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The Boss

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

In Hudson County the Republicans and the Democrats not only understand each other in election matters, but also join hands to prevent or to frustrate investigations. The unhappy history of the Young Committee is the most recent case in point. The election of a governor in 1937 was followed, as usual, by charges of corruption in Jersey City and Hudson County; but Mayor Hague issued a statement challenging an investigation and recount. He said in part:

Ever since I have been in politics, which is many years, all I have heard from Republican leaders is fraud and corruption in Hudson County.... I say to Senator Clee [the defeated Republican candidate for governor] and his cohorts: Now is the time for your recount. I dare you to come into Jersey City or any other city in this county and proceed with your recount. Let me make a special request, that you come into Jersey City and open every box in order that you and your followers will be silenced forever.... I cannot too strongly say to Senator Clee and the Republican Party: I dare you to come into Jersey City ... (Newark Evening News, November 5, 1937.)
A few days later the Democratic legislators from Hudson County, headed by Senator Edward Stout, echoed the Mayor's demand. The brave tone was taken when it appeared that the defeated candidate could not raise the money for the recount. The money was obtained, however, and December 1 the Mayor denounced the proposed recount as a `sinister' attempt to foist voting machines upon Hudson County. The dare was not repeated.

The Clee forces were required by Chief Justice Thomas J. Brogan to deposit $9795 with the Hudson County clerk before they could proceed. When they had done so they began the count and discovered many little errors in the totaling of the ballots and some dubious ballots, which the bipartisan Hudson County Board of Elections ruled should be counted for Moore. Senator Stout had alleged that there were fifty thousand fraudulent registrations in Hudson County, and there, if anywhere, was the place that the election would have to be upset. The attorneys for Clee petitioned the chief justice for permission to examine the poll books; the petition was denied. They requested a Supreme Court investigation, and deposited bond; this petition was denied by Chief Justice Brogan – who had been at one time Mayor Hague's legislative agent in the House of Assembly - on the ground that the alleged fraudulent registrations had not been shown in the petition – when he had denied them access to the poll books, which alone would have shown the fraudulent registrations. But the chief justice, an old friend of Mayor Hague's and formerly corporation counsel of Jersey City, went even further and in his opinion said that even if the members of the election board had failed to perform the duty imposed upon them by law of comparing the signatures in the poll books with the signatures of those persons seeking to vote, `their failure to perform a directory duty cannot invalidate the result of the election.' This decision naturally terminated the recount, and Senator Clee turned to the legislature.

The New Jersey Assembly authorized an investigating committee January 17, 1938. When the committee, headed by Assemblyman Henry Young, tried to get the poll books, the commissioner of registrations, Charles F. Stoebling, Hudson County Republican leader, became seriously but conveniently ill. His physician, Doctor Robert Stockfisch of the Jersey City Medical Center, refused to permit the committee to question his patient, who, it appeared, had always been given a sedative just before the committee called. Mr. Stoebling, from his sick-bed, sent word that he would not permit the poll books to go out of his office unless he could accompany them in person, although his secretary, Miss Alice Seglie, testified to the committee that they had been taken out repeatedly during a recount of the vote following a Republican primary a few months before. (Transcript, pp. 88 pp.) Mr. Robert H. Doherty, assistant Hudson County counsel, appeared, with singular magnanimity, as Miss Seglie's attorney.

The Jersey City police soon refused to let the committee into Mr. Stoebling's apartment house, and they guarded the vault in Mr. Stoebling's office where the poll books were kept. The committee sought the aid of the state police, but the attorney-general, David T. Wilentz, Democratic leader of Middlesex County, ruled that they could not go into a city unless upon the request of the municipal authorities or upon the direction of the governor. Baffled at every turn, the committee questioned some election officers and discovered many curious and illuminating election customs in Jersey City. They sought to question Mayor Hague, but he was in Florida. Three election officers were arrested when they refused to testify; they brought habeas corpus actions before Vice-Chancellor Henry T. Kays – formerly Democratic state senator from Sussex County – in Jersey City, who granted the writs, declaring the committee unconstitutional as usurping judicial functions. The vice-chancellor's decision heartened Mr. Stoebling so much that he immediately recovered. The committee appealed to the Court of Errors and Appeals, but the decision was sustained. So ended what the New York Times called another `Jersey farce.' The enormous majorities of Hudson County, which lie at the base of Hague's control of the state through his governors, are still unexplained.


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