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The Boss

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

The first means of controlling opposition speakers is to control the halls in which public meetings may be held. The Mayor testified in his own inimitable style as to the way the rocess works during his examination in the C.I.O. case in Newark:

Q. So that a mere expression of opinion by you that the renting of halls to such persons would not, in your opinion, be a desirable thing, would be sufficient, would it not for the people to fear –
A. Yes – not fear, now; don't put in fear.

Q. Very well, let me withdraw that word. To make these people believe, is that all right, that the renting of halls would arouse the resentment of the city authorities? A. I could say, Counselor, that nearly every man who is the proprietor of a hall – as a rule a hall carries with it a saloon. ... They have on numerous occasions business at the City Hall on little minor affairs that they are interested in. That brings a very close relationship with the officials and these proprietors. That being so, it does not require any force, Coun- selor, for them men to know just what the Mayor desires or what their friend desires. I never talked to a saloonkeeper or to a proprietor of a hall on this occasion, I never even intimated to any of them. (Transcript, p. 1076)

/dl> The `little minor affairs' that bring the saloonkeepers to City Hall might include the renewal of their liquor licenses, perhaps, or the approval of their fire escapes, or the adjustment of their assessments. There are, indeed, so many of these matters `that they are interested in' that no intima- tion, much less force, is required:
No – a mere expression from me, Counselor, is sufficient to men who has been associated with me, men who has lived in the city all their lives and who on numerous occasions have had talks and association with me, that is sufficient for them to feel that they are not working within the proper scope, if they encourage groups of that kind, when they know that the officials of Jersey City are distasteful to that type of gatherings forming in Jersey City.' (Ibid.)

As the Mayor testified, such an opponent of his as Burkitt was unable to hire a hall called the People's Palace, and the superintendent of the building, noticing the Mayor walking one day with his deputy along Bergen Avenue, went across the street to assure them that he had refused to rent his auditorium to Burkitt. (Ibid., p. 1117.) The armory of the 113th Infantry was denied to him unless he paid seven hundred and fifty dollars per night for its use, a sum which, of course, was beyond his resources. Communists and other `red radicals' naturally cannot always obtain a hall even after paying a deposit for its rental; the deposit will be returned to them and they will be denied the use of the building. (Ibid., p. 1126.)

The control of meeting-places dates back to a city ordinance adopted three years after Hague became mayor, which required that

No person, firm, or corporation, owning, maintaining, operating, leasing or renting any hall, auditorium, room or other place for the holding of public meetings shall rent, lease, hire or permit the use thereof without a permit therefor first obtained from the Chief of Police for any such meeting whereat any such person shall speak upon the subject of obstructing the Government of the United States or any state thereof, or advocating the abolition, overthrow, or change of the Government of the United States, or any such state by any means, method or activity other than those now allowed by law, or whereat the use of force or violence against the Government of the United States or any such state or government established thereunder shall be advocated.

Although this ordinance is probably unconstitutional, its intent is clearly to provide a pre-censorship by the chief of ice of the content of speeches sought to be made in privately owned buildings. The terms are so broad as to cover almost any kind of political speech, for almost all speeches advocate some kind of change, and a chief of police might easily be persuaded that methods to be advocated were not allowed by law.

As a matter of police practice, however, the ordinance has not been relied upon because of its dubious constitutionality. The Mayor's testimony in Newark brought out how other police powers are used instead:

Q. The permit among other things was denied [by Chief of Police Harry Walsh] because the building was not safe for such a meeting; the building was the Central Hall at 574 Newark Avenue.
A. That was their defense, I presume.

Q. That was their defense. The building is still used?
A. Yes.

Q. They have pretty good-sized assemblages there, don't they, Mayor?
A. Yes, `any port in a storm,' Counselor. (Ibid, p. 1129.)

The principle of `any port in a storm' seems to be the one upon which the city administration has operated. Organizations that are not actively disliked at City Hall have no trouble in obtaining permits. The Hudson County Republicans, for example, who at best offer only nominal opposition to the organization, have no difficulty in renting either public or private meeting-places at any time. Anti-administration candidates for the city commission have to overcome more obstacles, but not insuperable ones. Even communists and socialists have been granted permits. The extent and character of the suppression change with the times. In untroubled periods or when no election, especially no city election, is at hand, applications have been freely approved. When the organization feels that it is in some critical position, then city officials will find a device or pretext for preventing a meeting. As Mayor Hague, using the third person, put it:
A. Mayor Hague has never denied free speech, as the record shows; communists, socialists, every application that was ever made to the City of Jersey City was granted. That record produced by Commissioner Casey shows that, Counselor. Now, I wasn't familiar with that record. I had always maintained that we had never opposed free speech, and I would like to say to the country that the evidence you just produced clearly demonstrated that Mayor Hague never opposed free speech. The only time that free speech was ever questioned has been since this C.I.O. trouble and this disorder.

Q. Well, now, there is perhaps one other instance there.
A. And I think it is time, Counselor, that public officials should inject themselves in when there is disorder and bloodshed in danger. Then I think it is time free speech ought to be considered in its proper manner to safeguard the city I represent and its people. (Ibid., p. 1124.)

The testimony did not show, however, that the C.I.O. instance was the only one, or that in it or any other there was grave danger of bloodshed and disorder when the hiring a hall had been prevented. It is obvious, furthermore, that against this any-port-in-a-storm doctrine for the use of the police and taxing powers to prevent meetings no injunction, judicial decision, can be effective.


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