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The Boss

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

Nominating a Republican governor in 1928, Larson. The deals with Hoffman. Putting Frank Hague, Jr., on the Court of Errors and Appeals. Control of the Republican Party in Hud- son County. The dare to investigate, and the bipartisan frustra- tion of the Young Committee.

We see from what has taken place in our own days that Princcs who have set little store by their word, but have known how to overreach men by their cunning, have accomplished great things, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing.

THE CASE COMMITTEE called to the stand September 13, 1928, a Jersey City policeman named James McDonald, who, a lifelong Democrat, had voted in the Republican primary in May.

`And then,' said Senator Case, `you changed your mind again in July. How did that come about?'

`I was on my vacation,' came the answer, `and I listened to an argument by two men about religion in politics. I saw a picture of Smith on a balloon, with some poetry written underneath.'

`And that changed your mind. What are you in September?'

`September,' said Patrolman McDonald, `finds me a strong Democrat.' (New York Times, September 14, 1923.)

Mayor Hague's partisan convictions have been equally flexible. Although his speeches and public statements have urged upon his supporters unflinching allegiance to the Democratic Party, he has found it expedient upon occasion to engage in trading with the enemy. This activity would be party treason if engaged in by a subordinate, and would lead to instant expulsion from the organization; but when done by the high command it takes on that peculiar sanctity which people attribute to success. It has been successful, beyond doubt, for the Mayor not only controls the Democratic Party in New Jersey but an important segment of the Republican Party as well. This control is not absolute, but is rather a sort of ad hoc understanding renewable as new events bring new problems. These temporary agreements have been more satisfactory than an outright alliance, for they have left him greater freedom of action: the Republicans have always to be asking for his support. Many American state bosses have been able through their control of the majority party to dominate a state, but none except Mayor Hague has been able to dominate his state through the minority party.

Back in 1916 Frank Hague decided that his personal organization was more important than the Democratic Party. President Wilson had appointed his old opponent, H. Otto Wittpenn, comptroller of customs at the New York Customs House. Trying to stage a political comeback, Wittpenn obtained the Democratic nomination for governor. His election would have meant the end of Frank Hague's political career, for the state patronage, and particularly the appointment of Hudson County judges and prosecutor, would have been in the hands of an enemy. Probably no outright deal was made with Walter E. Edge, the Republican candidate, but Edge benefited, nonetheless, from Hague's hostility to Wittpenn. When Wilson ran for governor in 1910 he had carried Hudson County by 26,10-2 majority; Fielder, the Democratic candidate in 1913, received 25,959 more votes than his Republican opponent; but when Wittpenn ran in 1916 he received a meager 7430 majority, which was easily overcome by the Edge majorities in the normally Republican counties. Organization Democrats were not urged to vote Republican in that election; they simply were not urged to vote. There has been no anti-Hague Democratic candidate for governor since Wittpenn.


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