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The Boss

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

Try as he would, Hague never got control of the legislature. He could produce in Hudson County the great majorities that made governors, but he could not build up local organizations in other counties which would regularly elect legislators. After Nugent's death, the most populous county in THE BOSS the state, Essex, became more and more Republican, until it was the headquarters of the most irritating reform crowd that Hague ever had to contend with, the Clean Government Group of the Essex Republican Party, headed by the Reverend Doctor Lester H. Clee and Arthur Vanderbilt, a former president of the American Bar Association. In other counties he would occasionally turn up a plan who had possibilities of leadership, such as William H. J. Ely, a Democrat who got elected in 1932 as state senator from Bergen County, which is almost always Republican; but when Ely came up for re-election the organization helped him too much, and certain scandals appeared which injured Ely's availability from that time on.

Only in Middlesex County (around New Brunswick), where industrial and social conditions are somewhat similar to those in Hudson County, was it possible to build a machine on the Hudson model. John E. Toolan – since 1933 state senator – and David T. Wilentz since 1934 attorney general beginning in the late twenties, organized the Democratic Party in their county so that they acquired complete control of the city and county governments. Leadership seems to be shared equally and harmoniously between Toolan and Wilentz. They appear obedient to City Hall, though they have moments of independence.

In all the annual elections of legislators since 1919, when Frank Hague first became a power in the state government, only those in 1932 and 1936 produced Democratic majorities in the Assembly. Rural counties are so much over-represented in the Senate that it has remained Republican in all those years. Often the Democratic organization has had in the Senate only the senators from Hudson and Middlesex, plus one or two strays.

In spite of the normal Republican majority, Mayor Hague has usually been able to get what he has wanted because of his control of state patronage through his governors, because of important state administrative agencies, and because of his bloc of assemblymen from Hudson County. The story of his bipartisan operations will be told in another chapter, but some description of his remarkable assembly delegations is appropriate here because their votes often form a balance between the North and South Jersey Republicans or between the Clean Government Group and the Hoffman Republicans.


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