Beyond Steel

Yeakle's poor response, however, could not change the direction of Bethlehem political sentiment. South side businessmen organized mass meetings to discuss vice conditions and protest the mayor's failure to control crime.[12] Businessmen were not the only South Side residents uniting to push the city into action. A few days later, South Side Catholics and Protestants united to sign a vice petition calling the mayor to address the brothel situation.[13]

Yeakle's response letter probably incensed far more people than it calmed. The next day, under the name of "Indignant," a Bethlehemite attacked Yeakle for using the "red herring" trick when he blamed the Globe-Times for blowing the crime controversy out of proportions. The letter accused Yeakle's administration of profiting from the brothel districts by having police routinely raid and fine the houses without getting the prostitutes to leave the city. Instead of collecting what was essentially protection money from the brothels, the citizen wanted Yeakle to actually clear out the prostitutes and prevent them from coming back to town.[14]

By the 1929 Democratic primary, Yeakle had significant opposition within his own party for the mayor's seat. Businessman, bank president, city councilmember, and South Side resident Robert Pfeifle accepted the invitation of local residents to challenge Yeakle as a reform candidate. There was little doubt what Pfeifle intended to do upon taking office. He would clean up the South Side, something Yeakle had been unable to do since 1927. Moreover, Pfeifle would target all forms of lawlessness, including bootlegging and speakeasies.[15]

As wide open as the South Side was and as fond of liquor South Side residents tended to be, even according to Yeakle's bigoted standards, the 17 September primary results were quite shocking. One would think that thirsty South Side residents would have held their noses and voted for Yeakle just to keep a "do-gooding" reformer from clearing all the liquor from people's homes, stores, hotels, and barrooms. But Yeakle came in a sorry third in the South Side's First to Fifth Wards, with a total of 405 votes. Former councilman George H. Reussner came in first with 1,537 votes and Pfeifle received 1,410.[16]

Admittedly, South Side residents had not gone for Pfeifle, the reformer, but neither had they embraced Yeakle to defend them from attempts to enforce prohibition. Yeakle's characterization of foreign-born residents of the South Side as criminals undoubtedly hurt his chances for reelection, although many ethnics could not vote. South Side wets probably favored Reussner as a change from uncaring Yeakle and a safer choice than Pfeifle. In the city results, Pfeifle won, Reussner came in second, and Yeakle third.[17]

What is clear about the election results is that the entire city wanted a change. Moreover, citizens on both side of the Lehigh River wanted the next mayor to do more about rampant South Side crime. Reussner's victory on the South Side suggests residents there did not want everything cleaned up, but also could not stomach another four years of Yeakle's corruption and incompetence. Pfeifle's overall victory suggests that the city as a whole wanted reform in any way possible and believed Pfeifle was the most capable of providing that change.

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