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The Boss

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

Hardly an important election has been held in New Jersey since Frank Hague came to power without the charge of election frauds being raised, usually by Republicans, but sometimes, as in Nugent's case, by defeated Democrats. Members of the organization insist that they have no need to use fraudulent methods when their operations are so efficient, when they produce the heavy majorities they do. These critics, Hague once told George Creel, are `a bunch of crybabies, that's what they are. Just amateurs.... We get our votes on the square because we're on the square with the people.' (Collier's Magazine, October 10, 1936.) The overwhelming majorities, however, are necessary if the Democrats are to elect governors, and governors are necessary if organization men are to be appointed to courts and commissions; so the motive is apparent enough for rolling up as big a vote as possible.

Reading over the reports of the various committees that have investigated Hudson County and the testimony obtained by them, one may well come to believe that every kind of election fraud has at one time or another been practiced there, except perhaps the chain-ballot scheme; that seems not to have been testified to, though there are even rumors of its use. Since a whole book might be written about Hudson County elections, what follows is not to be regarded as complete but rather as illustrative; and it must be said in fairness that fraudulent elections were held in Hudson County long before Hague's time, and that elections in the other counties in New Jersey, notably in Atlantic, are not beyond suspicion.

In a statement issued in January, 1938, State Senator Edward Stout of Hudson charged that there were `almost 50,000 names illegally registered' in his county, and he placed the blame for this condition upon John Ferguson, Republican, superintendent of the bureau of elections, although registrations are in the hands of the county board of elections. A comparison of census and registration figures would lend credence to the senator's claim that there are fraudulent registrations, but since the total Republican vote is often less than 50,000 these cannot all be Republicans. The census of 1930 found 425,000 persons in the county over twenty-one years of age, of whom approximately 50,000 were aliens, so that the total eligible to register would be 375,000. Of these, 345,000, or 90 per cent, were registered. This proportion is politically incredible. The total vote cast in 1936 was 298,500, or 86 per cent of those registered, which is also incredible, even admitting that the Hague organization is so efficient, in George Creel's words, that Tammany was ramshackle in comparison.

Faulty registrations permit votes to be cast in the names of non-residents, the dead, or the insane. The Young Committee found, for instance, that a rabbi named David Werner, who had moved to Providence, Rhode Island, three years before, was recorded as voting in the November election of 1937; the rabbi swore to an investigator who was sent to Providence that he had not been in Jersey City since he moved away. A number of persons who had moved within the city were recorded as voting both at their old and at their new addresses. Some who had moved and swore they had not voted at all must have voted absent-mindedly, for the poll books showed they did vote. Two men, Giuseppe Borzi and Sergeo Lopez, confined in the Hospital for Mental Diseases, had votes cast in their names. Investigators have discovered persons who live in New York but vote from their business addresses in Jersey City – or the books show they do.

When the voters of Jersey City do not vote as they should, it appears that their ballots are sometimes corrected for them. In the November election of 1937, for example, the count in the First District of the First Ward showed 433 for A. Harry Moore, (Transcript, p. 1031. For the other evidence, see pp. 1031-1037, passim.) for Lester H. Clee. This figure seemed odd to the Young Committee because in the primary election, only a few months before, 103 Republican votes had been cast in that district. What had become of the Republicans? Looking into the matter further, they discovered that some ballots had been torn, one had tobacco juice on it, many showed unmistakable signs of erasures, and others showed that where careless voters had failed to vote for certain candidates their omissions had been remedied for them, and not always with the same kind of pencil. The single Republican ballot naturally drew the attention of the committee. Mr. David H. Wiener, one of their counsel, said, `I wanted to point out to the Committee ballot number 434, apparently the only Re- publican vote counted ... appears to have been counted only because it was marked with red pencil and could not have been erased without doing definite damage to the ballot. ..' (Transcript, pp. 796-819.)

A deputy superintendent of elections, Theodore Zelinski, testified that `Two people, whose names I don't ought to state here now, told one after they have voted, McGovern, Commissioner McGovern and [his] brother Phillip took their ballots and put them into his pocket, Commissioner McGovern.' He told the committee that he would, to protect the complainants, give their names in executive session. When he objected to two persons using the same voting booth at once, Phillip McGovern told him, `We run these elections as we see fit.' When Zelinski tried to keep the two from voting together, the McGovern brothers and two Italian election-day workers beat him up and threw him out of the polling place. Out on the street Commissioner McGovern ordered a policeman to arrest the damaged deputy superintendent but then thought better of it, walked down the street with him, and said: 'Teddie, let us forget all about this here. Just a minute. Will a hundred bucks be all right?' Mr. Zelinski testified that he regretted later not taking the extended money. (Transcript, pp. 1018-1025.) He swore out a warrant for McGovern, hoping to have him indicted by the grand jury, but nothing happened. Letters to the prosecutor brought no reply. The Commissioner is apparently very free with his money; a Miss Mary Walker, a special deputy of the superintendent of elections, testified that he said to her, 'If you won't mind stepping outside I am giving you the price of a brand-new hat.' (Transcript, p. 998.)

Jersey City officials do not like to have `outsiders' (non-residents) criticize their city or the way it is governed. Much less do they like to have outsiders come in to watch their election processes. What happens to interlopers was told to the Young Committee by Charles Balas, an election officer during the election of 1937. He noticed a repeater who `came in at eight o'clock to vote for [as] Patrick McDonald, and at four o'clock in the afternoon he came in to vote for [as] John McNeil.'

Q. The same fellow?
A. Yes, sir, the same fellow. That was the time Sidney Goldberg was there.

Q. Former Assemblyman Goldberg?
A. Yes, Sir, Sidney Goldberg is his name. He was left there by Senator Clee to see that the honesty of the Election Board was upheld. And he came in there, and when this particular party came in to vote for John McAeil I motioned to Sidney to keep an eye on him. ... Out came John McNeil with the ballot, stuck the ballot in the ballot box, and I said: `Sidney, get him. Get him, Sidney.' Well, Sidney grabbed hold of him, and four fellows grabbed hold of Sidney and punched him up against the wall, and this party Joseph Ambrose that I referred to previously, well, Joseph Ambrose walloped him. Well, Sidney went out the front door.

Q. On his own account?
A. No, with the pressure of the inside power. (Transcript, p. 1290.)


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