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The Boss

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

The payment of all the election-day workers at least fifteen thousand at ten dollars a day – payment for automobiles, advertising, radio, headquarters, and all the other costs must amount to a gigantic sum in Hudson County. The organization, in addition, has the ordinary year-around expenses, and it has to help out in the state campaigns and in counties where the Democratic organization cannot raise sufficient funds. Perhaps no one knows, except Mayor Hague and Deputy Mayor Malone, where all the money comes from, and they do not publish the information. There are, however, indications of its sources.

Long before the `Two Per Cent Club' became famous in Indiana, Jersey City had an informal three per cent club. In spite of the generous salaries, some employees do not like to pay this assessment. `Frank Morgan, a former fireman at the Jersey City hospital testified [before the Case Committee] that he had been "hounded" until he quit his job because in 19,26 he had refused to pay three per cent of his salary to the campaign fund. Morgan testified he had paid during 1924 and 1925 to Joseph White, supervising engineer at the hospital, but in 1926 he had been docked four days' pay and refused to meet the levy.' (New York Times, October 19, 1928.)

The three per cent is not payable monthly, as in Indiana, but by means of an assessment at each election; and in those years when there are city and special elections in addition to the regular one, the public employees have to pay several times. It is commonly supposed that three per cent is a minimum, that those fortunate persons in the high-salaried positions, especially in the sinecures, pay twenty and thirty percent. `Why shouldn't they?' one politician replied to an inquiry. `When a man has a nice business or a law practice and he gets a ten-thousand-dollar job on the side, why shouldn't he give the organization three or four thousand?' Politicians who never want to be quoted by name make a point of the fairness of the levy – 'It covers everybody' – civil service employees, temporary employees, elected and appointed officials.

`No holder of a public office or position not filled by election by voters,' says the statute, `shall contribute to the nomination or election of any person to public office or party position....' When Mayor Hague was before the Case Committee, Mr. Russell Watson, their counsel, presented him with a list of Jersey City employees who had testified that they had been compelled to contribute three per cent of their salaries for the campaign fund. The Mayor admitted knowledge of the custom, but of course he was totally ignorant of the matter at first hand: `As far as this three per cent collection goes, I know nothing. Nobody ever paid me as much as a five-cent piece. It is true that some persons may have done some collecting, but I have no knowledge of such contributions.' (New York Times, March 27, 1929. Although the Mayor was blissfully ignorant, the Case Committee found enough evidence to justify them in concluding, `The testimony shows that in Hudson County, Jersey City, and in Hoboken, a pro rata part of the salaries of public employees ... is systematically collected for campaign purposes. The Committee was unable to ascertain the ultimate depository of this fund... ,' (Case Committee Report, Senate Journal (1929), p. 1117.)

The budget of Jersey City lumps together a number of salary and other items, so that the exact total is not ascertainable; but the total of those that are clearly identifiable as salary only is $8,102,390 for 1940. The budget of Hudson County also contains many items which cover both goods and services, but the items which are clearly nothing but salary total $6,940,300. The city and the county together pay in wages and salaries, therefore, not less than $15,042,690. A three per cent collection would bring in $451,2SO, and it may safely be assumed that many employees pay more than three per cent. In addition, an unknown number of state and federal employees who owe their appointments to the organization may be induced to contribute. The total collected from salaries is probably not far from a half-million dollars a year.

The assessments are doubtless unpleasant to the jobholders, but they must reflect when they pay them that even with the deductions they still receive more than they would for the same work in private industry. There is an anonymous secretary whose salary is set up in the budget at $3000. As the salaries of secretaries go, she would have to be exceptionally fortunate or exceptionally talented to receive more than $1800 in private employment. If she has to pay three per cent of her salary in assessments, she would still be $1100 a year ahead of her less fortunate sisters in non-political jobs.

Salary assessments are not the only source of party funds. Take, for instance, Mr. Michael Scatuorchio, leader of the Fifth Ward, who in Mayor Hague's words, finds the garbage collection contract ($476,700 for 1940) so profitable that he does not need a public position. Is it unreasonable to suppose that he is unmindful of his prosperity when election time draws near? The other persons who furnish the goods and services needed by the Government of an area containing seven hundred thousand people may also be counted upon to be friendly to a political organization that is in complete control.


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