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Mayor sold interest in property rented by adult business

Memoir continued ...

Mayor Jonathan Rogers (El Paso County

 Historical Society)
Jonathan Rogers was an impressive politician and businessman

Jonathan Rogers served as mayor of El Paso, Texas from 1981 to 1989. I first met him when I was a reporter for the University of Texas at El Paso student newspaper, the Prospector. One of the university officials invited me to interview Rogers, a candidate for his first run as mayor.

City elections are non-partisan, candidates do not run according to a political party, but it was well known that Rogers and his strongest supporters were Republicans. A meeting for him took place at a home on Crazy Cat Mountain, where several elites and other well-to-do El Pasoans lived.

I still recall the quiet tone of the people gathered around him; they actually did not expect him to win. To the surprise of the entire community, Rogers won the race handily, and would be reelected to several successive terms. His accessibility and civility impressed me then and later over the years. I was invited to interview him about what he planned to do as mayor. His office was neat and tidy, and his desk cleared. He was impeccably dressed in shirt and tie. I was only a campus newspaper reporter, yet he gave me his undivided attention, as though I were an established journalist from a major media outlet. I will never forget that. And, although others may strongly disagree, I believe that Rogers was the right mayor at the time for the city.

Once in a while, I had occasion to interview him on various topics. I was not a city hall beat reporter so I did not have regular contact with Rogers, a businessman and a banker. I had to call him during the El Paso Times  sex-for-sale series. The focus of the series was on who was profiting from the city's sex industry: topless bars, adult video arcades, pornography and prostitution, including the owners of properties that leased/rented to such businesses. It turned out that Rogers owned an interest in one such property in East El Paso, and it was among the many facets that the series disclosed.

Rogers promptly announced that he was going to sell his interest in that property and donate the proceeds to a charitable organization.

Sex for sale

El Paso Times Managing Editor Paula Moore oversaw the news project. I was assigned to the features section at the time, and Josie Weber was my section editor. Paula Moore was a real work horse; no one could keep up with her. We spent an entire night at the newsroom during the production of the series; the dates for publication had been publicized and we had to meet the deadlines no matter what. One of the main stories for the series, each day featured a main "bar "as it's referred to in journalese, was 40 column inches long. Paula said it was too long, and asked me to cut it down to 25 column inches. As painful as that sounded, the trim made the story better, and so it went.

During the research for the series, I was able to interview a prostitute (today we call them sex workers), who showed me her address book of clients. The address book included prominent El Pasoans, including elected officials. The prostitute said she used her revenue from her work to pay for her daughter's education at a Catholic boarding school. Another woman, who worked at the former Popular Department Store, confided to a close acquaintance that she moonlighted as a prostitute.

The series also involved a look at establishments that were reputed to be brothels, in particular a placed that some called "Anita's" on West Overland. Today that building sits empty. We had to prove prior to publication that the place was indeed a brothel, and that required that a man go in there and attempt to procure a sex worker. El Paso Times Assistant City Editor Robert Halpern was persuaded to help with that particular story by going undercover. After he went inside and requested a woman, he was led to a room that had a bed and where a woman waited for him. Halpern, who ended the session when she began to undress, wrote about the experience for the series.

An alleged bribe;
a question that angered a politician

Not everything we learned along the way about El Paso's sex industry was published because not everything could be proved during the period of time that the paper had allotted for the series. For example, a former assistant city attorney made several allegations about why the city did not close down adult businesses that could be in violation of an ordinance that restricted them if they were near homes, schools, churches and day cares. Other cities in the United States had adopted and applied ordinances that withstood constitutional challenges. This particular assistant city attorney alleged that someone in the city's legal department personally objected to such restrictions, and because of that found ways to make it difficult (giving certain legal advice) for the City Council to apply the ordinance that applied to adult businesses. He also alleged that a City Council member had received a $10,000 bribe for his vote against the restrictions.

In an interview about out-of-state owners of a certain adult business, a lawyer in East Texas who represented the owners warned against taking on his clients. He indicated that they were dangerous people that we did not want to mess with. Another interesting allegation that surfaced came from a resident who claimed that a former elected county official was a silent partner in a topless bar in East El Paso. I called the former official to ask about this, and he proceeded to angrily curse at me. I informed the editor about his reaction, and the editor told me, "It's probably true then. Don't worry about it."

Another caller challenged us, saying we had conflicts of interest because the newspaper published ads over the years purchased by topless clubs. That was true. Barbara Funkhouser, an editor at the El Paso Times, said she didn't know why the paper insisted on running the ads. She was not a prude or anything like that; she just wondered considering that the paper reportedly was aimed at "families." Barbara said she was familiar with the newspaper's budget, and knew that "these ads are just a drop in the bucket - the paper doesn't need them."

Another caller raised a more  pointed issue. He worked at one of the adult businesses that included a downstairs room with pornographic videos that could be viewed privately inside the stalls. The employee said the stalls were used by some clients for sexual trysts. He alleged that several of our newsroom staff members, including a section editor, were regular clients of the downstairs section. Later, the manager of another such business at the other end of the city called to allege that a well-known law enforcement official used the stalls there to have sex with younger clients. In both of these cases, the businesses had videotapes of the encounters - as insurance?

The 1986 sex-for-sale series garnered the El Paso Times a Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Feature Series First Place Award.

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