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The Boss

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

Since the days when he was sergeant-at-arms, Frank Hague has gone to sessions of the legislature only when summoned, and then reluctantly. Unlike Huey Long, who went on the floor and managed the legislature of Louisiana in person, he has an agent. His personal representative is Judge Paladeau, who gets the orders from City Hall over the telephone and transmits them to governors, commissioners, or legislators. He strides down the aisles of the legislative chambers, overdressed and arrogant, the ambassador from the baron of Jersey City. Paladeau has no official state position, but his city judgeship pays him seven thousand dollars a year.

Every Hudson County delegation has a man whose name begins with `A' or 'B' – Ajamian, Artaserse, Beronio, and Bischoff are some recent examples – so that Paladeau will not have to transmit orders to every Democratic member individually but only to the lead-off man, as he is called, who, when he answers the roll, indicates to the other members, by his vote, whether they are to answer affirmatively or negatively. The amount of explanation given by Paladeau may be no more than a word or a gesture - a thumb up if to vote `aye,' down if to vote `no.' With this system in operation, it is embarrassing for a member of the group to make a speech on a pending bill and then be told to vote the other way; he soon finds his position more comfortable if he makes no speeches. He reads the newspapers or chats with his neighbors while debate is in progress, and then votes as the lead-off man indicates. Reporters, hoping to get their stories out before press time, have often sought to find out how the minority is going to vote on some pending bill; but they are usually unsuccessful, for the minority members do not know themselves. Not to vote as indicated by the lead-off man is to display a willingness to retire from public life.

Loyal organization members from other counties are also expected to follow orders, although if a vote is not expected to be close or important, pre-election pledges or the interests of some particular constituency will be accepted as sufficient reason for voting independently. The members from Hudson never make campaign pledges. When a matter is of great importance nothing must come before the desires of the state organization. How these principles are carried out in practice may be illustrated by the recent defeat of a bill which Mayor Hague has opposed for several years to forbid the issuance of injunctions in labor disputes, as told by William R. Clark in the Newark Evening News, March 13, 1938:

Mr. Malone ... relayed Mr. Hague's instructions to Trenton [Hague was in Florida] on the anti-injunction bill. Mr. Wilentz, who thinks for himself and the Middlesex delegation, took a quick look at the situation in the Assembly and told Mr. Malone the Democrats ought to support the measure. [They had opposed it in previous years.] It would help rehabilitate the party with labor and was going to pass anyhow.

That didn't go with Mr. Malone. He knew nothing about the roll call, strategy, or shifting situations, but he did know about Mr. Hague. Orders are orders, at least to Mr. Malone. All he knew was that the Boss wanted the bill beaten. Mr. Wilentz talked about flexibility of leadership and too much rigidity in orders. Mr. Malone was puzzled but adamant. The Hudson delegation voted as a unit and as Mr. Malone said. Mr. Wilentz's Middlesex delegation, including the Democratic floor leader, supported the measure. By that time, Mr. Malone was not only puzzled and adamant, he was aghast.


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