Charles Kennon Quin, mayor and judge, was born in Tangipahoa, Louisiana, on March 24, 1877, the son of Henry Columbus and Cora Rosalee (Kennon) Quin. The family moved to Texas when Charles was a child and settled in Columbus in Colorado County. Charles attended local schools and in 1893 graduated from the Weimer Institute; he received a teaching certificate from the University of Texas in 1903. He then taught and served as superintendent in the Colorado County schools. He studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1908. Quin married Elizabeth Townsend Marston on July 27, 1904 (she died in December 1945). He later married Janice Houston Brown on August 20, 1949. Quin had one adopted daughter. He practiced law in Columbus, served as a major in the Texas National Guard during World War I, and was district judge (Twenty-fifth District) from 1921 to 1923.
In 1923 Quin opened a law practice in San Antonio. In the late 1920s and early 1930s he was an assistant city attorney and later a city utilities attorney. In 1932 Quin returned to private practice and became a partner with C. M. Chambers, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio. When Chambers died suddenly in March 1933, the city commissioners appointed Quin to the unexpired term. In May of that year Quin was elected mayor in a regular election. He inherited a legacy rooted in the city-county Bryan V. Callaghan political machine formed in San Antonio in the late 1800s. Callaghan and his successors-Clinton Brown, John Wallace Tobin, and C. M. Chambers-had etched patronage, graft, and vice deeply into the political landscape. But while Callaghan had represented the interests of the city's elite, the latter organization drew its strength from the poor and middle class.
The Chambers-Quin machine owed its success to two factors. The first was the commission form of city government, based in this case on a flawed city charter that concentrated power in the hands of the mayor and four city commissioners. In addition to making policy decisions, each commissioner headed one of the city's main departments (i.e., health and sanitation, parks and recreation, police and fire, and public works). With these departments came huge patronage resources that helped assure the commissioners' reelection. The second factor was city growth. From 1910 to 1930 the San Antonio population tripled in size, with a large majority being Mexican Americans, whose votes the machine manipulated through city or county patronage or through pressure from employers.
The machine also had ties with the proprietors of saloons, gambling houses, and houses of prostitution. It maintained relations with the black electorate through gambler-bootlegger Charles Bellinger. In 1936 Bellinger was sent to the federal prison Leavenworth for income-tax evasion, and at his release demanded a presidential pardon to remove the stigma of his conviction. C. K. Quin, who was reelected mayor in May 1936, was rumored to have arranged the pardon. Quin gave the machine a façade of propriety and competence. His only damaging political baggage was his earlier Prohibition stance and association with the Ku Klux Klan.
But the reputation of San Antonio as a "red-hot" town grew. Enforcement of laws against gambling, liquor, and prostitution was lax, and the presence of large military bases accentuated the problem. The crime rate soared and city services deteriorated. Opposition to the Quin machine was weak; the only resistance was the Citizens League, which had emerged during the early years of the Great Depression. It was an upper-middle-class movement that included conservative businessmen, professionals, and politicians, and was led by William Aubrey, president of the San Antonio Bar Association. The League regularly fielded candidates but won few victories. In May 1933 its candidate for the office of mayor was local insurance executive Arthur Barnett, but he was no match for the smooth, articulate Quin. By 1936 the League had become fractured over disputes regarding gambling and attempts to limit terms for officeholders. In the 1934 Democratic party primary, Quin ran for a seat in the United States Congress. The League supported Fontaine Maury Maverick, Bexar County tax collector. Quin attacked Maverick's ties with the American Civil Liberties Union, branding the organization Communist. Maverick beat Quin in a runoff election.
Mayor Quin soon ran into trouble. On December 30, 1938, the Bexar County grand jury indicted Quin and two other city officials for misapplication of funds. The three allegedly had used city funds to pay a day's wage of four dollars to each of more than 400 "precinct workers" in the previous July primary. Quin blamed the indictment on Maverick, who in 1936 had lost his congressional seat to a machine-backed candidate. Quin's political support quickly eroded, however, and in February 1939 the city commission advised him against running for reelection. Opponents pushed Maverick for mayor. Quin painted his opponent as a Communist rabblerouser, but the indictments (later quashed) had caused political damage. Maverick swept into office on a reform ticket. In the 1941 mayoral campaign, the outcome hinged on the black vote, and Quin defeated Maverick by about 1,000 votes in a runoff election. Before his term expired in 1942, Quin resigned the mayor's office and accepted the appointment of judge of the Fifty-seventh Judicial District. C. K. Quin died in San Antonio on June 18, 1960, while still serving as a judge. He was buried in Mission Burial Park.