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The Boss

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

Perhaps because of his humorless cast of mind he is extremely sensitive to criticism: he does not have the tough hide that successful politicians are supposed to possess. He usually elects not to answer the arguments or allegations of opponents on their merits but rather to attack his opponents personally; thus he said that the Case Committee investigation was started for the benefit of `Bob Carey, a common scold, and nothing but a bum sport.' (New York Times, July 17, 1928.) The charge of partisanship is an easy and adequate reply to charges made to or by any investigating committee. He asserted that the Mackay Committee in 1921 was seeking merely to accumulate Republican political ammunition, for, he said, `If the committee had been sincere they would have gone into Republican districts of the state where they would have found conditions so bad that the disclosure would have caused a Robert Ambry, an opposition candidate, `irresponsible'; he characterized a taxpayers' suit against him and the other shock to respectable communities.' (New York Times, May 8, 1921.) He called the late commissioners as `a bid on the part of those behind it for cheap notoriety.' (New York Times, August 23, 1929.) He did not answer the series of charges made against him by David Wittels in the New York Post in 1938; he simply denounced them as `scurrilous.'

He expects and receives respect, even deference, from as- sociates and from the people. Not even his boyhood friends call him by his first name. He does not like the word `boss,' which carries unpleasant connotations; he prefers `leader'; and statements or releases of speeches are prefaced, `Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, Democratic state leader....' Associates refer to him as `Boss Hague' or `the boss,' but never in his presence; then it is `Mayor' or `Mr. Mayor.' When he arrives, usually late, at a public meeting, he comes clown the aisle followed by a group of policemen; his arrival is a signal for the audience to rise respectfully and to applaud. Jersey City audiences are well trained, but if they are neglectful the chairman and other persons on the platform rise as a signal of what is expected.

Like most essentially humorless men, he is vindictive. Of the many instances that might be given, one of the cases of James J. Burkitt, a persistent opponent of the organization, will suffice. In the words of the New York Times:

Burkitt attended the meeting [of the City Commission] to have the limits of his police permit to speak at certain corners defined by the commission. Mayor Frank Hague, who presided, was clearly amused by the sight of Burkitt as the latter approached the assembly rostrum to speak.
`What's the matter with your face?' asked the Mayor.
`Some of your thugs beat me up,' Burkitt replied.
The Mayor laughed heartily.
`Don't laugh, Mr. Mayor,' Burkitt said, irritated.
`I'm not laughing at you, but your face looks so funny,' cried Hague.'
(New York Times, July 18, 1928.)


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