You Can Beat City Hall - Paper Example

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Middlebury College
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You Can Beat City Hallis a nationally televised interview on CBS that provides an overview of the patron system in Laredo, Texas during J.C. Martins administration. It highlights the rampant corruption in the system as well as the role played by Lawrence Berry and the TOPS Organization in bringing political reforms to Laredo. The antagonist in the story is J.C. Martin who served as mayor of Laredo between 1954 and 1978, and who oversaw mismanagement and corruption while in charge of the patron system. The protagonist is a political activist called Lawrence Berry who conducted investigations into the workings of the Laredo city government and exposed the corruption taking place.

Lawrence Berry set in motion an investigation that would eventually result in the downfall of Laredos old political machine. Referred to as El Partido Viejo or The Old Party, it had governed the city for decades until Berry finally brought some order and accountability to it. In 1977, he led an organization called the Taxpayers for Public Service that unearthed several discrepancies in audits and records. He found out roughly half a million dollars in fraud in just one department. The political machines power was largely in the form of the Martins administrations ability to manipulate lower income earners who were not well versed in the English language. Most of the residents of Laredo understood Spanish better than English, with almost half of the citys population living under the poverty line.

An audit of the street department carried out by the Taxpayers for Public Service found out that Laredo city dispenses 15,000 gallons of gas per month, which was enough to cater for all the residents. In addition, Mayor Martin employed a bank vice-president to act as street inspector, together with other ghost workers getting paid by taxpayers money. Berry also found out that 906 vehicle batteries had been bought for 87 active cars within a period of 16 months at the time. Martin owned land stretching for 70, 000 acres and which was estimated to be worth ten million acres. His wealth was mainly from oil and gas. His patron system could be described as a few men having control over stores, jobs, and business people. The party had control over thousands of votes, thus positioning it to influence races in various aspects of elections in the city and county. Martin organized barbecue parties prior to elections, which turned out to be an effective way of holding pre-election rallies and mobilizing people to go out and vote, thus seizing control of their votes.

During Martins tenure, Laredo had a population of 80,000 people, 4 out of every 5 were more fluent in Spanish than they were in English. The per capita income at the time was less than $2,300, one out of three citizens relied on food stamps, and the unemployment rate stood at 15%. Federal funds amounting to millions of dollars were injected into Laredo via good connections. However, very little of this reflected in the city given that the infrastructure was generally run down. That was the norm for the city at the time and it was unchallenged.

What made Lawrence Berry an unlikely hero was the fact that he managed to bring the seemingly invincible patron system. Thanks to the efforts of the Taxpayers for Public Service organization led by him, J.C. Martin was indicted by a federal grand jury on a count of mail fraud in 1978. Upon pleading guilty, he was fined $1,000 as well as $201, 118 in restitution to the city of Laredo for labor provided by its employees on his private properties. In addition, he was sentenced to serve thirty weekends in the Webb County jail. However, this sentence is considered too lenient considering all the corruption he took part in as the mayor of Laredo. To make matters worse, Martin did not take full responsibility for the issue of ghost workers and a malfunctioning sewage. All in all, he did admit that there was little or no democracy in the course of the old party reign, and that voters did not have much say in the day-to-day running of the city.

The sociological perspective used to present the program is all about the power that ordinary people yield over corrupt authorities and institutions. Lawrence Berry, an ordinary citizen, managed to expose corruption the office of Laredos mayor and bring down the Independent Club. In 1979, following a long-tenured control of Laredo, the city council moved from a strong mayoral system of government and adopted a city council-manager government. The Independent Club managed to survive for eight decades due to its ability to draw in new supporters under its wings while at the same time winning over opponents. However, in its latter years, it failed to adapt to changes in the countys set up and did not succeed in attracting younger supporters. Consequently, its influence waned, paving way for the collapse of the longest-lasting political machine in South Texas.

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