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The Boss

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

In January, 1919, the state board turned down Jersey increase of thirty million dollars in the assessments of railroad property there, though they did allow a trifling increase of $185,870. Almost simultaneously it was announce Jersey City that Senator Edwards would seek the Democratic nomination for governor. James R. Nugent of Newark, who had been undisputed leader of the party in New Jerrsey since Woodrow Wilson left for Washington, saw that was a test case. Even after the Edwards petitions were filed in May, however, he was unable to find a suitable candidate, himself. and late in June he announced that he would run

When the primary votes were counted on September 23, it was clear that Nugent's reign was over, and Frank Hague was the new leader of the Democratic Party in New Jersey. Although Nugent received a plurality of more than 13,000 in Essex County, he lost Hudson to Edwards by more than 2-2,000. Edward J. Handley, Nugent's publicity manager, charged that the count was fraudulent in Jersey City, that N ugent challengers had been barred from polling places, and 'that in many [election] districts the election boards took a number of ballot boxes into rear rooms to count the votes and refused to allow Nugent watchers in the room.' (New York Times, September 25, 1919.) He threatened court action, but rather than jeopardize the general election, six weeks away, Nugent gave in. A board of campaign managers was selected on which, along with Mayor Hague, there was a representative of the Nugent faction.

The election campaign was a wet-dry contest. The Republican candidate, Newton A. K. Bugbee, was opposed to prohibition, but he took his stand upon the Constitution, the rock upon which our government has been built into a citadel of strength,' as he said, and he promised, if elected, to enforce prohibition in New Jersey. Edwards pledged himself `to fight by every lawful means the enforcement of prohibition in New Jersey.' He was alleged to have said that he would make New Jersey wetter than the Atlantic Ocean, though after the election he said he had been misquoted.

Edwards carried the state by 14,510 and was barely elected; but Hudson County showed what it could do under its new leadership by giving him better than a two-to-one majority, 58,527 to 23,009. The legislature, however, was Republican in both houses.


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