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The Boss

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

Violence in Jersey City elections is an old story. Years ago two hundred and forty-five students from Princeton University were sent to watch a Jersey City election for the Honest Ballot Association. Five were beaten up within an hour of their arrival and sent to the hospital; others who were immediately ejected from a polling place went to Hague himself to protest. He told them, as they later testified to the Mackay Committee, `Well, you fellows can go back there if you wish, but if you get knocked cold it will be your own hard luck.' (New Fork Times, March 19, 1921.) The incident became famous, and when George Creel asked him about it `Mayor Hague laughed indulgently.' He told Creel: `Animal spirits, that's all. I told my boys to lay off, but it was a pretty dull election, and they couldn't resist the temptation to have a little fun.' (Collier's Mapazine, October 10, 1936, p. 58.)

After the ballots are cast weird things happen to them in Jersey City. Sometimes large black marks appear upon them (especially upon Republican ones) so that they are void; or rubber-heel marks show up to spoil them: or corners are torn off ; or someone takes them into a dark corner to unfold them on an icebox before they are counted. Sometimes the counting is so amazingly rapid that the results are known within an hour, or in a state-wide election where the Hudson County majority is important the reports do not come in before morning. Again, groups of people manage to surround the person calling off the vote, crowding challengers to the door, while the man who reads the ballots aloud has throat trouble so that he can hardly be heard. Sometimes the doors of the polling place are locked when the polls close – in violation of the law – while the ballots are counted in semi-darkness. Or boxes full of uncounted ballots will completely disappear. (All these devices and many others can he found in the testimony of investigating committees. The Young Committee is the most recent.)

In November, 1937, the Jersey Journal inquired caustically: `Where were Election Superintendent Ferguson's 1300 deputies when the new irregularities now charged occurred last Tuesday? Was the $13,000 for deputies wasted?' The superintendent's public statement in answer was so frank and so revealing as to deserve extended quotation:

Yes, the $13,000 was wasted, and the $19,420 for election officers was wasted, and the $32,650 for polling places was wasted; in fact, the million [dollars] a year paid for the election costs of Hudson County was entirely wasted AND the efforts and the energies of two hundred and seventy-nine thousand odd people who voted on election day were wasted. Where were my deputies? Some of them were locked up in the police stations; some were stuck on corners, with a threat that if they moved from there, a night stick would be wrapped around their necks....

In front of one polling place I counted two police captains in uniform, one captain in plain clothes, one Jersey City commissioner, and ten uniformed policemen. Of what earthly value were my two deputies? The police officers laughed at them, .. . told them if they opened their mouths they would wake up in the hospital.

Early in the morning one of my deputies was brutally assaulted by a Jersey City commissioner, who, on being arrested, was immediately paroled. A deputy in the same ward, however, when endeavoring to arrest an illegal voter was arrested himself by the police, held in $3500 bail, and I did not succeed in getting him out of jail until ten o'clock at night, with his coat torn off his back....

We know it is futile to attempt to arrest anyone belonging to the Democratic organization in Hudson County on election day; the accuser usually finds himself in jail as the arrested party by the time he gets to the station house. I reaffirm, as I have stated before, the only way to have an honest election in Hudson County under present conditions is with the militia, and if the present conditions are to continue, it is futile and ridiculous for us to attempt to hold further elections in Hudson County.

It is notable, indeed, that in all the years the organization has been in control in Hudson County, not one adherent has ever been convicted of an election fraud, in spite of hundreds of indictments and more complaints submitted to grand juries; but opponents, like John Longo, are, if accused of election irregularities, convicted and given long sentences.


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