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The Boss

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

He likes to make speeches, but even his prepared speeches are, as Life said, `on the rambling, incoherent side.' He would, if he had his way, make them all extemporaneous; but since William L. Dill's defeat in his campaign for governor in 1934, after the Mayor had made a series of extemporaneous stump speeches for him, he has generally been constrained by his associates to write them out in advance. Even then he is apt to depart from the text and to interpolate some inept or impolitic observation, such as, `I am the law,' or to admit into public utterance some of the profanity or obscenity that he uses in private, as he did on the occasion when he boasted how he had defeated those who advocated a compromise on the railroad taxes: `I says: "You go to hell. You'll not put that over on me."'

A favorite theme for speeches to political audiences is to recount in detail the story of his rise, of how he built up his organization, of how he cleaned up the police and fire departments. This is an appropriate text for addresses to Democratic audiences in other cities; they are frankly advised that if they wish to produce majorities such as his they would do well to follow his example. There are, to be sure, certain omissions in his account, but even Theodore Roosevelt made a discreet selection of material when he wrote his Autobiography. Another favorite topic is juvenile delinquency; in his speeches on this subject he frequently alludes to his incorrigible youth and to the narrowness of the margin by which he escaped being led into a life of crime instead of becoming Jersey City's leading citizen.

Once he advised a group of party workers not to make speeches more than ten minutes in length, but he does not follow this advice himself. The story of his life, even as he tells it, cannot be related in less than an hour, and often runs to an hour and a half. These long speeches are, however, delivered with great vigor, punctuated with the pumphandle or with the schoolmaster gesture, and particularly telling points are allowed to sink in during a dramatic pause.


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