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“There Was a Time and it Was Tingley’s” *
By Suzanne Stamatov
Clyde Tingley was born in Madison County, Ohio on 5 January 1881, the son of George and Belle Tingley. He studied at local public schools and sought employment as a railroad construction worker and locomotive fireman when he was nineteen. He then pursued employment at a number of automotive firms in Ohio and Michigan. He eventually became superintendent of the Graham Motor Car Company in Bowling Green, Ohio. Here he met and fell in love with Carrie Wooster, daughter of a prominent, wealthy family. Carrie, ill with tuberculosis, left Ohio for Arizona accompanied by her mother and Clyde Tingley. They had to disembark at the Albuquerque train station when Carrie suffered an acute attack. They found excellent health care facilities and decided to remain. Clyde Tingley and Carrie Wooster married on 21 April 1911.
As Carrie Tingley recovered her health, her husband gravitated towards politics. In 1916, he was elected Second Ward Alderman. Many of the constituents from the Second Ward worked at the Santa Fe Railroad shops and the Albuquerque Machine Works. As a working-class man, Clyde Tingley appealed to the workers who supported his bid and helped him win his election easily. With the adoption of the City Charter in 1917, a newly-elected City Commission was installed on December 4, 1917 and none of the incumbent Aldermen made the transition.
Tingley was first elected to the City Commission on April 4, 1922, and served continuously until his resignation on January 14, 1935 to begin his term as Governor. He returned to the Commission on October 11, 1939. He served ten years as chairman of the City Commission and in his capacity as chairman was the unofficial mayor of Albuquerque.
Tingley reveled in his role as “mayor” of the city. He did little to reform his colorful, ungrammatical speech and gloried in the limelight. When Hollywood stars passed through Albuquerque, Tingley often met them at the train station where photographers captured the scene. Numerous stories circulate about his misuse of words and grammatical errors and the often humorous results. At the time of World War II, while addressing volunteer girls at the USO, he reportedly remarked: “Now, ladies, I hope that you will do everything physically possible to make these young men happy.” News reporters always had a story to tell when Clyde Tingley was around.
Yet for all of his theatrics, Tingley managed to accomplish much for the city of Albuquerque. One of his first acts as alderman was to lead a drive to purchase the city’s privately held water works. After months of tense negotiations, the city succeeded in acquiring the utility. Only then was the city able to expand water lines into new subdivisions and encourage municipal growth. He paved streets, added street lamps, and extended city services to new areas. He also worked hard to beautify the city by developing a city parks system. Where an old city dump had been located on the east bank of the Rio Grande, Tingley created an artificial lake called Tingley Beach. Thousands of Albuquerque residents enjoyed bathing at the beach. Later, after being stocked with fish, it became a popular fishing hole. He also promoted building Tingley Field, the baseball park that provided the Albuquerque Dukes a home for many years. Today it is the Rio Grande Zoo area. He also purchased 2,000 Chinese elms for twenty dollars and gave them away to anyone who would plant them.
In 1934, Clyde Tingley ran for governor on the Democratic ticket and won. New Mexicans saw Tingley as a man of hope and a man who got things done. They knew he shared Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s plans to bring Americans out of the depression. In his inaugural address, Tingley spoke of how some considered him a partisan Democrat. “Well, my friends, I will tell you a secret—I may at times and upon occasion be a partisan Democrat, but whenever it comes to deciding upon a problem of importance to New Mexico or its people, I just drop being anything at all except a partisan New Mexican, determined to do the very best I can every day in the year for a free, upright, honest, progressive government for New Mexico.”
Governor Tingley was an ardent supporter of President Roosevelt and visited the White House approximately twenty-three times. In 1936, the president invited Tingley to accompany him on a train junket visiting seven western states. Having the president’s ear, proved lucrative for the state of New Mexico. At that time, the Great Depression’s impact on the country was severe, and by 1933, the number of unemployed in the Unites States had reached 14 million. New Mexico had few resources to help alleviate the hardships caused by massive unemployment. States looked to the federal government for aid. After President Franklin Roosevelt took office in March of 1933, he promised Americans a new deal and he signed legislation approving the appropriations of $500 million under a new agency, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). States applied to FERA for grants for relief purposes. By the end of the year, every state in the country had received a grant from FERA. Other federal programs followed including the Works Project Administration (WPA), a program that put unemployed workers, artists, and actors on the federal payroll employing them in construction projects and conservation.
During his time in the governor’s mansion, Tingley worked to funnel as much of these “New Deal” funds into New Mexico as was possible. When Senator Bronson Cutting died in a plane crash on 6 May 1935, Governor Clyde Tingley lawfully named the senator’s successor. On 11 May 1935, he appointed Dennis Chaves to fill Cutting’s post. Tingley and Chaves recognized the need to work together to bring federal dollars to the state. The partnership between Tingley and Chaves would produce far-reaching benefits for the state of New Mexico.
In order to appropriate more money for the state of New Mexico, the first order of business for Tingley and Chaves was to create a loyal political machine by which their supporters would be rewarded. They appointed faithful followers to key positions that facilitated their goals. The columnist, Will Harrison, writing in 1958, recalled how Tingley operated as governor: “When Tingley was governor 20 years ago he had control of every job in the statehouse, not only those in the governor’s department, but indirectly those in the offices of other executive officers. That included the highway department and extended to the state colleges and naturally the prisons and hospitals.”
