INDEPENDENT CLUB. The Independent Club, or Old Party (Partido Viejo) as it was called in Laredo and Webb counties, evolved in 1894 out of the Botas and Guaraches conflict. Until it collapsed in 1978, it was one of the strongest political machines in South Texas. With headquarters on Jarvis Plaza in downtown Laredo, the Independent Club consisted of elected officials in the city, county, and schools, as well as businessmen, lawyers, and citizens who were economically dependent under the patrón system. Besides controlling all city and county offices, the club endorsed state and national candidates with pledges that Webb County would vote as a block. In the beginning the club also raised the necessary funds to run various campaigns by assessing each member a monthly fee.
Although a Reform Club challenged the Independent Club for power in 1898, by 1900 the Independent was firmly entrenched in the community. Amador Sánchez, mayor from 1901 to 1910, was one of the most influential Independent Club politicians during this period. From 1900 to his death in 1931 Antonio M. Bruni, an Italian immigrant, also had considerable influence in the party as county treasurer. From 1910 to the mid-1920s there was a gradual trend toward solidification of political control. In 1910 the Independent Club elected Robert McCombs mayor. He was followed in 1920 by Leopoldo Villegas, and in 1926 Albert Martin, son of Raymond Martin, was chosen. In 1932 the mayoral election was contested by the Progressive Peoples' party, headed by Manuel J. Raymond. Although this Partido de la Garra, as it was called, mounted a formidable campaign against the Independent Club, it failed to capture a single office. By 1934 Raymond, once a vocal opponent, had become a member of the Independent Club. Token opposition to party rule in 1936 was followed by none in 1938. After vigorous opposition in 1939 from William Prescott Allen, publisher of the Laredo Daily Times, Martin decided not to run in 1940, and Independent Club candidate Hugh S. Cluck was elected with no opposition and served as mayor until 1954, when J. C. (Pepe) Martin, Jr., was elected. In the 1950s the Independent Club was seriously challenged by a group led by E. J. Dryden, Sr., but retained power. By 1956 a Reform party composed of several wealthy Laredoans whose livelihood did not depend on the Independent Club, as well as a number of World War II veterans, again challenged the party. Although the Independent Club defeated A. W. (Lonnie) Gates in the mayoral race in 1956, George Byfield and Norma Z. Benavides defeated Independent Club candidates in 1959 and were elected to the Laredo Independent School Board, while Dalziel Cobb was victorious in the rural Nye Independent School District.
Political activism on the border in the 1960s as well as a growing Laredo middle class presented a new problem for the Independent Club. Although long-time opposition leader Tomás Flores garnered only 1,472 votes to Martin's 8,260 in 1970, two years later the Independent Club lost its first county elections, when Alfonso (Poncho) de la Garza beat Mario Novoa for county commissioner. Although the Independent Club lost two county commissioner seats in 1974, it continued to hold city offices. Mario Santos, however, beat Independent Club candidate Porfirio L. Flores for Webb County sheriff. Internal disputes within the Independent Club began to weaken the organization.
Beginning in 1977 Taxpayers Organized for Public Service, spearheaded by Lawrence Berry, a disgruntled, self-employed handyman, began examining city accounts and uncovered fraud in the street department. The resultant scandal spelled the end for the Independent Club. In November 1977 J. C. Martin, Jr., announced he would not seek reelection. In the April 1978 city election six candidates sought the office of mayor. Aldo Tatangelo, son of Italian immigrants and a political independent, was easily elected. A month after the elections Martin was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of mail fraud and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $201,118 to the city in restitution, and was sentenced to serve thirty weekends in the Webb County Jail. In 1979, as a result of the strong mayoral system of government that had existed in Laredo for more than eighty years, the city council approved a new city charter establishing a city council-manager government.
The Independent Club was able to survive for eighty-four years because of its ability to attract new people into its fold and win over opponents. In the latter years, however, it failed to bring in younger members and could not adapt to the changing makeup of the county. The population of Laredo had increased, and with economic diversity fewer people needed Independent Club patronage. Its influence therefore waned, and the longest enduring political machine in South Texas ceased to exist. See also BOSS RULE.
Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (New York: Knopf, 1982). Fernando Piñon, Patron Democracy (Mexico City: Contraste, 1985). Jerry D. Thompson, Warm Weather and Bad Whiskey: The 1886 Laredo Election Riot (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1991).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Elena Holloway, "INDEPENDENT CLUB," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wmiqt), accessed July 11, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.