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The Controversy Over Salem's First Mayor
 

Who was the first mayor of Salem? The answer is open to interpretation because of legal problems surrounding the incorporation of the city and the granting of a city charter. In January, 1857, Salem presumably was granted a charter by the Territorial Legislature. One month later, on February 9th, an election was held in this City of 700 in which Willie Kenyon, a photographer, was elected mayor.

But Asahel Bush, the Editor of the Oregon Statesman newspaper, raised serious questions about the legality of that election when he reported that several illegal votes had been cast and that the poll books from Ward 2 had disappeared. That was the ward from which George H. Jones was elected councilman.

During the investigation of that election, a more serious challenge was raised about the legality of the City’s charter. The new council quickly voted to refer the matter to District Judge George H. Williams. On December 8, 1857, Williams ruled that the city charter was invalid because it had not passed both houses of the Territorial Legislature.What had happened was that the House passed the charter bill and sent it to the Council (Senate), where it was amended. When the amended version of the bill was sent back, the clerk of the House inadvertently placed in with bills passed instead of with those to be enacted.

A new council appeared February 20, 1858, under Mayor John R. Moores. In April of that year, the council asked for another court ruling on the legality of the charter. Again, the court ruled that it was void.

Undaunted, and with optimism that the Territorial Legislature would eventually get around to granting the city a charter, the citizens of Salem – on May 19, 1860 - held and election in which Lucien Heath was elected mayor.Many people consider Heath to be Salem’s first legal mayor because, during his tenure, the City Charter was passed by the Territorial Legislature. That occurred on October 22, 1860.At 6:30 pm, On November 27, 1860, Heath officially took the Mayor’s chair in the first Marion County Courthouse, a two-story wooden building where today’s courthouse now stands. Heath’s civic activities were legendary. Besides being Mayor of Salem, Heath, a Democrat, also served as Secretary of State under Governor John Whiteaker. He was Oregon’s first Secretary of State under Oregon’s new statehood, which was attained on February 14, 1859.

Written by Al Jones, Statesman Journal newspaper, April 8, 1991

 

 
Additional Links
 

Mayor Lucien Heath

Mayor Lucien Heath
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Mayor Thomas Livesly

Mayor Thomas Livesly
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