The partnership between the governor and the senator proved effective. Per capita, New Mexicans received the fifth highest amount of federal funds nationwide. In regards to education, New Mexico received the highest amount of New Deal funds per capita than any other state. One of the largest single beneficiaries was the University of New Mexico. Federal projects workers built Zimmerman Library, an administration building, a stadium, and other structures. The physical expansion of the campus allowed for a 600 percent increase in the school’s enrollment during the 1930s. They also brought in $500,000 in WPA funds to help revive the New Mexico State Fair.
One of Tingley’s pet projects was the building of the Carrie Tingley Hospital for Crippled Children. Carrie Tingley’s interest in the welfare of children spurred her husband to find the funds, both federal and private, to achieve her dream of caring for ill children. Unlike her husband, Carrie Tingley worked behind the scenes trying to affect positive change in the lives of the sick and the poor. For the rest of her life she worked each year to gather enough presents so that every child at the hospital would receive a gift at Christmas time. Carrie Tingley had pushed for the hospital to be located at Truth or Consequences (then known as Hot Springs) because she wished to develop a therapeutic hot springs that could benefit the sick.
Tingley did not want to relinquish his post as governor, but according to the law, he could not serve a third term. During the 1937 legislature, Governor Tingley persuaded state lawmakers to pass a law to enact a constitutional amendment that would lift the limit of consecutive terms state officials could serve. Tingley’s push for the amendment split the Democratic Party and his rough tactics outraged many. Even Chaves did not support Tingley’s desire to remain in the governor’s office. An Anti-Special Election League formed and began a referendum petition against the third term amendment. In June, the league presented the secretary of state with 57,475 signatures. According to the state attorney, General Frank Patton, the league had presented more than enough signatures to squash the third term amendment from coming before the electorate. The state attorney attacked Tingley for using force and threats against those opposed to the amendment: Patton said:
If it had not been for the coercion and intimidation used by Tingley to prevent people from signing the petition, coupled with the thievery and bribery employed to secure and destroy petitions already signed, we would have had 100,000 names signed to the petition.
When Governor Tingley enacted his special election law for the sole purpose of perpetuating himself in office and becoming a virtual dictator of this great state, he then and there ran afoul of public sentiment. Such action, the people of the state deemed obnoxious. This public sentiment is clearly expressed by the citizens and electors who voluntarily signed the referendum petition in the face of threats and reprisals.
Despite the state attorney’s opinion, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional amendment could come before the voters. On 21 September 1937, the New Mexican electorate defeated Tingley’s bid for a third term.
Although Tingley used the strong-arm tactics of a political boss to achieve his ends, no one seems to have questioned his honesty and integrity. He always acted in the best interest of his constituency. He returned to Albuquerque and was elected to the Albuquerque City Commission in 1939. He served as commissioner until 1955. As Albuquerque grew during World War II, politics changed, and Tingley’s larger-than-life political tactics proved less effective. With the growth of the Sandia National Laboratory, new constituents moved to the area. Many did not understand Tingley’s legacy and regarded his style as antiquated and ineffective. They formed a nonpartisan Albuquerque Citizens Committee and began influencing city government. Commissioner Tingley resented these newcomers and opposed many of the measures they introduced. Some people began to regard his intransigence as an old man’s bitterness, though others believed that he acted out of the best interest of the city and that he opposed the measures because he recognized that sudden and uncontrolled growth had its drawbacks. In 1955, Tingley decided not to seek reelection.
Clyde Tingley died on 24 December 1960. Less than a year later, on 6 November 1961, Carrie Tingley died. Clyde Tingley had served in public office for fifty years. With his boundless energy, his large personality, and his joy to change things for the better, he got things done though he did not always follow procedures. Intent to accomplish his goals quickly, Tingley cut red tape and often bypassed bureaucracy. His autocratic style angered many but his response to detractors was,“Look at my record.” Indeed, his record was impressive and what he accomplished was what the majority of people wanted. Today few people remember who the Tingleys were or what their contributions to Albuquerque and the state were.
Appendix D of the City of Albuquerque Municipal Code, 1949.
Bryan, Howard. Albuquerque Remembered. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.
Cline, Dorothy I. "Albuquerque and the City Manager Plan, 1917-1948." Division of Government Research of the University of New Mexico; v. 28, 1950, following p. 48.
“Colores: The Tingleys” produced by Michael Kamins for KNME’s Colores.
*Johnson, D. Ullrich. “There Was a Time and it Was Tingley’s.” In Century, 19 January 1983.
Kailer, Pat. “It Was Quite a Woman Behind Hospital,” in Albuquerque Journal, 20 July 1981.
Lujan, Joe Roy. “Dennis Chavez and the Roosevelt Era, 1933-1945,” Ph.D. dissertation; University of New Mexico, 1987. UMI Ann Arbor, MI.
Simmons, Marc. Albuquerque: A Narrative History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.
Simmons, Marc. “The Quotable Clyde Tingley,” in the Santa Fe Reporter, 17 May 1999.
Governor Clyde K. Tingley Papers, Inauguration Address and Messages, January 1937. Box 5, folder 160.