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The Boss

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

Almost all of these ward leaders, educated in Jersey City politics under such distinguished instruction, have some sort of business which yields them an income in addition to their public salaries. Ertle, for example, has been an automobile salesman, singularly successful. `Nothing at all,' as Mayor Hague testified in the C.I.O. case, restricts a Jersey City political leader `from going into private business'; and indeed, as the testimony brought out, when a leader does engage in business he gets official co-operation. William V. O'Driscoll, for instance, owned the Hudson Builders Material Company and the Thomas Henry Company, to which during some labor trouble the police provided `almost continuous protection,' in contrast to what the Mayor testified to be their usual practice. The costs of keeping their political fences in order are not met out of their salaries; William F. Sullivan, for instance, has a ball on every Saint Patrick's night; Coppinger and Scatuorchio (`Mike Scat') have annual excursions on the Hudson River; and others have yearly dinners. One of these affairs will bring in from five to ten thousands of dollars, and the purchase of tickets is virtually mandatory upon all jobholders, whether they attend the functions or not.

It is noticeable that these politicians shift back and forth from city to county jobs, and occasionally one is given a state position, prosecutor, jury commissioner, judge, or whatever is conveniently available. Inquiry among them reveals that no particular system of promotion or tenure is followed; a considerable element of chance determines whether a man may be available when one opening or another appears. The one principle that is followed consisently is that any leader of any important group of voters – ward, nationality, religious, or whatever – is entitled if he wants one to a public job commensurate with the voting strength of his followers. Thus the ward leaders in Jersey City and the leaders of other municipalities in the county, such as Bayonne or Weehawken, are awarded the best positions - sheriff, freeholder, city commissioner, etc. Although salary is the primary consideration in determining the relative desirability of jobs, other elements, such as prestige and the amount of actual work expected of the incumbent, also enter into consideration.

Irish names clearly predominate among the leaders, although in 1930 only 60,532 of Hudson County's 690,730 people were either born in Ireland or born in the United States of Irish-born parents. It is obvious that the Irish, who now constitute about ten to fifteen per cent of the population, depending upon the number of third- and fourth-generation Irish, are overrepresented in the political leadership; the reason may lie in part in Mayor Hague's preference for Irish politicians and in part in their inborn political ability. The Italians are represented by Scatuorchio, the garbage contractor, who is regarded generally as the Italian leader in Hudson County; but the 112,000 Italians might well feel that they were entitled to more than one seat in the inner circle. But 81,000 Germans, however, have no representation there; nor have 62,000 Poles, 25,000 Russians, or 12,000 Czechs. These groups must be content with lesser favors and no real authority.


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