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Blake Pontchartrain: "Old Regulars" and the Choctaw Club

The Regular Democratic Organization was founded in 1874

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Hey Blake,

What's the word on the Choctaw Club, which was home to the "Old Regulars"?

Barry

Dear Barry,

  Technically, the Choctaw Club was a social club, though it always was closely identified with its political activities, which were coordinated through the Regular Democratic Organization (RDO), whose members were called the "Old Regulars." As a result, the RDO, founded in 1874, became synonymous with the Choctaw Club, which was established in 1897.

  The groups' powerful members controlled the political life of the city for more than 40 years. Longtime Times-Picayune political columnist James Gillis once called the RDO the local version of New York's Tammany Hall, "a seemingly invincible patronage-oriented political machine." In his book New Orleans: An Illustrated History, author John R. Kemp explains that the group was ruled by 17 leaders, one for each ward in the city. That group decided who would run for office with the RDO's endorsement and its leaders worked with ward bosses and precinct captains to decide who would benefit from the patronage following a successful election.

  Mayor Martin Behrman, elected in 1904, became the candidate most associated with the club. As mayor for 17 years, he and his supporters benefited greatly from the RDO's power. The group remained a force in city government until 1946, when mayoral candidate deLesseps "Chep" Morrison defeated Mayor Robert Maestri, the RDO candidate.

  As for the physical location of the Choctaw Club, it first was housed in a building on Carondelet Street before moving to Canal Street. In the 1930s, it moved to a structure at 518 St. Charles Ave. that originally was built by architect James Gallier Sr. in 1841. The structure was demolished in 1973 and the site now is home to the Blake Hotel. The RDO remains active and endorses candidates for political office.

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