The Statesman is surrounded on two sides with saloons and bawdy houses. It is in the center of the Red Light district, yet it is so well pleased with its surroundings that it never files a complaint, or raises a protest except when J.A. Pinney is a candidate for mayor.
This statement, made during the heat of the 1905 political campaign in Boise, points up the basic issue raised in that struggle. Was the four-time mayor soft on crime? Pinney had been defeated in 1903, largely as a result of the strong campaign waged against him by the Idaho Statesman. The effectiveness of this campaign was remarkable, in that the Statesman succeeded in getting exactly what it wanted the separation of Pinney from the rest of the Republican ticket, which it supported, and his defeat at the polls.
The basic tactic used throughout the 1903 election battle was guilt by support rather than guilt by association, since there was no evidence that Pinney was the associate of any of the undesirable people the Statesman said supported him. In a series of scathing articles, the paper harped on the fact that every gambler and saloon keeper in Boise was working to elect James A. Pinney. It hinted that there was some sinister connection between the former mayor and the undesirable elements seeking to get him elected. It reasoned that since the mayor directly controlled the chief of police, the gamblers were concentrating on getting that office in their pocket through him.
James H. Hawley, a seasoned lawyer and pioneer politician, received the Democratic and Union Citizen nomination and was shrewd enough to see the possibilities in the issue raised by the Statesman. He pledged a complete shakeup in the police department and an all-out campaign against gambling. This won him the support of not only the normally Republican Statesman, but the Civic League as well. The league, largely supported by the churches, was made up of reform-minded citizens concerned with safeguarding the morals of the community. The issue that had the reformers up in arms in 1903 was nonenforcement of the citys gambling ordinances, and their support led to the election of Hawley.
In 1905 the Republicans again nominated James A. Pinney. The Democrats nominated S.H. Hays, and once more the Statesman supported the man opposing Pinney. The Capital News, the citys evening paper, also supported Democrat Hays, but in a curious turnabout the citys labor unions, normally Democratic, supported Republican Pinney. The Statesman opened with, If Mr. Pinney be elected, gambling will flourish here as in the days before the law prohibiting it was enacted; there will be no restrictions on saloons, nor will there be any such regulation of the under world as the demands of decency dictate. On election morning the papers lead stories were fiery: Lies Put Out in the Eleventh Hour and Pinney Committee Busy Distributing Falsehoods on the Last Day of the Campaign. It further stated There is no (disagreement) in this campaign among the saloon men. Every one of them is supporting James A. Pinney for mayor, and so are the women in the red-light district.
On Tuesday, July 11, 1905, the people of Boise voted Pinney into office for a fifth term, this time by a landslide. His margin was nearly two to one, prompting every newspaper in the state to chortle at the Statesmans discomfort. A scrapbook kept by Pinney at the time is stuffed with these items surely a source of satisfaction to the much-maligned candidate. The Nampa Record summed up the defeat of Hays by saying that it could be charged to his fool friends who overworked the morality racket. Considering Pinneys long record as a progressive, moral and temperate civic leader, it was only just that the voters rejected the smear campaign against him and elected him mayor for a record fifth time.
In 1908 Pinney once more affirmed his lifelong love of the stage by building his big Pinney Theatre at the southwest corner of Eighth and Jefferson. It was the first theater in town designed with the capacity to put on stage plays, orchestral concerts and motion pictures. The Pinney was demolished in the early 1970s; its site is now a parking lot.
James A. Pinney has aptly been called the father of modern Boise. He died Feb. 4, 1914.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.