilitating stroke forced him into early retirement.

The 1977 primary returns, in which all the candidates ran as Democrats, were as follows: Snyder, 3,658; Lanier, 3,085; Champ Leroy Baker (1919–1985), 2,802; businessman Charlie Hickman, 2,128; Judith "Judy" Ward-Steinman Karst, Ph.D., and the former wife of Ed Karst, 883; Arnold Jack Rosenthal, 429; and the coin merchant and former state Representative Larry Parker, 288 votes.

Lanier prevailed in the June 10 general election, popularly called the "runoff" in Louisiana, by a convincing margin: 8,420 (68 percent) to 3,934 (32 percent). Snyder increased his vote from the primary to the general election by only 276 ballots, whereas Lanier more than doubled his final tally. Baker, who was particularly popular among veterans groups and was the president of the Kisatchie-Delta Regional Planning Commission based in Alexandria, narrowly missed the second balloting by just under 300 votes. Presumably, he too would have won in a showdown with Snyder.

Before he left office, Snyder fired veteran secretary-treasurer Ray R. Allen, but Lanier reinstated him in the summer of 1977 as the first finance director under the new form of city government.[4]

Upon taking office as mayor, Lanier removed eavesdropping devices that Snyder had installed throughout Alexandria City Hall. When Snyder refused to surrender his municipal car, Lanier had the payroll office withhold Snyder's final paycheck until the vehicle was properly returned.[5]

Mayor Lanier oversaw the construction of the downtown Alexander Fulton Minipark, named for Alexander Fulton, the founder of Alexandria. He also secured federal grant money that resulted in the establishment of the Alexander Fulton Inn, which includes downtown convention facilities.[5]

Returning Snyder to office, 1982[edit]

In 1982, voters had grown weary of the reformer Lanier and, surprisingly to many, called Snyder back to office. The scenario was often like what had happened with Snyder's role model, Earl Long. Long would make enemies in the business community and then step down for four years because he was term-limited. His "reformer" successor, often unable to deliver on his promises, would then turn off many voters, who would instead call Long back to office four years later. Snyder indeed seemed to be vintage Earl Long on the local level. Snyder also spent much time with a man of diminutive height, who had been Earl Long's bodyguard, Ellis "Easy Money" Littleton (1930–2005) of Deville in Rapides Parish.

Back in office, effective December 6, 1982, Snyder again antagonized the business community which opposed his populist philosophy and his disdain for elites. He grew frustrated with the limits and delays that any mayor faces in trying to implement his programs, particularly with too many spending proposals chasing too few dollars.

In a feature article on Alexandria dealing with the closing of England Air Force Base, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the "sleepy city criscrossed by muddy bayous and surrounded by miles of cotton and crawfish farms was hardly a model of civic efficiency in the 1980s."

Early in 1986, Snyder was committed for three months to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation after the city council observed irrational behavior. He petitioned a state court for reinstatement, and the council returned him to his post for the seven months left in the second term.[6]

Snyder's political surprises[edit]

Early in 1983, Snyder filed suit against the man that he unseated, former Democratic Mayor Lanier, and then Utilities Director Robert L. "Bob" Lawrence (1922–1997), an Iowa native and later a rare Republican member of the city council, alleging that the defendants failed to implement an energy cost adjustment formula. Thereafter, the Alexandria City Council adopted a resolution which directed Snyder and the city attorneys to dismiss any suits previously filed by the mayor, which had not first received the approval of the council. The court ruled in favor of Lanier and Lawrence.

Later in 1983, Snyder, in another of his political surprises, ran for the Louisiana state Senate though he had been in his second term as mayor for less than a year. He was badly defeated. In the nonpartisan blanket primary, incumbent Edward G. "Ned" Randolph, Jr., led with 13,501 votes (38.4 percent) to challenger Joe McPherson, who received 11,032 ballots. (31.4 percent). Former state Senator Cecil R. Blair, whom Randolph had unseated in 1975, polled 6,096 votes (17.4 percent), and Mayor Snyder, in fourth place, received 4,496 votes (12.8 percent). In the runoff—officially the Louisiana general election—McPherson won, 16,360 votes (53.9 percent) to Randolph's 13,973 (46.1 percent). At that point in time, Randolph was a two-time loser, for he had failed in a bid for the U.S. House against the late Gillis William Long in 1982, lost his Senate seat the next year, and indeed his future political prospects seemed marginal.

Randolph succeeds Snyder[edit]

Snyder surprised observers again by deciding not to seek a third term in 1986. Former state Senator Randolph, an attorney, who was strongly supported by "Main Street" business interests, was the convincing winner for mayor. Randolph defeated a field of seven opponents in a high turnout of 16,787 Alexandria voters. Randolph polled 8,934 (53.2 percent) votes to 2,717 (16.2 percent) for A.S. "Tony" D'Angelo, and 2,623 (15.6 percent) for the third-place candidate, black activist Charles Frederick Smith, Jr. In fifth place was former Mayor Carroll Lanier, with a meager 912 votes (5.4 percent), who made a vain comeback attempt. Lanier was as repudiated in the 1986 balloting as his old rival Rosenthal had been in 1977.

Calm and deliberate in demeanor, Randolph would hold the mayoral office for five terms. He worked well with most groups within the city and never had serious opposition in Louisiana's unique jungle primary system. In the spring of 2006, Randolph announced that he would not seek a sixth term as mayor. He vacated the position in December 2006. His successor was fellow Democrat, attorney Jacques M. Roy, who defeated Randolph's former administrative assistant, Delores Brewer, a Republican, in the November 7 general election. Roy was born the year that Snyder made his first unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress.

Snyder's final years[edit]

Grave of John K. Snyder in Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville

In 1988, former Mayor Snyder ran as a Democrat for the now defunct Eighth Congressional District seat then held by freshman Republican Clyde C. Holloway of Forest Hill in south Rapides Parish. He polled only 1,205 votes (1 percent), and Holloway was reelected to the second of his three terms.

In his later years, Snyder supported the unendorsed "anti-establishment" Republican gubernatorial candidate David Duke, who lost by a wide margin to Edwin Edwards in the hot-contested 1991 general election. In 1989, Snyder switched his registration to Republican, but, according to the Rapides Parish Voter Registrar's office, he returned to the Democrats in 1990.

Snyder was first married to the late Wilma Marcella Kinder (born December 30, 1921), originally from Smackover, Arkansas. After his divorce from Marcella, Snyder married the former Pauline Edwards (1926-1978).

Snyder is interred on the front row of the left side of the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jodi Belgard, "John Snyder seemed to relish controversy"". Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 29, 2007. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  2. ^ Louisiana Almanac, 2006
  3. ^ "Jackie Pope Adams". findagrave.com. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ray Allen, former city of Alexandria finance director, dies at age of 89". Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 7, 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Cynthia D. Jardon, "Former Alexandria Mayor Carroll Lanier dies at 86"". Alexandria Daily Town Talk. Retrieved December 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Snyder reinstated", Minden Press-Herald, May 8, 1986, p. 1
Political offices
Preceded by
Ed Karst
Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana

John Kenneth Snyder, Sr.
1973–1977

Succeeded by
Carroll E. Lanier
Preceded by
Carroll E. Lanier
Mayor of Alexandria, Louisiana

John Kenneth Snyder, Sr.
1982–1986

Succeeded by
Ned Randolph