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Sullivan Retrospect

 
Luis de Hoyos, longtime mayor
of Monticello and one of the most
powerful politicians in Sullivan County.

RETROSPECT
by John Conway
March 14, 2014


PARTIES UNITE TO DEFEAT POWERFUL MAYOR IN MONTICELLO

On March 18, 1947 one of the most contentious in a long line of contentious political campaigns in Sullivan County’s history culminated in one of the biggest election upsets ever, as Monticello’s longtime mayor, Republican Luis de Hoyos, was unseated by a neophyte opponent.

Voter turnout has traditionally been light for village elections in Sullivan County, but the hotly contested mayoral election in Monticello that year was an exception. Over 1800 voters - an amazing number, considering the entire population of the village was only around 3,000 - cast their ballots.

De Hoyos, twelve year mayoral incumbent, county Republican chairman, and arguably the most powerful politician in all of Sullivan, was ousted from office that day by political newcomer Charles Solms, a physician and a long time registered Republican, who was running on both the Democrat and American Labor party lines. The final tally was 945 votes for Solms and 882 for de Hoyos.

While the final outcome may have been unexpected, the unusual turnout was not a complete surprise. Political observers had predicted that a couple of hot button issues would spark more interest than typical for a village election, and the eventual vote totals proved them correct. In an article published on the eve of the election, the Sullivan County Evening News had forecasted "1,700 Will Vote for Village Heads" in its front page headline.

"Almost 1700 voters are expected to go to the polls tomorrow in the first hotly contested village election here since Mayor Luis de Hoyos took office twelve years ago," the Evening News reported. "De Hoyos, the most important political figure in Sullivan County by virtue of his office as Republican county chairman, which extends his influence as far as Albany and New York City, is faced by a political newcomer in Dr. Charles Solms, a Monticello physician who has never before run for a political office."

The Evening News reported that the question of whether voting machines should be used in the election - a move the de Hoyos camp vehemently opposed - and the controversial location of a veterans’ housing project were key issues in the election, as was the fact that "the village tax rate has been raised five times in the last year." In addition, the Solms campaign, headed by attorney Jacob Aks, publicly charged that "de Hoyos’ long tenure of office is not healthy for the village."

In fact, Aks had originally been slated to be the mayoral candidate that year, selected by the Democrats to run against de Hoyos, but a late in the campaign ballot switch substituted Solms instead, without explanation.  Aks, however, remained a key factor in the race, virtually running the campaign from not quite behind the scenes.

Of course, the outspoken incumbent had long been controversial. He was decisive and dynamic, and some village residents felt he looked out for his supporters at the expense of those who voiced opposition to his political policies. Years before, a handful of village residents had accused de Hoyas and his cohort, village treasurer William Miller, of acquiescing to the interests of Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Murder, Inc. and organized crime. Still, his high profile and political savvy had brought recognition to the area and he was respected throughout the state.

So wide was his sphere of influence, in fact, that following his defeat the New York Times ran a sizable article about him leaving office. "La Guardia of the Catskills" the Times called him in an article dated March 31, 1947, the day before he was to vacate the office he had held for so long.

"The most colorful mayor in Sullivan County, whose diminutive but dynamic figure often has brought a reference to him as ‘the La Guardia of the Catskills,’ ended a twelve year tenure as chief executive of this widely known county seat today," the article noted under a Monticello dateline. "He is Mayor Luis de Hoyos, who tomorrow will be succeeded by Dr. Charles Solms, physician and veteran of World War II. In the most hotly contested municipal election in Monticello’s history on March 18, Dr. Solms defeated Mayor de Hoyos by sixty-three votes.

"(de Hoyos) was never lost for a superlative and the one he used most was ‘greatest.’ Sullivan County, in his parlance, was not just a wonderful vacation spot. It was ‘the greatest resort area in the world.’ Monticello, of course, was the ‘garden spot of the mountains.’ The way he said it and the way he actually wrote it was in boldface capitals."

The Times went on to recap many of de Hoyos’ accomplishments, from his reign as county chairman to his designation by the Roosevelt Administration in 1941 as technical adviser to the United States delegation to the Inter-American Municipal Congress in Santiago, Chile.

Some newspapers closer to home did not share the New York paper’s apparent disappointment at de Hoyos’ departure. The White Lake Times announced almost gleefully in its March 28th editions that "the reign of Luis de Hoyos as acknowledged political strongman of Monticello was at an end." 

But if the newspapers meant their articles as political epitaphs, they were a bit premature.

Luis de Hoyos regained his position as mayor two years later, and still held the post - as well as the county Republican chairmanship - at the time of his death.   More on that next week.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. E-mail him at jconway52@hotmail.com .


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