We return to the rocky road to consolidation of East and West Las Vegas, which we began some weeks ago, but interrupted with a fiestas column and to remember Gov. David Cargo. The consolidation series was introduced with a photograph of East and West mayors Ben Lingnau and Chief Gonzales burying the hatchet at the bridge the night of Feb. 27, 1968, when voters on both sides of the Gallinas approved the public referendum merging the two towns.
We explained the evolving demographics in East Las Vegas since it was founded as a rail town in 1879, and began to recount some of New Town’s early leaders, including Frederick Olney, the first mayor. Another early eastside mayor was Charles Tamme, who built the famous Tamme-Duncan Opera House. In an earlier series recounting the rise of New Town, we profiled Tamme and his opera house, and included his photograph. (See “New Town Glittered with Tamme Opera House,” Nuestra Historia, Sept. 14, 2012.)
During this early New Town era, through WWI and into the 1920s, the east side continued to quietly flourish, though Las Vegas had been surpassed by Albuquerque as New Mexico’s largest and most prosperous city. While New Town continued to grow, its meteoric rise as New Mexico’s premier Anglo-American city had begun to decline after 1912, when a new rail line was built south of Albuquerque, allowing for a direct transcontinental connection between the eastern and western United States, replacing cargo transport through Las Vegas.
Tranquility on the east side came to an abrupt end in 1930, however, when Thomas V. Truder was elected mayor of New Town. For the next decade, the colorful and controversial Truder dominated politics in East Las Vegas, and during his tenure city hall saw constant turmoil. Water shortages and rates, accusations of corruption, and even the theft of voter registration books dominated city council meetings, and Truder was always in the thick of it.
A Democrat, Truder swirled in controversy from the moment he was elected mayor. Because he was also district attorney, Republicans immediately filed a legal challenge to Truder’s occupancy of both positions, and the lawsuit brought city government to a virtual halt. District Judge Luis Armijo, the de facto Republican boss of San Miguel County, ruled against Truder, holding that he could not occupy both offices simultaneously. Truder appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which overruled Judge Armijo and allowed Truder to remain in both positions. (The decision is still followed in New Mexico, to determine when public offices are incompatible and cannot be held simultaneously by the same person, and is reported in Chapman v. Truder, 35 NM 49, 289 P. 594, 1930.)
In another case, in 1932, the ever-controversial Truder was cited by the New Mexico Supreme Court for unethical conduct resulting from his actions as district attorney. At the time, the office of district attorney was a part-time position, and its occupant could also engage in the private practice of law. As district attorney, Truder filed manslaughter charges against a defendant as a result of an automobile accident in which the other driver was killed, and also filed a civil lawsuit for damages on behalf of the deceased victim’s family. Truder then promised to dismiss the criminal case if the defendant would settle (pay-up) the civil case – for which he was “severely reprimanded” by the Supreme Court.
(See In Re Truder, 37 NM 69, 17 P2d 951, 1932.)
As for city government in East Las Vegas during Truder’s time as mayor, he and the council were at constant loggerheads, especially about water shortages and rates - and the Agua Pura Company, which had provided water to Las Vegas since 1880. Negotiations with Agua Pura “stirred up acrimony and filled the time of council meetings,” and Truder assumed the role of protector of the consumer, accusing the council of “being bought up by lavish entertainment by water company officials.” (The Agua Pura Company, which built Peterson Dam in 1910, was eventually acquired by the Public Service Co. of New Mexico.)
The on-going struggle between Truder and the council resulted in each side going to court for injunctions, Truder’s vetoing of an Agua Pura water franchise, and even the alleged theft of voter registration books in 1932, when Truder was re-elected by a narrow margin. The latter case also got Truder into trouble with the Supreme Court, because as district attorney he brought criminal charges against city councilman D. A. Sulier for stealing the voter records, but when the books were found, agreed to dismiss the criminal case if Sulier signed a release that he would not sue Truder for filing the charges in the first place.
The turmoil at city hall finally subsided during the Truder years, but as Lynn Perrigo wrote in Gateway to Glorieta, “it’s a wonder the city made any progress” – and things were no different on the west side.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.