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The Boss

By David Dayton McKean
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

When Mayor Hague was testifying at the C.I.O. trial in Newark he was asked, `But you don't believe much in these civil rights, do you?

He replied, `Whenever I hear a discussion of civil rights and the rights of free speech and the rights of the Constitution, always remember you will find him [the advocate of these rights?] with a Russian flag under his coat; you never miss.' (Transcript, p. 1146.)

This sentence of the Mayor's, while typically confused, nonetheless represents the general attitude of his organization toward civil liberties: there must be no nonsense in Jersey City about constitutional rights. The very logic of the political processes he has set in motion, more than any innate intolerance on his part, compels him to take this position; an organization such as his cannot permit unlimited discussion and criticism and still survive. A revolt could be produced by speakers or newspaper editors who were allowed to call too frequent attention to the tax rate, to the overcrowded schools, to the labor conditions in the Jersey City sweatshops, to the Mayor's unexplained wealth, or to any of the thousand-and-one abuses that have made Jersey City famous. His recognition of the necessity for the suppression of criticism and his outstanding success in controlling – notwithstanding a Supreme Court decision – the avenues of communication make him in still one more respect unique among American bosses. It is perhaps because he has been able to control the means for forming opinion in his city and county that he has been able to remain in power since 1917 while all of his contemporaries have been deposed.

No visitor stays long in Jersey City without feeling the atmosphere of suspicion and tension that exists there. People are reluctant to talk about the Mayor or the organization. `He has almost as many spies working for him,' wrote John McCarten in The New Yorker, `as the ruler of a Balkan kingdom.' David Wittels in one of his articles in the New York Post collected a series of instances of opponents who had failed to receive their mail or who found that their mail had been opened. One newspaper reporter proved that his telephone wires were tapped by the simple device of having a friend telephone him from New York City that John Brophy of the C.I.O. was going to pay him a secret visit and wanted to be met at the ferry at a designated hour. It was amusing to the reporter to stand in the balcony of the ferry waiting-room and watch the Jersey City police and detectives assemble to meet the boat. Foster Haley, writing in the New York Times, said:

It is difficult in Jersey City, except in the privacy of home or office, to get an expression of opposition to Mayor Hague. Many have learned from experience not to become publicly vocal. One resident, belonging to one of the oldest families in the city, who recently has been outspoken against the Mayor was sued on a nine-year-old note he had forgotten about. The assessment on his brother's property was raised from $2500 to $25,000.


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