Former Butte Mayor Dies

Thomas F. Powers, 70, 2120 Whitman, former East Side grocer who became one of Butte’s most controversial political figures, died Friday at his home after a long bout with cancer.

            The Butte native was born Jan 9, 1918, the son of John and Elizabeth Powers.  Raised on the East Side, he graduated from sacred Heart Grade School, Butte High School, and attended Creighton University.

            Mr. Powers, an alderman from the First Ward in 1962, was named Mayor in 1964 after the resignation of Vern “Hanna” Griffith.

            Subsequently, Mr. Powers was elected to his own terms in 1965 and 1967.  But, when he ran for election in 1969, he was defeated by Independent Mario “Mike” Micone.

            The underlying issues in the election were accusations that Butte was riddled with prostitution; the claims were based on part on interviews given by the late former madam Beverly Snodgrass to the Great Falls Tribune.  Mr. Powers admitted there was prostitution in the city, but no solid evidence ever was produced linking him to it.

            So despite his efforts in getting Butte designated as a federal model City, which ultimately brought about $20 million in to the city, Micone defeated Mr. Powers 5,156 votes to 3,212 votes.

Mr. Powers then was appointed personnel direct at Warm Springs State Hospital and served in the post until 1974 when false accusations of accepting bribes during the worker’s compensation scandal forced him out.         

            Mr. Powers was charged with accepting “bribes” from Anaconda lawyer John “Luke” McKeon for proving McKeon with reports about worker injuries.

            Powers was tried on the charge in Anaconda by Dick Dzivi, then chief prosecutor for Attorney General Bob Woodahl and Bob Smith, one of Woodahl’s out-of-state prosecutors.

            Butte lawyer Jack Peterson, now the federal bankruptcy judge, defended Mr. Powers before Judge James Freebourn of Butte.

            The case became the first in the ill-fated workers comp probe which Woodahl’s forces lost.

            Freebourn ruled, in essence, that the fact that Mr. Powers supplied McKeon with worker injury records was not a crime because the information was public.

            Dzivi appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which on a 4-1 vote refused to take jurisdiction in the case, thereby upholding Freebourn’s ruling that the records in question were public.

            The state dropped its case against Mr. Powers Dec. 8, 1975.

            From the time he was charged until he was exonerated, Mr. Powers was employed as a custodian for Butte School District 1.  All told, he worked for the district 10 years.

            In earlier years, Mr. Powers had worked for the 30 Club, the Montana Power Co. as an electrician, and operated powers Grocery on East Broadway and later on East Park.

            Mr. Powers served in the Army during World War II in Ireland and Europe and received the Bronze Star.

            He and Rose M. Hannifin married in Butte’s Sacred heart Church on August 21, 1946. She survives in Butte.

            Other survivors include sons and daughters-in-law, John and Colleen Powers, and Tom and Cindy Powers, Julie Powers and Dick Rosenleaf, all of Butte, Mary Ann and Dan McCarthy and Joanne and Steve Austin, all of Helena, Kathleen Ives of Minneapolis and Rosie Powers of Great Falls; sister, Josephine McGrath of Spokane; his step-mother, Florence Powers of Butte; and three grandchildren.

            A parish vigil will be held at St. John the Evangelist Church Monday at 7 p.m.

            Liturgy of the Resurrection will be celebrated Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the church.  Burial will follow in Holy Cross Cemetery.

            Memorials are requested to the St. John the Evangelist Organ Fund, Highland Hospice, the Butte Food Bank or the Catholic Education Fund.

The Montana Standard
Butte, Montana
May 28, 1988